New life continues flooding into the West Side
People continue breathing new life into the many "irreplaceable assets" found in one older, smaller neighborhood on Buffalo's West Side.
Robin Johnson, longtime owner of Vilardo Printing says, about 20 years ago Connecticut Street, between Fargo and Richmond, looked very different than it does today.
"If you would have been in 2000, I mean this was really a dangerous, dangerous area," Johnson said. So, she formed the Connecticut Street Association to clean up the neighborhood.
"We worked with Buffalo Police. Every two weeks we would get together. I would chase the drug dealers and prostitutes off the corner. And now we have no vacancy on the street. Our property values are three times the amount," Johnson said.
She absolutely "loves" the West Side neighborhood where her business has been for nearly 40 years.
"One of our dreams was not being able to park on our street. And it came true," Johnson said.
She credits D'Youville College - a few blocks away - for becoming "a major staple in the community." And Johnson says, the revitalization work by PUSH Buffalo, nearby, is also very important.
"Because we're stable here, you can bring stabilization in the other pockets, and then they would grow," Johnson said.
And grow they have. Aaron Bartley, PUSH's Executive Director says, the non-profit now owns about 100 parcels in the 30 square blocks bounded by Connecticut Street, Hampshire, Richmond and Normal Avenue - an area PUSH calls its "Green Development Zone."
"We view it as a vision of the future," Bartley said.
Over the past 12 years PUSH has transformed dozens of run-down buildings into modern affordable housing. And he says, PUSH works with the community to protect the local environment.
"Whether it's renewable energy, solar energy, geothermal energy. Whether it's managing our water resources better by trapping the water on site and having it permeate the earth. Whether it's creating food systems where neighborhood residents can grow food in their own community," Bartley said.
And since the initiative began, he says, 125 other property owners in the Zone have weatherized their old homes.
"And I think pieces of what we've done here have been adopted both in other parts of the city but really nationally. We have visitors every week. We have someone coming in from Rochester, from Detroit, Cleveland to take a look at what's happening here and bring back pieces of it to their community," Bartley said.
Up next, Bartley says PUSH will take-on converting the long vacant School 77, on Normal Avenue, into senior housing with a community theater and youth center.
A few blocks away, Kevin Garden, owner of Five Points Bakery, on Brayton Street, credits PUSH not only for its work in the neighborhood, but also for empowering people.
"They make it possible for people to make the West Side great. But it's those people that move in that open up businesses. And they bring their friends, and they bring their families. And they really transformed it," Gardner said.
Having lived in the neighborhood 17 years - Gardner's seen the changes first hand.
"Going out at night was, you know, pretty scary," Gardner said.
But now it's so different. He says he doesn't fear for the safety of his four young daughters.
"There's a lot more families. A lot more gardens in front of houses. A lot more people excited about what's going on," Gardner said.
And people come into his bakery all the time asking him about places to rent or buy. And he says the neighborhood has lots of immigrants and refugees opening new businesses.
"I'll see a new market that doesn't even have English on the sign. Because there's such a big population, that there's lots of new markets and shops and restaurants, that are all ethnicities. Which is one of the great things I love about the West Side," Gardner said.
That sentiment is shared by Vilardo Printing's Robin Johnson, who says, it's good to see all walks of life in the area. And PUSH's Bartley says, the West Side has been "enriched immensely by the growth of the refugee community."