Affordable housing and a new arts center are a smart combination for East Buffalo

News Editorial Board

A diverse group of community leaders – including a bishop, a priest and a city court judge – saw the potential of a former brewery as a catalyst for change in East Buffalo.

The group, TOP Enterprises, plans to convert the former Lion’s Brewery and expand it, creating 83 apartments, a museum, art gallery, private studios, banquet space, retail units and Moreover. Green spaces are also planned. This versatile activation of a key intersection at Jefferson Avenue and Best Street promises to be one of the most exciting developments the East Side has seen since the Northland complex. Having the fine arts in the mix elevates an important housing project to one that addresses another critical lack in this section of Buffalo.

The brewery is just one part of a four-structure development called TOP Gateway Village. The entire project comprises 119,751 square feet of space and includes three additional new structures. The 13-member board includes pastor of new Mount Ararat, Bishop Dwight E. Brown, Rev. James E. Giles of Buffalo Peacemakers, and City Court Judge James AW McLeod. The chair of the board is Paula McDonald.

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Located at the intersection of the Fruit Belt, Kingsley and Masten neighborhoods, this project injects new vibrancy into an area that is also home to MLK Park, the Johnnie B. Wiley Pavilion and the Buffalo Museum of Science.

It is also half a mile south of Jefferson Avenue Tops, giving even more importance and urgency to the restoration of the community that is needed here as Buffalo continues to recover from the massacre of the 14 may.

While affordable housing and more retail and dining options are in themselves much needed in this area of ​​town, it is encouraging to see that community members in the neighborhoods surrounding the project have also makes the arts a priority.

The Gateway Village master plan was based on surveys and discussions with community residents. The questions: What important elements were missing in their neighborhoods? What would they like to see in the proposed development?

Surprisingly – or not – the lack of fine art equipment was high on that wish list, even higher than retail or security. Since the Langston Hughes Center for the Visual and Performing Arts closed in 2015—after its 33 High St. building was sold in 2010—the African American Cultural Center, Torn Space Theater, and Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor have been the main providers of artistic activity on the East Side, apart from a few music clubs and various pop-up events. Meanwhile, two major art museums, numerous galleries, numerous theaters and, well, just too many venues to list, thrive in other parts of the city.

Gateway Village is off to a good start in correcting this imbalance. A museum project in the renovated brewery would interpret the fascinating and eventful history of the building. A new community center would focus on the fine arts and encourage creativity. Another new structure would include health and wellness facilities.

Of course, affordable housing is at the heart of the 3.5-acre project, with seven studios, 67 one-bedroom units and nine two-bedroom units. But housing alone does not create a real community. By showcasing the arts and revitalizing an 1871 brewery building, TOP Gateway Village builds on Buffalo’s historic and ongoing strengths. Its construction will bring jobs and its commercial elements will help maintain jobs. Its focus on art will provide creative outlets in a field that needs more.

Too often, this page has to point out missed opportunities and regret mistakes that can’t be rectified. It’s refreshing to be able to send applause instead.

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William E. Bennett