BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – News 4 is celebrating Black History Month with stories highlighting African American culture all month long. And, we’re kicking things off early by looking at a major project that’s been proposed for Buffalo’s Jefferson Avenue community.

The plan is to help address chronic issues on the city’s East Side.

It’s a project that would dramatically change Buffalo’s Jefferson Avenue community. A fine arts center with more than 80 affordable housing units above, plus a restaurant and retail space on site and areas for large gatherings. We heard from the development group behind the plan.

“The advantage of this development is going to revolutionize Jefferson Avenue because there is nothing like this on Jefferson and it’s going to create the kind of synergy that was a part of Jefferson in the past,” said Paula McDonald, president of T.O.P. Enterprises.

The fine arts community center is by far, the most expensive, proposed development project in the Jefferson Avenue community nearing $50 million in cost, turning a massive piece of blight into a development project for the community. Affordable housing units would range between $600 to $850 per month.

What’s there now at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Best Street is the Old Lion Brewery site, which has long been vacant. Over a century ago, German-style beer was brewed here. A cistern remains underground.

The old brewery is taking up three acres of land and is now owned by the New Mt. Ararat Temple of Prayer Church next door. This new vision of the fine arts community center has come about organically through the church.

“Our heart is to tap into the children and to begin to form them and to bring out the natural gifting that they have which might not be what’s accepted in the school system, but through the arts, music and creative expression they’re able to flower,” said Renee Brown of New Mt. Ararat Temple of Prayer Church.

The city’s Planning Board likes what it hears and approved construction plans late last year. Now the development group is working to make the center shovel ready next year and they’re preparing to apply for state tax credits later this year — with the hope of changing lives for the better — just blocks away from where tragedy struck.

“The revitalization of Jefferson in spite of the tragedy that happened there in May, so this is a beacon of light,” said Ben Upshaw, managing partner of CB Emmanuel Realty, “We want to attract I think more elements of Buffalo in general to come to the East Side to view the arts and to be part of the activities that are going on here.”

Donations for the project are still being accepted. You can donate by going through the T.O.P. Enterprises website.

“Do something for the community, do something for the youth alright do something business-wise so I see this as while, we look at it as business but I look at it as ministry,” said Bishop Dwight E. Brown, pastor of the New Mt. Ararat Temple of Prayer Church.

Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.