BUFFALO, N.Y. — They billed the event as "Cultivating Buffalo's East Side Fresh Food Drought". And the hope of the St. John Fruit Belt Community Development Corporation is to help grow and prosper in that neighborhood. But they must also counter some community concerns.
There are currently vacant lots on High Street between Locust and Mulberry. But the presence of this crowd on hand for Tuesday's announcement indicates there are big plans for this property from the Baptist church-based St. John Fruit Belt Community Development Corporation.
St. John Baptist Trustee Michael Norwood said, "We are honored to purchase these High Street parcels on which we are standing today for $210,000 dollars which gives us the opportunity to finally build the High Street Market."
Actually, they are talking about a fresh food market along with an adjoining open farmer's market and a youth training and business development center. And they have buy-in from community elements and other developers.
Buffalo School Interim Superintendent Dr. Tonja Williams said, "It will directly help and support and build up our youth and families."
Andrew D'Agostino of the WNY Community Preservation Corporation told the crowd, "Today we're here to remember those we lost but we're also here to heal. To put in the work to unite the city and bring us all together. The project announced today here on this vacant lot can be that unifying element."
However, there are some in that same community who question the goal of unification from a developer who they say has not always been a good neighbor.
They claim Rev. Michael Chapman, who runs St. John Community Development Corporation, in the past tried to push people out of rental units for gentrification with the emerging nearby medical campus. So now with the process of the city selling the land to his development firm, some neighbors may surface with questions.
Veronica Hemphill-Nichols, who leads the Fruitbelt - McCarley Gardens Housing Task Force says, "He has to have community engagement before there's an official okay, We don't want him building in our community considering his track record."
Rev. Chapman was not at the event and he did not respond to a referred request for a phone conversation about the claims of some neighbors.
We did speak with St. John Trustee Norwood as one of the church's representatives. He says this is all part of Buffalo's Black Billion program for the East Side.
He said, "This project today is going to bring the city together."
2 On Your Side asked, Do you feel you have the blessing of the city council and other city officials now to do this?
"We talked to them - we talked to them and they've agreed. They asked us to do town hall meetings and we did those and my understanding is everything is done," Norwood said.