Rehabilitation of a long vacant, neglected 19th Century building located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Riley Street is currently underway. Spearheaded by an LLC comprised of several of Buffalo’s urban farmers, the vision for the building is to give it new life as a community hub and bolster for the local food movement.
“We had this thought in 2011 to set up urban farms as neighborhood centers, with housing and other rehabs done in a targeted way around urban farms,” said Mike Raleigh, project manager and member of the Farmer Pirates Cooperative. “At that time you could buy land and houses at the City auction with no other bidders even competing. We were able to purchase an acre for the Michigan Riley Farm at the 2011 auction. The building sits adjacent to the farm so we saw this building as something that would be great to incorporate into that plan.”
The building consists of two sections constructed at different times. According to Raleigh, the section that meets the corner of Michigan Avenue and Riley Street was constructed before 1900, while the southern half of the building went up 20 years later, replacing a two-story wooden frame house that was on the site.
The plans for the main floor include a commercial kitchen space and a small food-based storefront, establishing a space where farmers from the Michigan-Riley Urban Farm and other farms within the Farmer Pirates Cooperative can wash and prepare produce for distribution to the community or for preparation on site. Thus, the space will contribute to improving access to fresh produce and healthy prepared meals in a neighborhood currently lacking those resources.
We had this thought in 2011 to set up urban farms as neighborhood centers, with housing and other rehabs done in a targeted way around urban farms.
Though parts of the building’s roof suffered structural damage, the group has decided to take a more creative approach by adapting that section into an open-air venue for cultural performances and events. “The flat roof portion of the building collapsed some time in the 2000s,” Raleigh said. “We think it presents a unique opportunity to create this outdoor courtyard that will be ideal for events, live music, media and art installations, dramatic performances, neighborhood functions and parties, and hopefully a recurring farmers market.”
The LLC is comprised of four core members who are also members of the Farmer Pirates Cooperative. Mike Raleigh has taken the role of project manager; Kelly Maurer handles finances and building relationships with partners for the project; Dan Ash collaborated on construction and plan development; and Rob Galbraith is involved through his co-founding of the Michigan Riley Farm. The group is also working with a civil engineer, Jim Raleigh. Brad Wales is the lead architect, tasked with reviewing and revising the latest round of structural plans for the building.
The project development team has also built connections with local individuals who can contribute their skills to the overall vision of promoting local food and cultural experiences. “We are starting to build the network of people who will really bring the building to life with food and energy,” Raleigh said. “Marshall Bertram, another Michigan-Riley Farm co-founder, brewed us a beer for our fundraiser and we are looking into having him brew out of the building in the future.” Local musicians Ismail & Company have also performed at multiple farm events. With their connections to the Cold Springs neighborhood and their “Roc Da Mic” programming based around the corner at The Foundry, they have the potential to kick-start the cultural component of this project.
We are starting to build the network of people who will really bring the building to life with food and energy.
“It is one of the last standing commercial structures on this section of Michigan,” Raleigh added. “It has great potential to become a community anchor and center for light commercial activity for the neighbors who live here and surrounding neighborhood. People walk and drive by when we’re working on it every day and ask what it will be, and tell us it hasn’t been open in 25 to 40 years. Some folks still remember it as a laundromat, other lived in the apartments way back or knew people who did.”
In terms of more major repairs, the building will need a new roof and re-framing of the second floor wall. In order to create the open-air courtyard space, the group will install steel reinforcements to secure the existing brick walls. They also will have to reset the cast iron column in the front right corner of the building, which sustained damage years ago from a car crashing into that side of the building. The rehab will also include new windows, mechanical systems, and build-out of the commercial kitchen and bathrooms.
The total cost of completing the project is estimated at $300,000, though the project budget is still being finalized. The group has met with a few private lenders and recently hosted a small fundraiser party at the site. They have created a Go Fund Me campaign to raise $5,000, which will allow them to continue making masonry improvements while they are in the pre-development stage and before winter arrives. “The fundraiser event and campaign have allowed us to contract with a mason who will repoint the exterior in the next few weeks,” Raleigh said.
The online fundraising campaign will run through September 3, 2016. To learn more about the plans for the site or make a contribution to the fund drive, visit www.gofundme.com/1325michigan