UB Responds to Fruit Belt, McCarley Residents
by Buck Quigley - posted 4:55 pm, January 28, 2013
As we reported in this week’s print edition, representatives of the Fruit Belt and McCarley Gardens apartments sent a letter to UB Foundation chairman Francis M. Letro on January 15, requesting access to a contract signed between the foundation and Oak-Michigan Housing Development Fund Company, Inc.—a development arm of St. John’s Baptist Church in April, 2010. Back then, the foundation agreed to pay $15 million for the moderate-income housing development—with the intent to relocate residents and knock it down.
In the letter, Fruit Belt and McCarley representatives Veronica Hemphill-Nichols and Lorraine Chambley also requested the dissolution of the current “economic opportunity panel” that met with disgruntled residents on December 13. That panel is comprised of Dennis Black, vice president of University Life and Services at UB; June Hoeflich, a UB Council member and former CEO of the now-defunct Sheehan Hospital; Paul A. Tesluk, the Donald S. Carmichael Professor of Organizational Behavior at the UB School of Management; Colleen B. Cummings, former executive director for the Buffalo Employment and Training Center; Brenda W. McDuffie, president and CEO of Buffalo Urban League, Inc.; and Judge James A. W. McLeod. Assisting the panel are Marsha Henderson, former UB vice president for external affairs, and current “consultant” to the UB president; and Dr. Bradshaw Hovey, Senior Fellow, UB Urban Design Project and UB Regional Institute.
The panel was named by UB and St. John’s, but residents are calling for a new panel to be to be convened—one that would consist of actual Fruit Belt residents, in a ratio of 2:1.
Finally, residents demanded that all meetings be open to the general public, and to the press in particular.
Chairman Letro did not respond to the letter. Instead, the private UB Foundation—which is putting up $15 million for the sale—tasked UB Assistant Vice President for Government and Community Relations Michael Pietkiewicz with sending a response to Hemphill-Nichols on behalf of foundation chairman Letro. The response was copied to Letro, Mayor Byron Brown, Councilmember Darius Pridgen, Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus President and CEO Matthew Enstice, UB President Satish Tripathi, UB Neighborhood Outreach Coordinator Linwood Roberts, St. John’s Baptist Church Reverend Michael Chapman, and McCarley Gardens tenant Lorraine Chambley.
Pietkiewicz’s response does not address the call to dissolve the current panel and reconstitute it to include Fruit Belt residents (strike one). Nor does it mention the call that meetings be made open to the public and press (strike two). It also avoids answering the residents’ request for access to the actual contract signed between the UB Foundation and St. John’s on April 5, 2010 (strike three).
Instead, a link is offered to the “contingencies” included in the contract. Click here to read them, as they are described in a press release issued by UB spokesperson John Della Contrada, back when the contract was signed.
The first contingency states:
• Within three years, Oak-Michigan Housing Development Corporation will develop a plan to relocate the residents of McCarley Gardens into new and improved housing. The plan must be approved by HUD.
To date, no such plan has been approved by HUD. Looking at the calendar, it appears that the UB Foundation and St. John’s now have just 67 days left to secure HUD approval of a plan before this three-year deadline expires. It is also true that Reverend Chapman signed this 20-year renewal contract for McCarley Gardens with HUD on December 1, 2005—which should run until 2025 unless it can somehow be broken. Artvoice received that contract a couple years ago as the result of a Freedom of Information request to HUD.
Pietkewicz—who is on vacation in Florida until next Tuesday—explained via email that even though he is a New York State employee, he wrote the letter for the private UB Foundation. “In this case, a response to Ms. Hemphill-Nichols was more appropriate coming from UB’s Office of Government and Community Relations because our staff is actively engaged with community members who reside near the medical campus, including Ms. Hemphill-Nichols.”
Letro could not be contacted at the UB Foundation. The receptionist there did not know who he was. When it was explained that he is the UB Foundation chairman, his name still did not ring a bell. Instead, we were given the voicemail of Ed Schneider, Executive Director of the UB Foundation. Schneider has not returned the call.