Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter and Seneca Gaming Corp. Chair Karen Karsten today announced allocation of $1 million to boost infrastructure, landscaping, lighting and other amenities in neighborhoods around downtown’s Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino.
The funding, from Seneca Gaming, directly results from a series of community meetings held late last year and in early 2011 between Nation leaders and waterfront, Old First Ward, Erie County and Buffalo stakeholders. The money, to be assigned by a newly formed Buffalo Creek Development Commission, is designed to be a resource for casino neighbors, nearby developers, residents and businesses.
“We are committed to being good neighbors and changing the perception of our casino as an island that does not fully benefit those interests around it,” Porter said. “We met with scores of stakeholders, we listened, and now we are moving to lead a collaborative effort to help Buffalo’s waterfront, Old First Ward and Perry Street neighbors as a demonstration of that commitment.”
The funds will remain under Seneca Gaming’s control, but will be spent in accordance with recommendations made by a working group comprised of Seneca Gaming, Seneca Nation, city, and community stakeholders. The group’s aim will be to use these dollars in a manner consistent with existing community plans.
Further, Porter said he will ask the Nation’s Legislative Council to establish a Buffalo Creek Development Commission for purposes of facilitating forward movement on the projects and bringing together interested parties.
Full development Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, originally devised as a $333 million casino with a luxury hotel and restaurants, halted in 2008 due to the faltering national and state economies. Porter and Gaming officials have said they want to see the casino completed, but on a smaller design basis and more as a part of the surrounding community, rather than distinct from it. Seneca Gaming is currently in the process of discussing redesign options.
“Much has changed since we first opened Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in 2007,” Karsten said. “There is energy and substantial momentum permeating the Inner Harbor area of downtown Buffalo. By working together with our partners and neighbors, Seneca Gaming Corp. wants to play a role in the continued revitalization of this historic area, which has been the Seneca Nation’s home for generations.”
The neighborhood has a residential mix that ranges from public housing to upscale lofts.
“Our meetings with the many constituents involved in making this part of the city go and grow clearly showed that there were ample good ideas on what to do, but that funding was needed to help make them happen to enhance the area,” Porter said. “I’m very pleased that Seneca Gaming and the Nation stepped up to invest a substantial sum in the future of our friends and neighbors nearest our casino.”
The commission, which will include Seneca Nation and Gaming officials, neighborhood representatives and community stakeholders, will accept applications for funding projects and improvements that will directly affect the area around the casino. The commission will identify landscape and other improvement projects in a collaborative way and the Nation and/or Seneca Gaming will take the lead, but allocations to local groups or the city are not precluded. The funding has no time limit, but Porter emphasized that he wants to see the money move projects forward that have been stalled or otherwise can’t get working capital.
“This effort is a microcosm of my administration’s philosophy that what’s good for the Seneca Nation is good for Western New York, and the reverse,” he said. “We have more than 5,000 employees and a $1.1 billion economy and we all want to see those numbers grow – to everyone’s mutual benefit. When we improve the look and feel and amenities of this Buffalo neighborhood, we’ll attract more jobs, more housing development, more entertainment options and everyone will benefit.”