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Progress must first account for scars of inactivity

The recent announcements regarding Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's support for the expansion of the Peace Bridge plaza were met with widespread praise and excitement. Many people are rightfully excited that, at long last, progress may finally be made on a project that has been discussed for nearly two decades.

Having been left in the shadow of a project that has not happened, Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates is hoping that progress finally brings relief from a perfect storm of circumstances that has handcuffed our ability to pursue our mission of service.

For nearly 150 years, Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates served Buffalo's West Side from our property on Rhode Island Street. From our earliest days as an orphanage to our most recent history as an assisted living and skilled nursing facility, we have been a part of the lives of thousands of families and individuals.

The services we have provided have included skilled nursing care, medical and social model adult day care, an adult care home, meal delivery, AIDS/HIV in-home care, respite care and home health care, among others. At its peak, the West Side campus employed approximately 550 people and served more than 1,000 residents.

A dramatic change occurred in 1994 when initial plans for a new Peace Bridge were discussed. As the planning and discussions continued and the possibility of our property being taken for a new bridge project seemed imminent, families began looking at other alternatives for their loved ones' long-term care options. As our business began to suffer, our ability to sell the property was equally compromised, with the threat of an eminent domain proceeding giving prospective buyers more than enough reason for concern.

After being in limbo for more than a decade, Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates began the process for closing our West Side campus in 2005 and completely ceased operations at the site in 2007, with losses totaling nearly $7 million. Quietly waiting and hoping for a resolution to the bridge debates, we incurred another $6 million in losses related to the Rhode Island Street property from 2006 to 2010. All the while, the property became a prime target for theft, vandalism, graffiti and other problems -- problems that have added to our burden and have weighed heavily on our neighbors.

The costs of inactivity regarding the bridge plaza expansion are very real. In fact, there are approximately $14.5 million in liens against our property today, money that we have not been able to pay to local vendors, the city and others. Our organization, and our ability to serve, has suffered under the weight of this burden for 18 years.

Like so many others, we are hoping the renewed commitment for the plaza expansion finally brings progress and, for us, an answer.

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Rob Wallace is president and CEO of Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates. Tom Lunt is chairman of the board.