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Editorial: $50 million is welcome, but East Side plans must lure the private sector

The deployment of the $50 million state fund on Buffalo’s East Side is both intriguing and curious. Overall, the money represents good news for long neglected areas, and injects hope and inspiration for small business owners, developers and would-be developers.

The recovery from decades of deterioration will not come overnight. Residents and small business owners will have to continue to be patient, and they will have to continue to ask questions and hold elected officials accountable.

Two questions, in particular, will be useful: How will the money be used and how will it make a difference? Its best use will be if it changes conditions enough to leverage investment by the private sector. In part, that means pursuing project in a way that will attract a critical mass of people whose arrival would create a role for housing, restaurants, entertainment and other services.

For now, take note of the promises being made and the specifics about where the money is going. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo along with Mayor Byron W. Brown outlined the proposed projects:

• Money is to go the neighborhood’s four main commercial corridors. Those include: Michigan, Jefferson, Fillmore and Bailey avenues, focusing on the preservation of historic buildings.

• Another $4 million will be invested into turning the Broadway Market into a year-round destination and “a sustainable, neighborhood food source.”

• The Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor will get $7 million for capital improvements to its anchor organizations – the Colored Musicians Club, Michigan Street Baptist Church, the Nash House Museum, and WUFO Black Radio History Collective. Additional funding will be determined through a master management and joint operations plan.

• $6.6 million will be devoted to restoring and upgrading Martin Luther King Jr. Park, along with the restoration of the Buffalo Science Museum’s formal front stairway for community programming.

• $7.4 million in direct project funding will be provided to businesses and individuals for building out commercial spaces in mixed-use buildings and restoring historic structures.

• $10 million is earmarked for street improvements in the four corridors and target areas to complement earlier investments and to leverage state and federal transportation funds.

Other projects include a $10 million capital investment fund for small businesses and one that is of particular interest – and also a curiosity: a $5 million grant for the University at Buffalo to train East Side residents in real estate development.

The money being earmarked for developers and would-be developers is cause for discussion. It may be necessary to incentivize developers to go into distressed areas but the amount and degree must be carefully measured.

It is surely hopeful that after years of inertia, something is on the table to renew the city’s East Side. For Buffalo’s revival to be truly influential, all sections of the city need to grow, not just the usual neighborhoods.

It is one thing to bring money to the table, but it’s another thing have a plan on what to do with those dollars to ensure they have the impact needed. The community has been provided the list of proposed plans and now should take the opportunity to digest the information, ask questions and then prepare to help work toward a better future.

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