BUFFALO, N.Y. -- It’s the most expensive business project ever attempted in Buffalo.
The Tesla solar cell factory in South Buffalo cost over $750,000,000. From concept, to adjusted concept, to construction, to Thursday’s announcement that production had started, took almost four years.
Governor Cuomo and his supporters have repeatedly said this plant is a glimpse into Buffalo’s future. It is, in a sense, a monument to hope.
But in the South Buffalo neighborhood surrounding the massive 1.2-million square foot structure, not everyone is convinced the factory will mean much to them.
From the Tesla plant’s frontier, go north on South Park Avenue into Buffalo’s 1st Ward.
We found a cluster of businesses who are big fans of the factory.
“We saw rushes of construction people come in in the morning, during their lunch or on their way home from work and at night, too. It’s been great for business,” says Ty Reynolds, owner of Mazurek’s Bakery.
A block away, a former funeral home is today a coffeehouse called Undergrounds. Inside at noon, a group of four men who came in for lunch. They work at the solar cell plant.
“We’re hoping that the word of mouth from that will help create that customer base from the plant for us,” says Bridget Morris, co-owner of the cafe.
But when we wandered south of the plant, we easily found a number of people who are unimpressed with the largest solar manufacturing plant in the western hemisphere, which just happens to be in their neighborhood.
None would share their thoughts on-camera. But the people we spoke with expressed their frustration that the neighborhood had been overlooked for years. Shuttered store-fronts are easy to find. Moneys for street improvements, new side walks and other upgrades have been in short supply.
There is doubt people in the neighborhood will find jobs at the plant.
Bakery owner Reynolds says he understands that sentiment.
“There’s been quite a few projects that people have talked about that were going to launch and they started or that didn’t happen at all," Reynolds said. "People are are a little leery about what may happen, but today they’re starting production. That’s a great leap forward.”
Governor Cuomo has spoken publicly about the difficulty of getting the people of Buffalo to get let go of gloomy views of the future. Many here are convinced better days lie ahead and point to the Tesla plant as proof.
Still, there are neighbors of the plant who are not ready to buy that, just yet.