BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — After the mass shooting at the Tops on Jefferson Ave. in May, revitalizing East Buffalo became a priority for many lawmakers, community leaders and residents.
Local, state and federal officials have called for change, but few have presented plans on what that change looks like. The St. John Baptist Church, under the director of Pastor Rev. Michael Chapman, is already changing neighborhoods in the areas that need it most.
“There’s never been a billion-dollar Black initiative in the history of the City of Buffalo,” Rev. Chapman said.
In the shadows of the Buffalo-Niagara Medical Campus lies the Fruit Belt where millions of dollars are being invested by the church. It’s Buffalo Black Billion initiative began in 2002 when the medical campus announced a sprawling downtown development. After 20 years, the church owns 22 percent of the Fruit Belt and 70 percent of private land in that area. They say the goal is to invest a billion dollars in construction, programming and ministry in the 43-block radius.
“This comprehensive urban development model has reduced the crime. We are either the first or second lowest crime rate in the city every single year,” Rev. Chapman added. “We’ve totally turned the consciousness of that community around.”
Their project includes a Community Benefit Agreement, designed with resident input on what they want in their neighborhood. The church has already spent millions from private investors and used public grant money for this development. They are now on track to build more than 600 new homes in the next four years.
“We’re putting people to work and the community is being employed; and we are providing quality living conditions,” Rev. Chapman continued.
On some of their past construction projects, they say they employed 60 percent minority workers.
This project also includes building the High St. Market where they hope to give Buffalo School students hands-on business experience. Rev. Chapman says he wants to work with fifth and sixth grade students who may be struggling in the classroom. It’s these students, Chapman says, who need the experience the most.
In the next four years, work from Cherry St. to Ferry St. in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt is expected to be complete. Now, they want to expand their efforts to Jefferson Ave.
“We have the history. We’ve accomplished it. We’ve done a billion over the next two years it will complete that in the Fruit Belt. We can do a billion down Jefferson and restore the entire Eastside,” Rev. Chapman explained.
It may seem like a dream, but Rev. Chapman believes the Jefferson Ave. community can be restored in less than a decade. They say the best is yet to come for East Buffalo.
“If we get support and no opposition, we could do the Jefferson piece in 6 to 7 years,”
He plans to work with University at Buffalo professor and Black community historian Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. and will enlist Carmina-Woods Design for architecture consultation.
They will begin hosting public hearings where they will listen to residents thoughts about the project before drafting a Community Benefit Agreement that will be presented to the City of Buffalo. Once presented, St. John Baptist Church says they will seek designated developer status for the Jefferson Ave. restoration project.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.