Eastside 21

Taking Action to Redevelop Buffalo’s East Side

James W Pitts couldn’t be prouder of the progressthe city is making.

But he is not happy with what he sees as a clear disparity between what is happening in someareas of Buffalo compared tothe East side.

“A number of areasthat havefar less distress (i.e. high unemployment rates, vacancy, andpoverty rates etc.) – have excellent plans (for redevelopment).  There is no plan for the East Side,” he said. “ The question ishow do we develop a new model to bring back wealth and prosperity to this historic area? How do we connect these neighborhoods to the new opportunities?”

An upcoming forum, “Eastside 21 Blueprinting Growth,”  will bethe first of three forums dealing with developing a pathway for jobs and business directedtowards the inner city neighborhoods where unemployment and poverty rates are the highest;  andwhereall the excitement about Buffalo’s renaissance clearly does not apply.

“There is a lot of ‘happy talk’ about the city’s growth,” Pittscontinued, “butwhen you look at a map of Buffaloandbegin tosee the level of poverty and distress –  you can’t talk over itandat some point have to address it.  We’re on the grind to address this – Part of the sum and substance of the forumisto bring together a cross section ofsome of the best minds and peopleto address these issues in their own way,  to begin to dialogue togetherabout how we can development this strategy and address this area of greatest need so ‘happy talk’  becomes relevant for all for us and not just some of us.”

Hosted by Green Gold Development Corp. of which Mr. Pittsis currently president, this important discussionwill take place on Saturday, October 22 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ontario Specialty Contracting (OCS) Complex (former American Axle Plant), 1001East Delevan Avenue.

The following keyissueswill be focused onat that gathering: What reinvestment strategies are key in our new 21st Century economy? Is the East Side moving beyond the cusp of exclusion? How can new technologies shape neighborhood redevelopment? What action is needed to reposition and connect neighborhoods to opportunity?

“What I’ve been doing for the last yearisrepositioning the corporation (Green Gold) from an environmental activist educational not-for-profit, to one that actually develops the jobs and community revitalization,” said Pitts. “It’s personal for me. If I don’t do something, the East side(where I grew up) – the central part of the citywith the greatest problems, and withouta plan, is just going to sit there.”

Surrounded by progress and projections for redevelopment, he refers to East Buffalo as “the hole in the donut.” A hole he insists, that can and must be filled.

“Whatwe propose to do is take clean technology and use it as an economic development resource to focus on the East side and develop jobs and businesses … as well as community and neighborhood revitalization.,” he continued. “The idea is to take a lot of the emerging jobs that are associated with clean technology and make them available to residents.”

Several years ago when the initial announcement about the building ofthe Solar City Plant was made, Pitts, always ahead of the curve , penned an article citing a need for an effort to take the plant and its business and training resources and connect them to the East side and begin to identify employment as well as business opportunity. It never tookplace. That was long before the headline grabbing protests for jobs took place last year.

-A Forum Whose Time Has Come-

How we can begin to connect our neighborhood with opportunities, for example,  with clean technology such asAdvanced manufacturing, will be one of the issues addressed at the forum.

Steve Finch, Plant manager at GeneralMotorsand one of theevents keynote speakers, will talk on that point. Histopic will be “Preparing Businesses & Workforce for Advanced Manufacturing.”

John Somers, president of Harmac Medical Products, Inc., another keynote speaker at the Eastside 21 Forum, is an outstanding exampleofthe kind of reinvestment strategy that reallyworks .  Theowner   ofa medical supplycompany, he not only hires residents from the neighborhood where its located off of Bailey, buthe has reinvested in that neighborhood through jobs and rebuilding efforts. The theme of Mr. Somers talk is “Private Sector Led Eastside Neighborhood Revitalization.”

In addition to Mr. Somers and Mr. Finch, the other keynote speaker will be Andrew Dorn, co-Managing Director of Energy Solutions Consortium. He will speak on the topic, “Organizing Private Equity & Venture Capital.”

Discussion leaders will include Brenda McDuffie, President/CEO Buffalo Urban League and Chair of the ECIDA; Dr. Susan McCartney Director Small Business Development Center

Buffalo State University of New York; and Dr.  Henry Taylor, director Center for Urban Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

A tour of the OSC Complexwhere the event is being held, will take place at the conclusion of the forum.

The significance of hosting the talks there, pointed out Pitts,  is historicalas well as an example of the kind ofvisionary   planning that needs to happento benefit both business and community.  For decades this former American Axle and General Motors plantwas an anchor within that community until it closed in 2007, which created a lotof problems not only for the companybut thepeople in that community. “It was traumatic” he recalled.  Currentlyunder new ownership,  the 900,000 square footfacilityisa premier turnaround sitein the city which is being reinvented to allownew types of jobs and opportunity in the 21st century. Its revival is linked to the surrounding Delavan Grider residents and neighborhood.

-WE NEED A PLAN-

There is a lot of competition to do something on theEast side, Pitts acknowledged,  “but you have to look at the natureof the competition…at what is being proposed. If it’s the same old thing, it’s not going to work. We have to take action to begin building wealth and prosperity for the East Side. This happens by developing and locating the economic, social and environmental resources in the neighborhoods, to rebuild them. And transform lives.”

Creating jobs “ for jobs sake”  he continued,  will not go far enough to connectopportunity to neighborhoods. “It’s distressing, for example, to have well over 20,000potential jobs at the intersection of theColdSpring and Fruit Belt neighborhood and folks on Locust can’t walk up there and even getajanitorial position.”

Realeconomic development and planningthat isimportant to the city and neighborhoods , hepointed out ,  is alreadybeingrecognizedin such plans forSouthBuffalo, the Inner and Outer Harbor, Tonawanda Street in the Black Rock Corridor,  A Bi-National Hub on Grant Street,  andAaronBartley’s excellent PUSHProgram on the West Side.

“ But what about the East side?” he asked rhetorically. “ The‘hole in the donut?’  We are basically saying we are not going to let this place just float away or just sit there and not addressits needs. …WE NEED A PLAN! “

Eastside 21 Blueprinting Growthis seen as the first major step in developinga new viable economic and community development revitalization strategy for the city’s East Side.

What makes the Eastside 21 Initiative differentsays Pitts is that “it’s purposeful.’ 

“We have to develop a purpose…a pathway…a commitment. Clean technologyis not a silver bullet,  it is however an emerging and viablepathway to create jobs and economic opportunity to revitalize neighborhoods, the region and the state for future generations.”

“If you don’thave that purpose and directionit’s notgoing to address the needs.

     “The response to this event so far has been excellent,” he concluded“What we plan to do at this forum is come up with a plan and target it...I’m tired of looking at things happening and not addressing the greatest need. There’s no way in the 21st century our community should be the way it is today. There has to be a first step.”

For more information call 860-2044. To register go to: http://www.greengolddey.org/eastside21blueprint-for-change/

-A.B.

(James Pitts, a professional urban planner, is one of the area’s  

most qualified persons to addressthe issue of   thecity’s growth and disparities.  He is currently President and CEO of the J.W. Pitts Planning & Development LLC, president of the Buffalo Green Gold Development Corp, and is the Vice Chairman for the Buffalo Urban League.  He has an extensive background in local politics, having served as former President of the City of Buffalo Common Council and on numerous City and regionalcommunityand economic development boards. He has also done extensive research in the areasof affordable housing, place based and sustainable community development, brownfield revitalization, ecological and green design, clean business growth and workforce development. He started the Green Gold Corporation twenty years ago, developing some of the first brownfield clean up initiativesin the area. )