As a kid in the 1970s, Bradford Watts would leave his father’s liquor store on Jefferson Avenue and look out from one of Buffalo’s highest points, onto the hustle and bustle of businesses below.
He described the scene Wednesday night during a public meeting on a proposed commercial development for his old neighborhood. Now a community relations coordinator for People Inc. — which is leading the development — Watts told the crowd about how the fruitful past of his home instills a hope for the future.
“A city cannot hide its lights when it’s set upon a hill,” he said before more than 100 people in a conference room of the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Pavilion. “And we want to enlighten you here today in terms of what we hope will be part of the progress.”
Throughout the informal meeting, Watts and others from his team discussed plans for its mixed-income housing project in a two-block area of Jefferson Avenue from Dodge to Northampton streets.
In addition to People Inc., the development is backed by Sinatra & Co. Realty, CSS Construction, Bellamy Enterprises LLC and other East Side business leaders. The $20 million proposal would include 84 apartments spread across two three-story buildings, and would be aimed at tenants whose incomes range from 30 to 130 percent of the area median income.
There also would also be commercial spaces for retail tenants on each first floor, as well as an urgent-care center or other medical component.
“I think this is a significant project for the East Side of Buffalo,” Mayor Byron W. Brown told the gathering. “One of the things that excites me is that a lot of the work we do is to make sure projects are diverse ... and these developers are proposing a significant level of participation from minority businesses.”
In particular, he praised Herbert L. Bellamy Jr. of Bellamy Enterprises LLC, who was involved in the “prime development group.” Brown and other emphasized it is important to have diverse voices in a project designed to impact a diverse community.
Jefferson Avenue, as he pointed out, is a historically black neighborhood that has fallen on tough economic times in the recent past.
“I think this can be transformational,” he said about the development.
Jamye Smith, who grew up in the neighborhood, told the audience it’s not enough for the community to become like it once was.
“I always hear people saying, ‘I wish Jefferson was the way it used to be,’” she said. “I don’t want to see how it used to be – I want to see it better.”