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New plan charts course for African American corridor

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Heritage Corridor (copy) (copy)

An archway over Michigan Avenue marks the African American Heritage Corridor, where a new plan outlines the steps needed to more fully capitalize on the tourist attraction. 

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The long-stalled Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor has a new blueprint for creating a local educational attraction and tourist destination.

It's been a struggle to turn the corridor's four mainstays – the Michigan Street Baptist Church, the Colored Musicians Club, the Nash House and WUFO Radio – into a unified whole, one hindered by the loss of many of the buildings that once lined the corridor.

With the new, comprehensive action plan – led by consultant Moody Nolan, the largest Black-owned design firm in the United States – there is a course of action to guide the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor moving forward.

"This day has been a long time coming," said Terry Alford, the commission's executive director. 

The plan calls for these key components: 

• A narrower and landscaped Michigan Avenue to slow traffic, and improved street lighting to make the blocks-long district more pedestrian-friendly.

• The closure of Nash Street to expand the site's walkable footprint.

• Using modular fence graphics, murals, markers and the wrapping of the former Broadway Auditorium nearby – now a public works facility called the Broadway Barns – to tell stories of the Black experience along the corridor and in Buffalo.

• Staging community gatherings and pop-up events in Quonset huts and shipping containers on Michigan just north of Broadway.

• Adding buildings to create density through mixed-income residential developments with retail and commercial space on the lower levels.

The plan includes a development road map with short-, medium- and long-term actions intended to create the unified tourism destination. Funding came from Empire State Development's $65 million East Side Corridor Economic Development Fund.

In developing the plan, Moody Nolan held six focus groups with 32 community residents, a community workshop with 71 participants and conducted interviews with stakeholders and representatives from the city's Public Works Department and Empire State Development Corp.

Alford said that unlike past plans, this one has the best chance to succeed.

"There have been plans for either the development of the entirety of the corridor or aspects of it in the past, with little real progress realized," Alford said in a recent videoconference presentation. "You may ask what makes this plan different from those other plans? That would be a very fair question.

"For the first time, the commission has full-time dedicated staff members who will lead the implementation plan and economic development strategy, and continue to engage and connect with the community, funders, partners and city leadership," he said.

“I look forward to working with the commission members, community stakeholders, residents, and our elected officials in effectively transforming the corridor into the historical, cultural, and economic juggernaut we know it can be,” new Executive Director Terry Alford

Alford, former director of the Erie-Niagara Tobacco-Free Coalition, was appointed executive director in March 2020. Audrey Clark, who received a master's degree in museum studies in 2019 from SUNY Buffalo State, is the project manager.

Funding for the commission is provided by Empire State Development and East Side Avenues, the public-private partnership that supports "transformational projects" along four East Side corridors. 

Other consultants that helped develop the strategic action plan were Lord Cultural Resources, based in Toronto; Elizabeth Kennedy Landscape Architects, based in Brooklyn; and Jon Stover & Associates, based in Washington, D.C. 

"With this plan in hand, the commission is now well-equipped to collaborate, expand and promote the area's cultural and historic assets as a destination for both tourists and residents alike," said Hope Knight, Empire State Development's acting commissioner and president-designate, in a statement.

Alford said he is encouraged by a "real sense of synergy" among different groups wanting the corridor to be a success.

"The hard work begins now," he said.  

Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He's also a former arts editor at The News. 

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