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Editorial: Northland project aims to revive a whole neighborhood

The $60 million Northland Avenue Belt Line Corridor project to create a job training and light industrial hub has the potential to transform its East Side neighborhood.

It’s a big undertaking, expected to take place over the next couple of years as vacant buildings are renovated and others beyond reuse are demolished. Those who are underemployed or unemployed will receive training for in-demand jobs, and new and vibrant affordable housing will be added.

The project is part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion. It has been shepherded by Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown, who pitched the business park concept and commissioned a study of some of the properties along the Belt Line railroad. When completed, Northland will be a critical piece of the dynamic that is reshaping the city.

SolarCity at South Buffalo’s RiverBend is just one of many manufacturers that may hire the workers who will emerge from Northland’s centerpiece, the Western New York Workforce Training Center. The center is a joint venture of Alfred State College, Erie Community College and SUNY Buffalo State. It is scheduled to open by September 2018 and will train workers in advanced manufacturing jobs in concert with Buffalo Manufacturing Works.

Brown pointed to a recent historic project labor and workforce agreement between the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. and the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council. The agreement sets substantial goals for minority- and women-owned businesses and workers and includes an apprentice program to provide employment and training opportunities. It also guarantees entry of up to 20 workers from the project ZIP code of 14215 and surrounding ZIP codes into the Buffalo Building Trades Pre-apprenticeship Program, an eight-week paid training program.

The Buffalo Urban Development Corp. is redeveloping the site, which includes more than a dozen properties and 35 acres of East Side land that for decades has been underused or vacant, as News business reporter Jonathan D. Epstein recently wrote.

Demolition has already begun at 537 E. Delavan Ave., a job that will open about seven acres of land for redevelopment. Gilbane Building Co. is overseeing cleanup and construction work at 683 Northland Ave. This will be the home of the Workforce Training Center and Buffalo Manufacturing Works. Other buildings will be renovated and made available for lease or demolished and the sites cleaned up. That will leave 17 acres of shovel-ready land available for new construction.

This expansive project is not all commercial. It will include parkland, auxiliary services and food, and infill housing near existing neighborhoods. The city will make streetscape improvements along Northland Avenue. National Grid and National Fuel Gas are in the process of putting in new pipes and utility poles.

Neighborhood-based developers and small businesses have shown interest in making additional investments. City officials see increased involvement in the project and investment from businesses and nonprofits as significant. It is not too much to hope that people who live in the immediate area will drive additional development and growth in the Delavan-Grider-Northland corridor.

Delavan-Grider, a traditionally strong and stable neighborhood, rose to prominence largely because of the industrial businesses that enabled people to walk to work in their own neighborhood. It is the city’s vision that the more than $60 million investment will continue to grow and enable that scenario to happen again.

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