Mayor Byron W. Brown traveled to Albany with an East Side story he's hoping the state will help fund.
Brown described Buffalo as a city on the move and looking to, among other things, revive the heart of its troubled East Side.
The focus of that vision is Jefferson Avenue, a once bustling commercial and residential thoroughfare that, despite efforts by prior administrations, has not rebounded.
Buffalo could use help paying for some $21.6 million in improvements - like new street lights, sidewalks, traffic signals, and bicycle-friendly accoutrements - along Jefferson Avenue from Main to Division streets, Brown told state lawmakers.
The city also needs money for an East Side housing - specifically to fix up for sale 60 houses the city obtained from a recent foreclosure auction, Brown said. He hopes the money can come from a $10 million pot Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo suggested be included in the state budget to help stabilize housing in Buffalo and Cheektowaga, at the Buffalo border.
"We're trying to create a residential and business ecosystem that feeds on itself," Brown said upon returning to Buffalo from Albany. "We are focusing on building a residential fabric that will support the commercial."
It's part of a larger East Side strategy that already includes creation of a light manufacturing hub in the nearby Northland Corridor, and apartments and retail development under way on Jefferson Avenue, Brown said.
"It's a comprehensive vision, continuation of the investment we have made. Power centers of investment that will stimulate major economic development," the mayor said.
Brown was in Albany Monday for what has become a ritual of sorts, when New York State's big-city mayors make their case to get specific projects funded for their cities in the state budget.
Along with other mayors, Brown presented his wish-list before a joint budget panel of the state Senate and Assembly.
Some of Brown's requests, like the Jefferson Avenue project, were new.
Others were requests from prior years that the city hasn't given up on, projects Buffalo still wants to complete once funding is secured. Some of the requests could fall under Cuomo's "Buffalo Billion 2," and Brown publicly thanked the governor for that effort while in Albany on Monday.
Cuomo described the "Buffalo Billion 2" as a $500,000 pool of economic development money to be used for such things as extending the light rail system to Amherst, purchasing land in downtown Niagara Falls and turning some of the former Bethlehem Steel plant property into an industrial park for advanced manufacturing.
In making its funding requests to the Legislature, Buffalo is not necessarily looking for the state to fund the city's wish list of projects in their entirety, but instead for the state to provide as much as it can so the city can leverage other funding, Brown said.
In addition to the Jefferson Avenue and housing stabilization funds, Brown asked lawmakers to help fund this year:
- A Department of Public Works campus that would house the city's snow plowing, garbage collection, paving and construction vehicles as well as the city animal shelter, auto impound and Public Works administration offices. This new facility would replace six existing Public Works facilities scattered around the city. The first phase of the project is estimated at $30 million. The city has not said where such a facility would be located. Consolidating all the functions into one facility will enable Buffalo to sell its six existing Public Works buildings, which Brown said, are in prime locations for redevelopment investment. The single campus will also reduce maintenance and staffing costs, Brown said.
- Returning cars to two more blocks of Main Street, from Mohawk to Court streets, at a cost of $17 million; and from Seneca to Exchange streets, at a cost of $13 million. The city since 2014 has returned cars to the 500 and 600 blocks of Main Street, and is now working on lower Main Street, at Canalside.
He also asked the state for help in:
- Allowing several upstate cities, including Buffalo, to tax wireless telecommunication providers just as New York State and New York City do, for a portion of the gross receipts tax. This would generate an estimated $500,000 annually for Buffalo, according to the Brown administration.
- Creating a tax reduction incentive program that rewards municipalities with a $2 million state grant for every 1 percent the municipalities cut their own property tax rates - providing those cuts continue for five consecutive years. The program could mean $4 million to Buffalo, the city estimates.
The city's requests for the incentive grants and the telecommunications tax are not new. Neither are Buffalo's requests for money for a Public Works campus and the Main Street car sharing project.
But Brown - a former state Senator from Buffalo - notes that it's not unusual for a proposal to be submitted and reviewed several times in Albany before it picks up needed support to get enacted.
That was the case with the city's requests to Albany for residential parking in the Fruit Belt, and for Buffalo to be given greater authority to obtain properties in foreclosure.
Both were approved last year. After receiving approval for the foreclosure process, Buffalo obtained 60 properties. Those are the houses the city now plans to fix up and resell with some of the $10 million Brown hopes will remain in the state budget the Legislature approves.
Buffalo's request this year for funds to help revitalize Jefferson Avenue is new. But the project outlined would be building on efforts the Brown administration already started on Jefferson Avenue, and the larger Jefferson-Northland-Fillmore area.
Over the past several years, the Brown administration has been working on the Northland Corridor, which is being turned into a light industrial manufacturing hub with a $45 million Workforce Training Center the state is financing. The center is dedicated to training Buffalo residents for high-tech manufacturing and other jobs.
Beyond that, the city has begun redevelopment efforts on nearby Jefferson Avenue, which is the eastern border of the city's Fruit Belt neighborhood.
With support from the city, Bellamy Commons, at 1490 Jefferson Ave., was turned into 30 low-income apartments and office space for the NAACP. Next, Brown said, a portion of the Bellamy Commons will become the Black Achievers Museum.
Nearby, at 1160 Jefferson, developers Nick Sinatra and David Pawlik are planning two, three-story apartment buildings with a total of 84 apartments serving a mixed-income population. The $20 million project also includes commercial space for retail tenants and other small businesses.
The city also recently opened the Beverly Gray Business Exchange on Utica Avenue near Jefferson Avenue to assist minority and women-owned businesses.
The funds being sought for Jefferson Avenue infrastructure improvements as well as East Side housing stabilization are part of this larger commercial-retail-residential plan for to revive the East Side, Brown said.
"It's part of a larger vision for the East Side," Brown said. "It all ties together."