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Archway over Michigan Street Heritage Corridor called 'game-changer'

The long-awaited Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor artistic archway is up and ready to spotlight Buffalo's rich African American culture and heritage.

Spanning Michigan Avenue between Broadway and William Street, the archway aims to make the African American Heritage Corridor a destination point. It will be illuminated at night and serve as a beacon to the corridor.

"It's going to be a game-changer for the corridor," said Buffalo Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen, who represents the Ellicott District where the archway was installed Tuesday.

The structure is the only full archway in the city, Pridgen said. It is located near some of the corridor's high-profile attractions including WUFO, the city's first black-owned radio station; the Colored Musicians Club, a union hall for black musicians when unions were segregated; the Nash House Museum and its exhibits depicting the abolitionist and civil rights movements; and the Michigan Street Baptist Church, a stop on the Underground Railroad before escaping slaves crossed into Canada.

The archway also will get the attention of motorists traveling from the Kensington Expressway to places like Canalside, the KeyBank Center for concerts and Buffalo Sabres games, Sahlen Field for Buffalo Bisons games and people coming to work downtown.

"If people just ride down the street, they don't know about the rich heritage that's around here. They do now," Pridgen said.

The project took more time and money than originally expected, but it was well worth the wait and the money, said Pridgen, who first envisioned the archway seven years ago.

Along the way, the project had some setbacks and "bumps in the road," including wording on the bond document and clerical mistakes, Pridgen said.

"It took some time for us to get here, but we're here," he said. "I think it will attract a lot more tourism and give the corridor the respect it deserves."

The $322,000 price tag, which includes the electricity, pillars, foundation, engineering, cobblestone and artist fees, is more than the $200,000 that was "guesstimated years ago,"  Pridgen said.

The price of materials contributed to the cost increase.

"The cost of steel increased over the years," he said. "It's more expensive than what we originally thought, but definitely worth every penny."

The archway was designed by local African American artist Valeria Cray and fabricated by Lazarus Industries, a minority-owned business on High Street on the city's East side.

Now that the archway project is complete, Pridgen plans to turn his attention to working with Mayor Byron W. Brown's administration and state government to restore 509 Michigan Ave., a historic building next to the Michigan Street Baptist Church.

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