BUFFALO, N.Y. - In 1981, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority decided it just couldn't let people live in the Kensington Towers housing projects anymore. Blaming a lack of state funding, the agency argued the buildings posed safety risks to tenants because they were in such poor condition.
So people moved out, and the buildings sat. And sat. For decades. Finally, in 2007, a $5 million state grant helped start the demolition process, igniting a proposal by private developers to build an $80 million "Heritage Manor" retirement community on the property. That project never materialized. Demolition of the six towers began a few years later, but even that wasn't easy, as contractors and inspectors became entangled in a scandal that led to criminal charges after they falsely claimed asbestos was removed from the towers.
It's now 2016. Thirty-five years have passed since anyone occupied the housing project. Only one of the six original towers remains, towering over 17 acres of empty fields at the corner of Glenny Drive and Fillmore Avenue. On the fence surrounding the property, there's a "For Sale" sign with a Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority contact number listed.
The BMHA has set a listing price of nearly $1.5 million, describing the property as "prime vacant land" due to its location near ECMC, Canisius College and other East Side economic development projects, such as the $44 million Northland Avenue Workforce Training Center just a mile to the south.
Although the BMHA must ultimately find the buyer to develop the vacant land, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said the city has offered recommendations to the authority.
Brown has his own ideas for development, too. Specifically, Brown said any project must capitalize on the proximity to ECMC.
"My vision for Glenny Drive, and that area of the city, is for more mixed-use development," Brown said. "Certainly would like to see health care development at that site, housing at that site, potentially housing for seniors at that site."
People who live in the neighborhoods near the Kensington Towers site have waited for years to see some type of progress. Patricia Hartinger, who has lived on Appenheimer Avenue behind the property since 1960, said she'd welcome the return of a retirement community after the deal fell apart in 2007.
When Hartinger moved here, the housing project was brand new. She's seen the decline up close.
"Sad," Hartinger said. "Really sad."
Evan Wilson has also lived on Appenheimer his entire life.
"There's nothing, Just garbage," he said, referring to the site. "I would just like to see the community get fixed, and get built to something better."
The BMHA board voted earlier this year to authorize an RFP for offers from buyers. According to its listing for the property, the BMHA is also applying with the state for a Brownfield tax credit.
Brown said it's his understanding the agency must demolish the remaining tower before moving forward.
"It's up to the BMHA. They have to sell it off. They have to strike the right deal, and hopefully, they will be able to do that," Brown said. "Development that would involve health care uses, and would build on and partner with the growing strength of ECMC, would be very beneficial to that community."