There is a lot of talk about bringing trains to the Central Terminal lately. Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced he’d pay the million dollars for a study from state funds. Mayor Byron Brown has committed to doing that study. Congressmen Brian Higgins and Chuck Schumer are gearing up to go to Capitol Hill to get some matching funds to the 25 million currently earmarked for Buffalo in New York State’s DOT funds.
There is even a designated developer, Stinson Developments, who has drawn up and shopped plans around town for a mixed-use Central Terminal property complete with bus lines, hotel, condos, apartments, conference center and market place.
Before I get into my enormous worries about the process, I want to state that I am very much in favor of bringing trains to the Central Terminal and the development of the Central Terminal property. I even support Stinson Developments as the official designated developer of the site.
I organized a bike race, this past June, at the Central Terminal. We hoped to attract a diverse mix of people who would have fun in the sun and find things to appreciate about each other.
That is exactly what happened. Black folks told me they’d never participated in events at the Central Terminal because when they’d tried in the past, had been shooed off the property. At the Central Termin8er, it felt like we really accomplished something.
To create the race, I worked with the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (owner of the Central Terminal) and Stinson Developments. I got know those players personally and as a result I’m skeptical that their plans, in their current form, will yield anything but pain for the surrounding community.
I’ve organized many large events. Never, as a client, have I been treated with such a lack of professionalism as by Mark Lewandowski at the Central Terminal. Calls were not returned, emails were ignored, the contract was delivered the opening day of the event and Mr. Lewandowski was hostile to my volunteers.
Stinson Developments, claimed to want to sponsor the event in April, then mysteriously backed out on the offer weeks before the event. They claimed the change of heart came as a result of the unprofitable sale of the Hotel Niagara. Therefore, they wouldn’t be able to afford a sponsorship. I wonder, how a development company that plans to do $100 million worth of restoration on the Central Terminal, can’t afford to sponsor a small event.
I did the event, in spite of financial losses, because I’ve come to respect and admire the community surrounding the terminal. They believed in my vision from the beginning and supported me in every way they could. I got to know them and learned that for decades they’ve been lied to, subject to harassing ticketing, starved of a meaningful police presence, and basically left out of all the important conversations about the East Side. In spite of this treatment, they endure. They still manage to scrape their money together to paint an elderly woman’s house, do neighborhood clean-ups and host concerts on the block.
So, in thinking about the possibility of trains coming back to the Central Terminal, my excitement is tempered. If my community event was treated the way it was, is it reasonable to expect that the neighborhood residents would be treated any better?
A little break-dancing, a little art, a little urban fashion show and a WHOLE LOT of fun!
I have seen the Stinson plans and I see no mention of affordable housing. I see a plan for $200,000 condos and locked in 5 year contract apartments. I see no give-back to the community in the form of funding a community land trust. I see them looking for more and more ways to lure moneyed young professionals to buy properties. I see no plan for living wage jobs. I imagine the response to inquiries like these would be that as a for-profit company they aren’t in the business of helping the poor.
Well, Stinson Developments is a for-profit company that couldn’t possibly develop the Central Terminal without state and federal funding. If Stinson Developments is going to use taxpayers’ money, they need to be accountable to the taxpayers. If their plan displaces people who are already on fixed or marginal incomes, that means economically vulnerable people will be more likely to go on the public entitlement rolls in some form or another. In economics, this is called an “Externality,” the hidden cost of doing business. That is a price, on top of any federal and state funding, that you, the taxpayer will pay.
It is a myth that an influx of moneyed professionals improves communities. The trend line of gentrification worldwide is not a good one for the poor or even the middle class. The reality is that as luxury housing units are added and as average income levels increase, housing gets more expensive. It gets a lot more expensive. The reality is that communities with marginal incomes get forced out, and eventually, so too does the middle class.
Short-sighted profit motives makes humane options look less profitable to developers. In a similar situation in the Fruit Belt, a viable parking plan for new employees in the Medical Corridor was an after thought of the development plan. This has had a directly adverse effect on the livability of that community. Only after a valiant effort of a group of residents, have concessions been made.
That is why I am skeptical when a developer asks for support from the community when the pitch is couched in the language of fairness. It is disingenuous. If you were asked to sign a petition in support of a measure that would increase your housing costs and eventually force you to leave your neighborhood, would you sign it?
The struggling and overworked people of the East Side, already spend too much of their cognitive energy just trying to survive. Sorting these complex economic issues is difficult for people that make a living doing it. It’s totally unfair to expect someone working three jobs and juggling a family, to go out and do the research to determine if the developer has their best interests at heart. I’m here to say, I’ve done the research, and right now, the developers don’t seem to have residents’ best interests at heart.
If there is no plan for the community baked into the master plan at the Central Terminal, it is likely there will be many voices asking for accountability for the hidden cost of gentrification. The gravity of the threat is becoming very real for more and more communities on the East Side. They’re having meetings, they’re assessing their situations and they are making plans.
This could be a win-win-win. Bringing trains to the Central Terminal will connect Buffalo to the rest of the country in a new and exciting way. A big reason why New York City is still the world’s economic powerhouse has a lot to do with the farsighted vision of the men who built the New York City subway system. The resultant economic growth from infrastructure investments and the revitalization of a forgotten neighborhood is something any politician could be proud to usher in. A more diversified and balanced business plan could burnish the reputation of a brave developer and ensure sustainable profit streams for years to come. But best of all, an inclusive economic tide would raise all boats.