On a sunny spring day in Buffalo, 1,500 area residents decided to gather inside the Buffalo Convention Center to try to revitalize the community.
Members and supporters of VOICE-Buffalo, a faith-based organization working for community improvement, attended the public meeting Sunday in the downtown core.
The afternoon meeting identified key issues in the city -- from urban sprawl to transportation. Politicians and government leaders, including Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, responded to the call for action by promising to make changes for the good of the city, including plans for reconstruction on deteriorated Genesee Street.
"It's about the people," President Donna A. Leiser, of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, told the audience -- a statement that was repeated several times throughout the meeting, each time eliciting rousing applause.
"We are tired of the neglect. We are tired of people who talk about what hasn't been done. We're here to talk about what has to be done. This is a new day. It's up to the citizens who are involved and we are those citizens.
"We are the people of God called together to improve the quality of life in the city and suburbs, for blacks and whites, young and old, rich and poor, because together we can make a difference," she said.
Many of the adults in the audience appeared to be fresh from religious services, dressed in their best suits and bold-colored dresses. VOICE-Buffalo -- made up of 32 congregations and representing seven denominations and one women's religious order -- has congregation members in Buffalo, West Seneca, Cheektowaga, Amherst, Williamsville, Tonawanda and Grand Island.
The event began with songs of praise, prayers, hymns, Scripture readings and a reflection. It ended with a definition of various problems in Buffalo and a commitment to solve them by various elected officials from city, county, state and federal levels of government.
Urban sprawl was one of the issues addressed by Masiello. He announced plans for reconstruction on the Genesee Street strip, from Bailey Avenue to the city line, much like the revamping effort on Hertel Avenue. The project will be funded through a federal grant, with contractors bidding on the projects. Construction is set to begin next spring, he said.
Leiser said her group has been working with Masiello and his staff for the past year to pump money into areas like Genesee Street, instead of subsidizing suburban development.
"We've built a relationship with many government officials," Leiser said in an interview. "We hold them accountable for the promises they make and we hold ourselves accountable for the promises we make."
About a dozen government officials sat in the audience -- including Common Council President James W. Pitts and Council members Charley H. Fisher III, Betty Jean Grant, Dominic J. J. Bonifacio Jr. and Joseph Golombek Jr.
Under a VOICE-Buffalo initiative dubbed "Project Holy Ground," the mayor also told the crowd he will work with his staff to find ways to speed up the demolition of about 20 properties, which were identified by VOICE-Buffalo as vacant buildings that are eyesores in the community. He also promised to work on creating a better strategy for handling the purchasing of empty lots so homeowners can buy the land beside their homes.