One way to create a more economically vibrant East Side is to invest along the Main Street spine, and move eastward. Another strategic way to create a more vibrant and sustainable East Side would be to invest in the significant commercial arteries (the avenues), hoping that those investments spread outward. Take, for example, Michigan, Jefferson, Fillmore, and Bailey. Those four crucial corridors are the lifeblood of much of the East Side.
Now, these four crucial corridors are benefitting from an East Side Collaborative Fund that is in place to help revitalize the East Side. The half a million dollars in funding will be directed to local nonprofits that are able to work towards, allocate, and amplify the efforts of an East Side Avenues program, in tandem with other financial allowances being awarded by Empire State Development (ESD) as part of its $65 million East Side Corridor Economic Development Fund (ESCEDF) – an element of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion II initiative. This newly announced $500K will go towards efforts that include capacity building, training, and other key identified support channels and systems.
East Side Avenues is backed by a unique partnership of private and philanthropic organizations that created the pooled, $8 million East Side Collaborative Fund to complement ESD’s program.
These are the types of strategic initiatives that we need to take place on the East Side, which is absolutely vast. The East Side is essentially half of Buffalo – it’s hard to comprehend the vastness until you bike it. The other day, I cycled from the Liberty Building, down Broadway to Bailey, and then on to the University District. Although I have been biking all summer long, this was an excursion that I was not prepared for – it’s easy to compartmentalize this area in your head, but once you’re navigating it (by bike or foot), it’s a whole other story. It’s rather daunting to think about where to start investing, and what sort of major investments are needed to make any tangible improvements. Without the right strategic plays, funds would get sucked in, like a glass of water being poured into the Mojave Desert.
Thankfully, the East Side Avenues initiative will be run by a Project Implementation Team (PIT) from UB’s Regional Institute (UBRI) – UBRI is the research enterprise of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning. The deal is to fund, plan, and coordinate revitalization strategies and initiatives that will have the most bang for their buck along these East Side communities… or avenues.
Ultimately, the communities that bound these commercial streets will be brought into the loop, as a comprehensive plan is developed. This plan will identify key components where the investments will have the best hold. The initiative will have a “building on” rather than “building new” approach, according to the team.
Over $500,000 for “year one” has been awarded from the East Side Collaborative Fund to support the following five initiatives:
- East Side Commercial Districts program funds small business improvements and building renovations in targeted geographic investment areas. Citizens Alliance, in partnership with the Black Chamber of Commerce; Broadway Fillmore Neighborhood Housing Services; and the University District Community Development Association will serve as Local Program Administrators.
- Community-Based Real Estate Development Training harnesses the East Side’s human capital and ensures that revitalization is driven by the community through real estate development education. Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Buffalo will work with the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning to develop and implement the program.
- Building Preservation Fund supports the stabilization of at-risk historic buildings in target investment areas for potential future redevelopment projects. Preservation Buffalo Niagara will spearhead this component.
- Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission for the development of a cooperative operating/business model and capital improvements plan that will create a unified, unique tourist destination.
- Central Terminal Restoration Corporation for the development of a plan for the site’s future and for the creation of a robust organization that will guide capital improvements and improve connection to the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood.
The Pit will be on the hook for organizing, coordinating, tracking, monitoring, and reporting on the successes/and or failures of the program.
Following are the players that will be making up The PIT:
- The PIT will be led by Program Director Chiwuike (Chi-Chi) Owunwanne. Chi-Chi is a Buffalo “re-pat” who brings over 15 years of economic development and management experience to the team. He holds a Master of Public Administration from the Fels Institute of Government, University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from SUNY at Geneseo.
- Monique Sullivan James, UBRI’s new Associate Director of Operations, will also support the East Side Avenues effort. Monique was most recently with LISC Buffalo where she wrote and managed over $6.7 million dollars in project investment and other grants and consultant contracts. She brings with her over 20 years of industry-related experience working with non-profit organizations, financial institutions, philanthropic organizations, foundations, and government funders.
- The team’s roster is rounded out with seasoned project managers; urban and strategic planners; economic developers/strategists; researchers; analysts; graphic designers; technical writers; policy specialists; legal and information systems experts; and communications professionals. Laura Quebral, UBRI Director, will provide strategic direction, general oversight and guidance for the initiative. Quebral is a planner, analyst, team builder, strategist and fundraiser.
The East Side Collaborative Fund supports East Side Avenues and is administered by the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. To date, funders include: Bank of America, Cannon Heyman & Weiss, LLP, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Empire State Development, Evans Bank, Five Star Bank, Key Bank/First Niagara Foundation, The John R. Oishei Foundation, M&T Bank, The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, Northwest Bank, Ralph C. Wilson Jr., Foundation, The Weiss Family Foundation, and Western New York Foundation.