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Ujima Theatre, PUSH Buffalo, peace group shifting to ex-school on West Side

A former public school on the West Side, vacant since 2008, will become the new headquarters for Ujima Theatre, PUSH Buffalo and the advocacy group Peace of the City as part of a planned $14 million redevelopment project spearheaded by PUSH, Rep. Brian Higgins announced on Twitter on Monday afternoon.

The project planned for School 77 at 429 Plymouth Ave. and 378 Normal Ave., pending the approval in May of a grant from the New York State Homes and Community Renewal agency, will also feature 30 affordable-housing units for senior citizens on the building’s second and third floors.

Ujima Theatre, homeless since it was forced to move from its longtime home on Elmwood Avenue last year because of a devastating roof leak, plans to take up residence in the former school’s auditorium and adjoining rooms.

PUSH aims to centralize operations now spread across the West Side in new office space on the ground floor. Peace of the City, which helps at-risk youths through educational and arts programs, will also relocate to the ground floor.

“Employing thorough neighborhood engagement, PUSH has taken the lead on this creative reuse effort that embraces the community’s needs and vision,” Higgins, D-Buffalo, said in a statement. “When complete, the building will represent a wonderful coming together of seniors and youth, culture and recreation. The rehab of School 77 will be the latest development driving the revival of Buffalo’s West Side and another great example of how Western New York is restoring new energy into historic buildings.”

The school has sat empty since 2008. Its planned redevelopment emerged from a two-year community engagement process conducted by PUSH, during which staffers polled hundreds of neighborhood residents about their desires for the vacant building.

“PUSH’s theory is that mixed-income neighborhoods are sustainable neighborhoods thinking into the future,” said PUSH Director of Programs Rahwa Ghirmatzion.

“If you have 30 percent affordable housing in a community that is community-controlled, that means you’ve got the right balance that you’ve created a mixed-income neighborhood.”

Part of the approach, said Ghirmatzion, who also works as Ujima’s executive director, is to integrate community development, advocacy and arts organizations as a bulwark against the development-driven displacement of residents and cultural organizations that Buffalo is beginning to witness.

“When you have an anchor like School 77 and you’ve built affordable housing into it, and you make sure you have community-minded and like-minded organizations, it means we are trying to win against gentrification.”

email: cdabkowski@buffnews.com

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