A hate crime put a spotlight on Buffalo’s economically distressed neighborhoods and one of the city’s more persistent problems: too few grocery options in some of its poorest areas.
But it also is leading to renewed momentum for an initiative that seeks do something about both.
Federal, state and local leaders gathered Tuesday to tout a plan to develop four vacant lots on High Street into a High Street Market to include an indoor grocery store and outdoor farmer’s market.
The plan is a project of Buffalo’s Black Billion, a ministry of the Rev. Michael Chapman and his two churches, St. John Baptist and Gethsemane Missionary Baptist churches, to invest $1 billion in Fruit Belt redevelopment projects through government grants and private donations.
Phase one of Buffalo’s Black Billion includes a $57 million renovation of the McCarley Gardens affordable housing development, a $30 million renovation of St. John Tower senior apartments and, now, the future High Street Market.
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Community advocates seeking to develop a farmers market, grocery store and youth jobs incubator on Buffalo’s East Side will share plans to revive the project at an event to commemorate the 10 Buffalo mass shooting victims on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, one month to the day that a man killed 10 Black people at the Tops Markets on Jefferson Avenue in what authorities have called a racism-driven hate crime, project leaders also announced a Phase two plan to invest another $1 billion in Jefferson Avenue between Cherry and East Ferry streets in the coming years.
The “Cherry to Ferry” initiative will aim to renovate and resurrect the 1.5-mile corridor “to one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares,” St. John Baptist Trustee Michael Norwood said. “This will be the largest faith-based African-American redevelopment project in the history of Buffalo,” he said.
Norwood and Chapman did not say where the funding for Phase two would come from, but they presented a giant check for $210,000 from the churches to the city of Buffalo to pay for the High Street Market properties. Chapman said both church boards allocated the money last week at his request.
Norwood was among 18 speakers who promised to help the community reach its full potential in the wake of the hate crime that put it on the map of neglected urban areas.
Others included Melissa Spikes-Archer of the Buffalo Urban League, Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson, Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns, Andrew D’Agostino of the WNY Community Preservation Corp., Gov. Kathy Hochul representative Mo Sumbundu and the Rev. Que English of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
John Persons, president of Tops, said at a news conference Wednesday for the Taste of Buffalo that the store does not have a firm reopening date.
English noted that besides having limited food and grocery options – made worse by the closing of the Tops on Jefferson – low-income Black and brown communities are also suffering the worst consequences of a shortage of mental health providers, especially those who treat children and adolescents.
She urged the community to take advantage of mental health grants offered by the Biden administration and her department and announced that a new three-digit suicide hotline number – 988 – would replace the current 10-digit number starting next month.
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Erie County Executive Director Diane Held said the agency’s urban farming and vegetable experts will assist the High Street Market in starting an outdoor farmer’s market, as well as help local property owners create urban gardens for the community to grow their own food.
Buffalo City Schools Interim Superintendent Tonja Williams said the markets will also offer employment opportunities for local youth and create a ripple effect to support them nutritionally, socially, financially and academically. High Street Market will include a youth business incubator to encourage entrepreneurship and small businesses.
“This is a good day because this is not just business as usual,” Williams said. “This day has a purpose to directly support and build up our youth and families.”
The event was held under a large tent and at times had the feel of a church revival, with about 80 people in attendance shouting “Preach!” and “Amen!” in support of the speakers.