Katrinna Martin-Bordeaux, the Chairperson of Young Black Democrats of Western New York, is denouncing Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan for the redevelopment of the Northland Avenue industrial corridor, only weeks after the administration announced a $25 million contest for prospective non-profit tenants that would use the space.
She calls the plan “uninspired and driven by a lust for patronage dollars rather than on a coherent and worthwhile economic development strategy that puts the community first.”
Martin-Bordeaux argues that Cuomo’s $20 million contest to fund new anti-poverty initiatives is backwards: designed to fund more patronage jobs that pretend to help the poor without doing anything that advances the sustainable development of the community.
She notes that the program’s announcement by Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul during Councilman Darius Pridgen’s Sunday service was “outlandishly inappropriate.”
In recent months, Cuomo has pledged $50 million as an initial investment in the corridor. He did so after intense criticism for excluding the African American community from his ‘Buffalo Billion’ spending program. The pledge came at a time when activists have been demanding that the Cuomo Administration meet promised minority hiring and contracting goals.
In response to the political backlash, Mayor Byron Brown has been making a seemingly half hearted effort to develop an economic development strategy for the African American community.
BUDC spent $6.7 million to purchased a dozen properties in a 50-acre area, comprising 700,000 square feet of space in vacant industrial buildings. The agency has decided to retain and renovate the buildings at 631, 683 and 741 Northland Ave., while demolishing all or part of other properties, including 777 Northland and 537 E. Delavan Ave.
Several of the buildings that will be kept will be subdivided to create multi-tenant light industrial facilities. The WNY Workforce Training Center will be housed in about 100,000 square feet. The rest of the complex will be used for a mixture of commercial and industrial purposes. Work will include renovations, demolition, stabilization and site preparation work at each property, as well as asbestos and environmental cleanup.
“Don’t let BUDC waste $50 million building a traditional workforce training center to train you for jobs that don’t exist. We need to incubate our own jobs, work for ourselves, and cultivate personal wealth,” she says of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation’s current plan.
Last month, Martin-Bordeaux publicly called for resource parity with Jordan Levy’s z80 Labs and 43 North, the flagship Cuomo Administration program designed to launch tech startups.
An alternative vision for East Side economic development
Martin-Bordeaux is outlining a community centric redevelopment strategy for the Northland Avenue Corridor, called The Northland Studios.
Mrs. Martin-Bordeaux’s plan calls for a $200 to $300 million buildout of Los Angeles style entertainment production studios, capable of producing first rate cinema, television, music, and entertainment content. The studio would serve as a free public incubator space for aspiring artists, directors, musicians, vocalists, actors, screen writers, and other creative professions — for whom access to expensive equipment, studio space, sound stages, prop libraries, and recording facilities would be catalytic.
“This isn’t just for the Black community; it is going to lay the foundation of industries that will make all of our communities stronger, but is particularly aligned with talents and skill sets already in the Black community,” explains Mrs. Martin-Bordeaux. “This is how we can pursue inclusive economic development that brings us all together.”
The entertainment incubator will cultivate an enabling environment that brings together creatives and links them with the contacts and capital that they need to bring their product to a national stage. Her supporters say that this project can “turn Buffalo into Atlanta.”
The studio space would be relevant across a variety of creative industries, beyond movies and music, to fields like fashion, curriculum, architecture, marketing, and advertising.
“The strategy is to cultivates a hub of creative activity and talent that will benefit from the dynamism that comes from a diverse field of creatives from all different industries working in one place,” Martin-Bordeaux says. “That’s what will create the enabling environment that will allow young people in the community to succeed.”
“This will cultivate an industry that can transform — not just the East Side of Buffalo — but the entire Buffalo Niagara region,” she concludes.