'Paying To Play' Politics And Redevelopment On Jefferson Avenue
A few months ago, there was a well attended meeting at the Jefferson Avenue Frank E. Merriweather Library. The meeting was scheduled by the Brown Administration to talk about the pending redevelopment of the street. What was so striking was the fact that the people who convened the meeting did not come there to listen to what the community had in mind for the street. No, they came armed with a plan and a developer or two, with a chief partner in the venture that, still to this day, no one knows who put the 'plan' together.
In the audience but certainly not to answer questions put forth by community members, was Nick Sinatra, a fast-rising city hall-favorite developer and his partner, David Pawlik from CSS Development Company along with a somewhat unfamiliar name to the redevelopment scene, Dr. Gregory Daniels from Amherst, New York. For those who are interested, Dr. Daniels is an African American who thought up the concept of emergent care while he worked as a doctor in one of the city's emergency rooms. He opened several of them in the area, sold them for millions of dollars and until now, resided quietly in his beautiful home, heated entirely by solar energy, in the suburbs.
During the meeting, a brilliant, young activist and founder of the Young Black Democrats political organization, Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux, asked one of the developers about bringing the concept of a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) to the project that was being discussed. Just for the record, a CBA is a legally binding contract negotiated between a developer and a coalition representing broad spectrum of community members impacted by the development. In exchange for community members' support for the project, the developer agrees to provide certain benefits.
The agreement can be anything from the developer agreeing to installing a neighborhood playground, building a community center to setting aside several apartments in the complex to accommodate low income, disabled or senior citizens' housing needs at a modest discounted rental rate. These types of deals for struggling communities are being put together all across this country by many progressive community leaders and elected officials. Most communities, that is, except for Buffalo. Even though this kind of community friendly agreement has been done in Buffalo, in the past, it seems none of our current leaders are holding the developers accountable and arranging these type of win-win deals for our residents.
I have to ask Ms. Bordeaux again but I believe she told me that she did not get much of an assurance said that the developer would consider this type of Community-minded agreement once they began construction of the Wellness Center the three gentlemen are proposing for the Jefferson/Riley Avenue section of the city later this year. What made me think of this particular meeting was when the campaign financial disclosure statement of the mayoral candidates were made public in last week's copy of a local, daily newspaper.
This is all public information and I have no qualms about detailing it here in this newspaper. In the information filed for the period of Jan 15 to July 15, 2017, the three partners of the new Wellness Center, contributed over $9,900 to Mayor Byron Brown’s campaign war chest. Nick Sinatra gave $2,000; David Pawlik from CSS Development contributed $2,500 and the already wealthy Amherst doctor, Dr. Gregory Daniels, chipped in $7,400! This may be only $9.900 from a trio of rich men, but these same rich men will be getting tax abatements and incentives totaling tens of thousands of dollars for this one project alone! And guess who will be making up the shortfall in the city and county's coffers from this generous redistribution of poor people's HUD monies and lucrative incentives? You guessed it correctly if you say, "We, the taxpayers of Buffalo and Erie County." I am all for redevelopment and the rehabilitation of poor and blighted areas of the city but, for heavens sake, can millionaires and billionaires invest their own personal monies on these projects once in a while?