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The Editorial Board: Around the city, and even in the downtown jail, welcome changes are in the works

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John Fenner (copy)

John Fenner looks out the window from his fifth-floor pod in the Erie County Holding Center, where he is participating in Project Blue. The program helps inmates stay out of the criminal justice system once released. 

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Lots of good things are happening around Buffalo – in a Metro Rail station, at the Broadway Barns and even in the Erie County Holding Center.

• Transformation is coming to LaSalle Metro Rail station and environs: A new project at the northern end of Main Street will add much-needed density to an underutilized area. For years, the LaSalle station’s unprepossessing cement facility has been surrounded by acres of emptiness and a Park-and-Ride lot.

The city, in partnership with Niagara Frontier Transit Authority and others, is looking for developers to propose something exciting here. What will it be? We don’t know yet, but it will likely include mixed income housing that would take advantage of nearby amenities like the Shoshone and McCarthy parks and the Rails-to-Trails path completed in 2016. As with the Medical Campus Metro site, the station will be incorporated. Stay tuned.

 Developers are also invited to overhaul a massive downtown complex: As the city looks to create a new Public Works campus, it hopes that the Broadway Barns at Broadway and Nash, now used for snow removal equipment storage, can make a vibrant contribution to downtown and the adjacent African American Heritage Corridor by moving into private hands.

The nearly 200-square-foot facility wasn’t always a garage. It was built as an armory in 1858 and then, starting in 1910, served as an auditorium for circuses, boxing matches and professional hockey, among other uses. Maybe this iconic structure can once again host public events; it’s up to the imaginations (and financial resources) of Western New York developers. A request for proposals is out.

 There’s even good news from the Erie County Holding Center: Hoping to reduce overall recidivism rates that are higher than the national average, the Sheriff’s Office Jail Management Division is expanding its Project Blue program, which pairs inmates with counselors who work with them on strategies to stay out of the criminal justice system for good, once they’re released.

Implemented in partnership with Peaceprints of WNY, it includes job-hunting workshops, help with addictions, inspirational speakers and more. The program works; recidivism rates for its participants are 10 percent, dramatically lower than an 81 percent rate measured in 2016. Project Blue includes all of the inmates at the Holding Center starting this fall. It’s worth noting that Project Blue was started under the leadership of Sheriff Timothy B. Howard – who has rarely received accolades from this editorial board – in 2019.

 Finally, don’t miss the cherry trees: It’s accepted that spring barely exists in Western New York, but now that it’s finally warming up, check out the one place in Buffalo where spring puts on quite a show.

It’s all too brief in duration, but there’s still time to enjoy cherry blossom season in Delaware Park, which happens around and behind the Buffalo History Museum. In perfect harmony with Hoyt Lake’s Japanese garden, an expansive cohort of cherry tree species comes into pink and white bloom at the end of April, continuing into early May.

An official festival for these was started 10 years ago to draw more attention to the (mostly) Yoshino and Kwanzan cherry varieties, many donated decades ago by Buffalo sister city in Japan, Kanazawa.

The festival is over, but the blooms remain, against a peaceful backdrop of groomed gardens, thanks to Olmsted Parks Conservancy and Friends of the Japanese Gardens. While you’re there, wish a happy birthday to Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Buffalo’s ring of parks and many others around the country. He turned 200 on April 26.

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