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City is showing welcome foresight in preparing East Side business park

The City of Buffalo has finally put in place the last piece of an important project targeting an area starving for jobs and opportunity.

The purchase of the last major piece of property in the Northland Corridor business and training park represents a significant point of progress in meeting the promise of economic revival for the East Side.

The city, through Buffalo Urban Development Corp., bought the five-acre property on Northland Avenue, near Grider Street, for $50,000. The purchase includes an 80,000-square-foot former manufacturing facility that had been vacant for more than 30 years.

The project is part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative. The city now controls more than a dozen properties in the neighborhood bordered by East Delavan Avenue, Grider Street and the Northland Belt Line train tracks just north of East Ferry Street.

Plans are to convert the Northland Corridor’s buildings and vacant land into shovel-ready or tenant-ready space with the end goal of attracting light and clean manufacturing operations.

The project creates tremendous potential for a part of the city that has seen little progress in recent decades. If potential becomes reality, people living in a neighborhood with too much unemployment or underemployment will be trained for in-demand jobs and learn transferable skills. They will earn good paychecks and for once be able to easily access the workplace, just a walk or short bus ride away.

The Northland job training center will be able to feed into other opportunities, including South Buffalo’s RiverBend development. There, SolarCity will create more than 1,400 good-paying jobs at what will be the largest solar panel producer in North America. Trainees will also be in demand for the more than 1,400 jobs that SolarCity promises will be created by its suppliers. And the skills learned at Northland will be transferable to other big projects being boosted by the Buffalo Billion.

The training opportunity funded by the state and shepherded by the city is creating an opening for an underserved community to take advantage of development being fueled by the governor’s billion-dollar promise.

Mayor Byron W. Brown has to be given credit for his prescience in purchasing the RiverBend site in 2008 and getting it cleaned up, even with no prospective tenant on the horizon. When the state came looking for a location for its solar panel factory, the former Republic Steel site was ready and waiting.

It took years to land that tenant, but the result has made it worth the wait. A similar process is under way at the Northland Corridor, where the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. has made a series of acquisitions from multiple owners stretching over the last year until more than 50 acres and 700,000 square feet of manufacturing space are under city control.

Brown’s vision for the neighborhood began taking shape years ago when he was a Common Council member and later a state senator. He pitched the business park concept to the governor and commissioned a study of some of the properties along the Belt Line railroad more than a year ago.

Assembling the property and preparing it for development is just the first step. Now comes the hard part – attracting manufacturers to that space. It won’t happen overnight, but the city is working to spread the wealth of Buffalo’s renaissance to the city’s largely African-American East Side.