Create a Website Account - Manage notification subscriptions, save form progress and more.
February 13, 2023
News Editorial Board
It had to be an exciting announcement for the people living in Buffalo’s Marine Drive Apartments: The complex won’t merely be renovated, as once anticipated, but in a $400 million project, the waterfront complex will be demolished and rebuilt. It is not just the right decision, but the only practical one.
Moreover, the project seems to be squarely in line with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s recent announcements about revitalizing and building more affordable housing all over the state. Hochul wants to push municipalities to increase their affordable housing stock and to improve what they already have. Here is the chance to revitalize an entire section of the City of Buffalo.
The staged redevelopment will include the demolition of the seven 10-story structures. The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority has joined in the project with private-sector developer partners from the Habitat Co. of Chicago and Duvernay + Brooks LLC of New York.
Plans for redevelopment have not been finalized. Officials will meet with tenants later this month, beginning with a resident advisory committee during the week of Feb. 19, and then over a three-day workshop from Feb. 28 to March 2. The engagement will occur through Urban Design Associates.
Communication will be key. Some tenants have been living with the effects of deterioration for decades. This resident-driven design process, if followed, promises to deliver a broadly acceptable outcome.
The public housing complex adjacent to Canalside is 72 years old and it has seen better days. The drab structures with small apartments, bathrooms and bedrooms have been an eyesore next to what has become a revitalized waterfront. Not that long ago, Marine Drive might have been considered a better-than-nothing option next to a deserted, empty waterfront. Now local, state and federal infusion has activated a new tourist destination.
Tenants have been residing in an outdated structure whose conditions were described as “spartan” by Jeffrey D. Head, vice president for community development at The Habitat Co. Kitchens and bathrooms are cramped, the ceilings are low and windows in the thin walls are tiny. Problems with heating and water pipes are chronic. And no air conditioning.
Gillian D. Brown, executive director of BMHA, talked about the development as a “mess.” He added: “There isn’t a single system at Marine Drive that is working well.” The buildings and systems are “functionally obsolete” and cannot be upgraded or rehabbed in a cost-effective way. The time to abandon this decades-old project is nearing.
Here’s what’s especially welcome: No current residents will be displaced. They will move once, from their apartment to their new home. Everyone there will have the opportunity to live in the revitalized Marine Drive. There may be more than 616 affordable apartments but there will not be less.
This is only part of the start of one of the most ambitious redevelopment undertakings in the city’s history. Last September, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority unveiled preliminary plans to remake the decaying Commodore Perry apartments. In addition, plans are in the works to address the Shaffer Village apartments, located in a strong neighborhood in Riverside. All three are in line for major transformational rehabilitation. This is an approximate $1 billion investment.
The city has worked with BMHA on the concept for at least six years, and a request for proposals was distributed to three master developers for each development. Marine Drive is the first one moving forward but they will proceed simultaneously.
Mayor Byron W. Brown says he feels Marine Drive will be a model for equitable development because it will be mixed-income, maintaining affordable housing but also creating workforce housing opportunities. And it will be in an area where that includes upper-income housing and significant amenities.
It’s an exciting prospect, the mayor said, to be able to demolish these exhausted towers and replace them with new, state-of-the-art housing without displacing any of the existing residents.