Yesterday marked a homecoming of sorts for Sean Ryan. As founder of the Buffalo Neighborhood Stabilization Corporation (BNSC), PUSH Buffalo’s housing arm, he frequently found himself walking past 65 Grant Street, fretting about its dilapidating condition and blighting effect on the street. As Assemblyman, he found himself with the opportunity to be part of returning that building to productive use, after a long community effort we wrote about over the summer. Now, from his new offices, instead of keeping an eye on the building, he and his staff can provide eyes on the street.
Before cutting the ribbon, Niagara District Councilman David Rivera told the gathered crowd of friends, family, political supporters, and progressive activists that he, Sean Ryan, and the community identified Number 65 as the problem property on Grant Street. Ryan got so personally involved with it that years ago, he was even kicked off the property once while checking on its condition, Rivera told the crowd. And Ryan admitted to it, saying that 65 Grant was his “white whale.”
Rivera also praised Ryan for setting up shop in a neighborhood that needs a boost, when he could easily have stayed over on Delaware Avenue in the space he inherited from his predecessor, Sam Hoyt, and no one would have questioned it. Ryan responded by saying, “Sometimes, you have to walk the walk. You have to be in the district where people need the help.” Ryan also cited key contributions to the project from the Buffalo Billion (Better Buffalo Fund) and his former shop, BNSC, managed by his successor there, Jenifer Kaminsky. Developer Paul J. Aswad of Niagara County, who stepped in to purchase the building from the recalcitrant former owner, was also singled out for special praise.
But perhaps the biggest smile of the day was on the face of Kathleen Kinan, the project architect, and a community builder who also walks the walk. More about her role in securing 65 Grant’s future is told in our earlier post. Kinan’s smile got even bigger when Ryan said, “I believe in good architecture.” He cited the work he oversaw at BNSC in PUSH’s Green Development Zone, which is notable among non-landmarked buildings rehabbed with housing program funds for overall doing a good job retaining architectural features and keeping the character of the buildings largely intact. That has not been the case with such projects in other parts of the city, as Steel showed several years ago.
Ryan said there were people who questioned the level of investment they put into their properties on Massachusetts Avenue, but that the quality of the work spoke for itself in encouraging others to invest in fixing up and sprucing up nearby properties. But that hasn’t stopped others from speaking about it. Enterprise Community Partners, a national funder of affordable housing, cited PUSH/BNSC’s commitment to design in its projects in a case study published last month.
Ryan is hoping the investment in 65 Grant will have the same effect on lower Grant Street. He and Rivera pointed up and down the street at properties that clearly needed investment, that aren’t necessarily being held back by the poverty of the owners. Ryan said that early on he was dismayed to learn that the building now housing his offices was falling apart not because the owner was destitute, but that in fact quite the opposite was the case. Ryan and Rivera discussed the heavy lift to turn that situation around, with cooperation from Permits and Inspections, and Housing Court.
And what does that have to say for the “65 Grants” that we know are all around the city? With the real 65 Grant in the bag, now the poster child is the Cobblestone downtown. Will we see the same convergence and cooperation there to force and owner, who is not without the resources, to do the right thing? Maybe not: emails from the last 48 hours show City Hall continuing to point fingers at Housing Court, which has consistently declined to take action against the owner, despite recommendations by City Hall that he be jailed for continuing to thumb his nose at his court-ordered obligations. That’s gotten no results in the past, so can we really expect a new court date next month to change that?
And that’s why, for me, yesterday’s ribbon cutting was bittersweet. A great step forward for Grant Street and a legitimate cause for celebration. But the real celebration will come when we see that we as a city have matured to the point where making the right thing happen doesn’t take extraordinary heroics and superhuman efforts where things hang in the balance during months and years of finger pointing.
City Hall and Housing Court: you see what happened at 65 Grant. Let’s use more ribbon for more celebrations like this, and less ribbon for cordoning off demolition or collapse sites where we have to ask – yet again – how could we let this happen?
Get connected: Assemblyman Sean Ryan