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Enough with the delays; Michigan Street heritage commission has to begin showing progress soon

Recently, a team of design and planning experts offered a great piece of advice to members of the Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor Commission, challenging it to think outside the box.

We have one more suggestion: Get the box moving.

A lengthy funding issue has been resolved, which will free up $120,000 in state grants to pay for a management plan. And now a consultant is introducing a refreshing perspective after meeting with the public.

The proposal for a new way of thinking about the state-designated historical corridor on Buffalo's near East Side surfaced in a brainstorming session in the Frederick Douglass Center. Everett L. Fly, a landscape architect based in San Antonio, urged members of the commission to "Open your minds and think about this in a way you haven't thought about before."

Fly was joined in the discussion by representatives of Huntley Partners Development Consulting of Atlanta and CHA Consulting of Buffalo, who were hired to help the commission prepare a heritage corridor management plan.

Cultural tourism is becoming an economic engine in the region, and there is plenty of rich history from which to draw. Buffalo's role in African-American history includes the Underground Railroad stop at Buffalo's Michigan Street Baptist Church, the Colored Musicians Club and the Nash House Museum.

But, as Fly said, this history goes beyond bricks and mortar to people. Sports history was made here at the long-gone Offermann Stadium, which was located at Michigan Avenue and East Ferry Street for decades. Jackie Robinson, before breaking the color barrier in major league baseball, played 20 games here as a member of the Montreal Royals against the Buffalo Bisons. Former home run king Hank Aaron played here when he was still in the Negro Leagues.

And 19th century abolitionist William Wells Brown and mid-20th century architect John E. Brent both were Michigan Street residents.

But how well that story gets told still hinges on the progress by the commission's 20-plus members, which has been slow, at best, over these past few years.

Some of the delay, especially the funding issue, was a consequence of politics and bureaucracy. With that issue settled, the commission must get to work on telling the story of Buffalo's role in African-American history.