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Editorial: Hard work paves the way for East Side rebirth

The sweeping changes starting to happen on Buffalo’s East Side came about as a result of years of hard work, public-private partnerships, training, community input and patience. Lots of patience.

The part of Buffalo that many had written off, or spoke only about its life decades ago, is on the rise. And a rising tide on the East Side will help lift all of Buffalo.

That success is due to the efforts of Mayor Byron W. Brown and the partnerships he has formed. It is due to the attention paid by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Buffalo Billion program he conceived and initiated. The governor’s proposed budget for 2019-20 includes $50 million in specific aid to revitalize more of the East Side.

Moreover, the East Side’s reawakening is due to the hard work put in by people on the ground: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, pastors and preachers. Everyone has had a role in overcoming what News business reporter Jonathan D. Epstein described as “decades of neglect.” Now, as he wrote, “more than $250 million in redevelopment projects are underway on Buffalo’s East Side, with more planned or in the works.”

These are the foundations of game-changing, generation-influencing developments for a largely African-American base. The groundwork had to be laid.

One of Brown’s priorities when he first took office in 2006 became the demolition project whose funding recently received scrutiny by former Buffalo Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder. Yet, the city’s demolition program felled 7,000 buildings. The work could not start gathering momentum without first clearing the land for projects that are underway:

• The Buffalo Urban Development Corp., with funding from the Buffalo Billion, other state agencies and the city, is redeveloping 35 acres of the Northland Avenue Belt Line Corridor. It will soon represent a $120 million economic development hub, anchored by the Western New York Workforce Training Center and Buffalo Manufacturing Works.

Developers took notice and some decided to venture in. They were encouraged by City Hall to mentor and partner with developers that Brown’s administration helped groom.

• Stuart Alexander, Rhonda Ricks and SCG Development are spending $50 million to convert the former Buffalo Forge Manufacturing Co. plant at 490 Broadway into a new residential community, with 158 affordable apartments and retail space. At some point, there will be townhouses and single-family homes.

• People Inc. teamed with developers Nick Sinatra and David Pawlik to build the Jefferson Avenue Apartments at 1140 and 1166 Jefferson, with 89 affordable units and retail space. It is part of a $31 million project that “will transform two entire city blocks,” Epstein wrote. Construction began in December.

• Sinatra and Pawlik are also planning a new three-story office complex on Jefferson.

• Northwest Bancorp’s 3,000-square-foot branch opened last month at 1228 Jefferson Ave. Also, KeyBank plans to open a branch on the northeast corner of East Delavan Avenue and Grider Street, at a shuttered Rite Aid.

Opportunities are opening up in advanced manufacturing and in the Pre-Apprentice Training Program, created as part of a project labor agreement the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. signed in June 2017 with the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council.

The East Side also contains the area’s regional trauma center. Erie County Medical Center is a 65-acre health campus on Grider Street, where ongoing development will approach $100 million by later this year. It includes $55 million for the future trauma center and emergency department. Of the hospital’s 3,800 employees, more than 600 are residents of the East Side, representing 21 percent of its workforce.

What is unfolding on the East Side can be summed up as training leading to well-paid employment within walking distance and short bus rides from affordable homes.

With that, it is finally time to talk about the East Side as part of the city’s burgeoning renaissance. That’s a welcome development.