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By Brayton J. Wilson, WBEN.com Newsroom
Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - Some highly-anticipated developments are set to take place with regards to the future of the Perry Projects site in Downtown Buffalo on Monday, which includes the 284 vacant Commodore Perry Apartments in the neighborhood.
The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority (BMHA) is set to host their developing partner, Pennrose Development, to provide an update with the latest status of the Perry redevelopment project.
"I like to keep my board informed of what's going on as things progress, especially on a big project like this. So the folks from Pennrose are coming in to just make a presentation so that everybody on the board is on the same page, and knows what we're doing and what our rough timeline is for things, and where we are now," said Executive Director of the BMHA, Gillian Brown.
This upcoming redevelopment project to transform the Commodore Perry site will see a new mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood, which will include as many as 1,019 housing units. The master plan calls for replacement of all existing public housing units with "project-based vouchers."
The Perry development is currently comprised of 694 apartments, including the 284 vacant units that are slated for demolition later this year.
"We have to get those down as a preliminary matter so that when we add the land freed up by the demolition with the green space that was freed up by the demolition back in the late '90s, we will have room then to begin construction of Phase 1, which is going to be 405 units of new, affordable and public housing," Brown said.
Brown adds the BMHA and Pennrose have been working closer together every single day on a game plan for this project, and they have been working hard to get the planning phase complete to allow for Phase 1 to officially begin. He's hoping it will be a 2-3-year process for Phase 1 of the project to be completed.
With Monday's meeting set to be one of the final steps before the project commences later this year, Brown says he and the rest of the BMHA are ecstatic for this project to finally move forward.
"It's going to be a great thing for this part of the city. It's going to be a great project for the entire city," he said. "When construction starts, we'll be creating jobs, we'll be bringing people down to this area that haven't been down here in a very long time. We're hoping, we know this is going to spread and help to revitalize the 'Old First Ward' and across South Park Avenue, and hopefully make the Perry community more connected with Canalside and downtown. They're very, very, very few blocks apart, and right now, Perry is sort of an island. It will not be that anymore, because it will be a more thorough connector between Canalside and downtown, and what will be the new Perry community."
With the Perry neighborhood being in close proximity to Downtown Buffalo, some people may drive by, or drive through the area with the large number of vacant and abandoned complexes on site and see it more so as a black eye for the City. While Brown is aware of the vibes that neighborhood can give off with the abandoned and boarded buildings, he feels this project will completely transform the thinking of many that may find themselves in that vicinity in the coming years.
"What we know is when we get them demolished and we replace that with empty space and we begin construction, it's going to be great for people who are driving through this neighborhood and realize there's movement, there's economic activity down here," Brown said. "It's a huge shot in the arm for this entire community, which has really been neglected for a very, very long time."
As it turns out, a number of locally elected leaders also feel the site downtown is in for a positive transformation.
Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson has sat in on a couple of meetings with the BMHA regarding the Perry Projects. He appreciates how much the BMHA has actually engaged with the community to allow residents in the Perry neighborhood to be involved with the planning process.
"From what I've seen with the plans, they look like they're gonna re-adapt that space, re-create that space, make some green space in the front and make it community friendly," said Johnson on the project going forward. "It's been some time, yes, it's been dilapidated for quite some time, but I believe with the plan that is in place, it will bring Perry back to what it once was."
Meanwhile, Congressman Brian Higgins knows just how valuable that site is within the City of Buffalo, right on the periphery of downtown.
"It is in close proximity to the Buffalo River and the Outer Harbor. A new $24 million parkway at Louisiana Street will connect that neighborhood with the Buffalo River Corridor, and you'll see new townhouses, and there is a developer that's been designated," said Higgins of what's to come in the Perry neighborhood. "You'll see the real estate close by, probably, November of this year, and you'll see construction for both a brand new parkway and new townhouses, and the Perry neighborhood property. So it's a very valuable piece of property. ... There's a demand for housing, particularly affordable housing. So a lot of things make sense here, and because historically it's been a difficult property to develop, that doesn't mean there is not great optimism about an expeditious and quality development moving forward."
As for what else lawmakers would like to see come of this project, Johnson would like to see a number of the ideas the community pitched to BMHA as part of the project.
"I want them to put a lot of that forward with a community room space, possibly a community center, open back up the gym, refurbish the pool and things of that nature. The things that were important to the folks that live over there already," Johnson said.
As for Higgins, he'd like to see a nice complement of green space to enhance the living experience for residents of the Perry neighborhood, among other things.
"Keep in mind, this new parkway will feature quality pedestrian and bicycle access to the Buffalo River Corridor and Canalside. So this will be a really good quality neighborhood, in terms of life quality," Higgins said. "The development plan, the design will largely define what this community can be, and has nothing but extraordinary potential to be the next exciting neighborhood in Downtown Buffalo, or in close proximity to Downtown Buffalo."
While the planning of the new Perry neighborhood project has been ongoing for a while now, there was talk, at one point, of that site becoming the new home of a future football stadium for the Buffalo Bills. Those talks initially started before the COVID-19 pandemic and eventually subsided when discussions gravitated towards the new stadium being in Orchard Park.
However, Brown says the BMHA was never approached or never consulted about a possible stadium being built on the grounds of the Perry Projects. He says that news of a stadium possibly being looked at in the Perry Neighborhood was discovered in the newspaper.
After it was evident the infrastructure wasn't there to build a new football stadium in the Perry neighborhood, some believe that's when more immediate action maybe should have been taken to find a resolution for site redevelopment.
"I think what they should have done was redeveloped it for the people that currently exist over there," Johnson said. "When you think about, if they would have, the possibility of having to place people in other places, that was going to be a task. So I think they waited too long, it was a missed opportunity, but I think is correctable, and I think it's heading in the right direction now."
"I think we could have moved quickly, much more quickly," Higgins added. "I was on site four years ago and talked to the great potential of redeveloping those buildings before they got to a point where they can't be redeveloped. They were not properly sealed, and the weather took its toll on those buildings. That said, we're moving forward. The stadium is going to be in Orchard Park, and there's gonna be a brand new neighborhood in the Perry neighborhood of Downtown Buffalo, which will be a very exciting place for the City of Buffalo and for the people that are looking for affordable housing within that corridor."
However, Brown says the BMHA was not acting in reliance on the promise of a new stadium that held up the future redevelopment of the site. He says the problem has always been a lack of funding to be able to move forward with any kind of project.
"We had a grant in the late '90s to do density reduction down here, because even back then, everybody knew these buildings were obsolete even though they were occupied," Brown said. "We got several million dollars from HUD to do demolition of 300 units down her, and we did those demolitions, which created those fields of green space that are down here now. We have been trying for years, the previous executive team and then my executive team have been trying for years to revitalize this community.
"We had the Perry Choice Neighborhood Application that went in several years ago, and the BMA did a tremendous amount of preparation work and retaining consultants, and then ultimately, we missed being funded by HUD by just a handful of points. But had we gotten that grant, which would have been seven years ago, this community would already have been revitalized. It's always been a question of funding. We did not wait. I think maybe other people were thinking about it, and maybe waiting, other entities may be waiting to fund us or assist us with this, but we never were even approached about a stadium."
Monday's meeting with Pennrose Development regarding the future of the Perry Projects is set for 12 p.m. ET at the Martha Mitchell Community Center.