The Eastside is Not Nearly Ready for its Close-up!

        Betty Jean Grant 

        Betty Jean Grant 

In 1950, Billy Wider directed a fantastic film called Sunset Boulevard, in which famous actress Gloria Swanson played the role of Norma Desmond; a fading movie star suffering from delusions and who was being accused of murder. When she came downstairs in her mansion and saw all the news reporters and TV cameras there, she mistakenly thought famed Hollywood mogul, Cecil DeMille, was soliciting her for another movie. She swept down the staircase, flowed elegantly toward the cameras and stated, "Alright Mr. DeMille, I am ready for my Close Up."

Just as Norma Desmond misjudged why the cameras and reporters were there, we, who live and own property on the eastside of Buffalo, misjudged the motives of those who said, "Buffalo, get ready, a billion dollars or more is coming to the rescue!" The billion dollars or more came but it went to Solar City on South Park Avenue, the Medical Corridor in the Fruitbelt and the beautiful and highly favored area now known as Canalside.

A billion dollars for the Buffalo Public Schools was supposedly going to make at least eight African Americans contractors millionaires and fix all the crumbling sidewalks and decaying houses around the renovated buildings. They said that in 2004.The money came, was spent and guess what? Not one Black millionaire, no sidewalks repaired and many of the decaying houses are still evident to those students who are attending thebeautifully rehabilitated school buildings. The billion dollars was spent and LP Ciminelli was the project manager but the general contractor as well. As of this writing there are still questions about money being owed to theBuffalo Public Schools that has not been accounted for.       

The second Billion for Buffalo came in 2012 and before we knew what hit us, SolarCity was selected (fast and by whom?) and before we could say, "What about minority contractors?,"  the contract was given and awarded to, you guessed it, LP Ciminelli again. This “playing”  with the contract has manifested itself into a court case for the state representative who 'awarded' the contract and the executive officials at LP Ciminelli. The minority contractors that Charley H. Fisher lll and this writer led in a massive demonstration to support their hiring, were left out of this project, too. An initial hiring goal of 14% minority and 5% women that was in place atthe start of this projectwas, at the time we marched, pulling in a less than combined workforce of 5 % for both minoritiesand women!

The third bite at the apple is not a billion dollar bite but $500,000. That money has to be allocated and disbursed for all of Western New York, not just Buffalo. My question: if the Eastside could not be taken care of in the first twobillion dollar investments here in Buffalo, how in heavens name do we expect anything to be spent in the inner city when the pot of money is way smaller and the area it needs to serve is spread in towns and villages all the way to Rochester?

Recently the local daily newspaper printed an article abouteightbrand new projects at a cost of over $30 million dollars that are coming to Canalside. These projects include condos, hotels, museums, restaurants and other entertainment venues. 

My first 'question' is: Where are they going to put all these projects in an already crowded waterfront? 

The second question is: Who is fighting for the Eastside to be included in the Renaissance of Buffalo?  

Surely not Mayor Brown, who had a perfect opportunity to advocate for the eastside by locating the train station at the Central Terminal - a place that would have spurred eastside economic redevelopment in the Broadway/Fillmore neighborhoods. Instead he wound up choosing the downtown site instead. 

Surely not the big developers who have their mouths closed and their hands out for CDBG funding that was designated for poor communities but is siphoned off to them via sale tax waivers, PILOTS (Payments in lieu of taxes) and property and sales tax abatements. These rich developers who are mandated by the federal government to set aside a certain percentage of affordable housing to low income residents when they are given the poor people's money, do not even do that! They are also required to agree to a Community Benefit Agreement where they are charged to invest in the community by setting aside apartment units, subsidizing public recreational spaces or donating goods and/or services to community centers. If the Buffalo Common Council would agree to approving the Inclusionary Zoning policy that is before them, the inclusion of the community in city decision making and the set aside of low income housing units could go a long way toward making up for the gift of CDBG monies the developers have benefitted from for so many years.

There is a saying in the African American community that the city does not want to eradicate poverty because if it did, the CDBG monies would dry up. If the city's poverty's rate is higher now than it was before billions of dollars were received by Buffalo and the money is not being spent where the government intended it to be spent, why should they keep on sending it? Better yet, why don't we develop the courage and say to those who are receiving the money and administering the funds: "Spend the money on poor people like it was intended or we will tell HUD to take the money back!"