BUFFALO, N.Y. (Buffalo Rising) | Black Rock and Riverside are starting to show significant signs of progress these days, thanks in part to the astounding efforts of the Black Rock Riverside Alliance (northwest area of the city). The Alliance is located at 1902 Niagara Street, in the same building as the Black Rock Historical Society. The Alliance is headed up by Mary Ann Kedron, Board President and a founding member of The Alliance, and Project Manager Anne McCooey. The Historical Society is headed up by Doreen Deboth, who is president.
I met up with Kedron and McCooey of The Alliance, to discuss the bright future of Black Rock and Riverside, and came away with a completely new understanding of the district. When I encountered the two, they were sitting around a strategic planning table, placing tiny wood block houses on a historic 1891 map of Black Rock/Riverside. The two looked as if they were mapping out some sort of battle strategy. In fact, that is exactly what they were doing. They called the mapping effort Preservationopoly… brilliant! I was immediately taken with their spirits – they swept me up with their collective energy and enthusiasm. The word that came top of mind was chutzpah. That’s because McCooey and Kedron don’t look at a downtrodden aspect of the village as anything other than an opportunity.
It’s hard to figure out where to start when detailing the various opportunities at hand. Let’s start with the series of parks (represented by the tiny houses on the map) that are being converted into immersive play zones, where neighborhood youth will learn about the significance of Black Rock and Riverside through creative play. The interactive experience is being made possible thanks to funding from The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation’s Kaboom! initiative. Apparently there were 488 applicants from Buffalo and Detroit – 9 of those got funded in Buffalo. The series of parks that are being rolled out in Black Rock and Riverside are essentially themed community gardens that are all interlinked, called Play Path. Each garden will be completely different, creating a “play through history”, while including native plantings that will reflect the area that bounds the Niagara River, which is a National Birdway. The idea is to get as many properties (pocket parks, private backyards, etc.) recognized as Wildlife Federation Certified Habitats, thus establishing a giant environmental victory for this city.
The Play Path will not only be environmentally sustainable, it will also be historically informative. There will be 5 different themed microparks altogether. One of the parks will feature a farm stand that looks like an old barn, where local gardeners will be able to drop off their excess veggies to share with neighbors. The stand will be run by local youth who are already participating in planting efforts that will eventually lead to a Junior Gardening Program. Another micropark will have pretend interactive storefronts (for young entrepreneurs) that will mimic the early village of Black Rock. The parks will be connected by, say, a silhouette fish path, where people can learn all about the various aquatic life that exists in the nearby waters. There might be a hopscotch element, or a tic-tac-toe design. One of the parks will have oversized instruments, or nano-golf. Or imagine a tree lighting, inspired by The City of Lights and inventor Nikola Tesla (The Tesla Heritage Corridor). There will be a place to watch movies on the side of a building wall, and tables and chairs designed and built by participants of The Foundry and students through Baker Victory Services. Nichols School students in the Entrepreneur Program helped to create the vision that is currently coming to fruition. If Phase I of the project sounds too good to be true, then know this: the initial phase is going to be complete by June of 2019. Then, work will begin on Phase II, which will most likely incorporate Buffalo Niagara Land Trust and Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper’s small craft launch and and fishing park, as well as the City’s new bike paths that will be part of the evolving broad scope vision.
The Play Path goes hand-in-hand with additional Black Rock rejuvenation efforts, including a recent refresh and renewal of three building facades in the heart of Black Rock on Niagara Street, including the headquarters for Black Rock Riverside Alliance, which seconds as the home for the Black Rock Historical Society.
If you have not paid a visit yet, the fascinating history of Black Rock and Riverside awaits you. Thanks to Empire State development’s Buffalo Main Streets Initiative, the 1902 Niagara Street building, which also houses Angie’s Pizza House, has a brand new glass facade.
For the first time since moving in, the museum can properly exhibit its incredible bounty of historic items, ranging from cannon balls to photos of businesses from eras gone by.
The second building to benefit from the Black Rock Village Renovation Project funding is 1890 Niagara Street, a couple of doors down from the museum. This building houses Papercraft Miracle, an eco-friendly stationery and bookbinding studio (handmade paper stationary, seed bombs, etc. – learn more). La’Movement Fitness is in the other half of the storefront, and Ingersoll Painting & Construction’s offices are in the back.
The third building to receive funding is 1875 Niagara Street, which I wrote about back in August. The first floor facade redo is now complete, and the hope is that the upper floors will receive a similar treatment. Apparently, the owners of the building uncovered the original front entranceway upon tearing out elements of the structure. That prompted them to add a second entranceway to the side of the building, which will allow for the creation of a second storefront opportunity, which is an absolute blessing for the street.
While all of these projects are currently underway, it would be a shame to not point out the elephant in the room. Black Rock is Buffalo’s future third (or fourth) harbor. Currently we have the Outer Harbor, the Middle Harbor (Kelly Island), The Inner Harbor, and some day we will have the Black Rock Harbor.
According to Kedron, this will happen when the Scajaquada Expressway is removed from Grant Street to the Niagara River. At that point in time, we will have an entirely new waterfront opportunity that will put Black Rock on the map as a waterfront destination.
“Black Rock and Riverside will be the next Larkinville,” said Kedron. “We have the history, the uniqueness, the small independent businesses – we are builders… and makers. We have the Chandler Street corridor and the Tonawanda connector between Niagara Street and Amherst Street. We’re getting new infrastructure, and we’re creating the Play Path. We’re going to be an environmental success story, with waterfront access and bike lanes that lead just about everywhere. We’re making connections between the waterfront and the neighborhood businesses. We’re not only welcoming to outsiders, but we are taking care of the residents who live and work here.”
If there was any way that we could replicate Anne McCooey and Mary Ann Kedron, I would do so. It’s hard to describe the raw talent and the sheer enthusiasm that they both possess – it’s rare to find such a dynamic duo. They make an incredible urbanism dream team. McCooey and Kedron told me that they have gone from keeping their ideas and plans on pieces of papers and chalkboards, to filling entire journals. The work that they are putting into these projects, to build a better Black Rock and Riverside, is beyond impressive. In fact, there’s no way to justly describe it, which is why you will simply have to see firsthand, with your own eyes, when these inspirational projects are complete.