Dispatch: Restore NY Grant
by Geoff Kelly - posted 12:41 pm, April 15, 2009
AV’s City Hall correspondent Ellen Przepasniak sends this report on yesterday’s Common Council meeting:
Lawmakers are taking another step to revitalize Buffalo’s economy this week as the Office of Strategic Planning organizes a grant application through Restore NY, a state program that provides money for revitalization of commercial and residential properties. This grant money is one more part of a decades-long housing revitalization effort. Brian Reilly, commissioner for the Department of Economic Development, Permit and Inspection Services, admits this money isn’t enough to fix the city’s housing problems, but it’ll make a dent.
A discussion was held at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting as part of a public forum time required by the grant application, prompted by a resolution from Niagara Councilmember David Rivera. The city will be requesting $20 million, split evenly for commercial and residential development, and Reilly anticipates receiving at least $1 million. “No project is getting everything they’re asking for,” Reilly says.
The grant cannot be used toward any new construction, just for demolition and rehabilitation. However, many city residents are concerned that it focuses too much on the former instead of the latter.
Terrence Robinson, a resident of East Buffalo is anxious about the demolition of historic homes. He saw Monday’s Dyngus Day celebration in the Broadway-Fillmore district as “an infusion of life into that community” that was a positive step toward attracting residents into the neighborhood. “I’m concerned about the historical, cultural, and social fabric,” he says. “Once it’s demolished, there is no chance to recall it.”
Aaron Bartley, executive director of PUSH Buffalo, a West Side housing development organization, encourages other community development organizations and neighborhood leaders to get behind the proposal. Bartley has seen real changes in his community because of past years’ Restore NY grant money and he believes this funding is a chance to tackle “a monumental problem that few cities have faced.”
The key to receiving more money from the state is all in the marketing, according to Reilly. He says the city hasn’t obtained a bigger slice of the pie in past years because the grant application has been unfocused. Buffalo is competing with the rest of the state for funding and needs to fight for its allotment. The state is looking for feasibility and readiness—essentially projects that are packaged and ready to go.
Sam Magavern, a University at Buffalo law professor and co-director of the Partnership for Public Good (PPG), is concerned the city isn’t including enough in its grant application. He is pushing for lawmakers to consider adding block-by-block and green initiatives. The city does not currently have green criteria for demolition or rehabilitation, but Magavern says it should push for salvaging or recycling materials. Chicago requires 50 percent of all construction and demolition debris to be recycled. As a trial, Magavern suggests lawmakers could write recycling materials into the contract for 50 houses they demolish.
He also believes that including block-by-block planning—like how PUSH focuses on a five-block radius—would make the application stronger. Planners must step back and look at the whole process from demolition to the green space that will be left afterward. “Each block is so different, that’s why you need it,” says Magavern. “You can’t just look at the structure, you have to look at the spaces too.”
The old Kentucky Fried Chicken at 448 Elmwood Avenue is among those commercial properties on the grant list. The money would be used to aid in the demolition of the building after which construction for the planned multi-use building can begin. Abandoned libraries like Fairfield and North Park have also made the list and qualify under the grant because the buildings are currently vacant.
Reilly reminds residents that demolition plans for any building is not absolute; if someone wants to purchase and rehabilitate property, they’re always open to compromise. For this grant, the Office of Strategic Planning is working under the umbrella of the Queen City Hub comprehensive plan, which was adopted in 2004 and lays out a sustainable development strategy for the city. “We want to learn from our experience of failure in Buffalo,” he says.