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The John and Byron Show

Well, sir, you just had to be there; you just had to see the John and Byron show.

It was the ECIDA board meeting Monday morning, April 16, at the downtown library auditorium. The board was considering Carl Paladino’s proposed Graystone Building rehab project, which would yield 42 market-rate apartments and first-floor commercial space. Market rate generally refers to whatever the market will bear for private, out-of- pocket, and non-subsidized rents—in this case, one- and two-bedroom apartments ranging from $700-$1350 per month.

As reported by the Buffalo News (April 17, 2012), “the ECIDA generally does not provide tax breaks for market-rate housing.” But “adaptive reuse” is the way around that one. According to Andrew Rudnick, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and chair of the ECIDA policy committee, the “Graystone project qualifies for incentives under the adaptive reuse policy aimed at breathing new life into long-vacant buildings.” That certainly may be said of many, many buildings in poor areas throughout our city. Why Graystone? Rudnick went on to say that the project “meets such a clear community need.” Really? Which community?

Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant, noting that the building was in a census tract having a fairly large proportion of low-income households, asked if some of the proposed apartments would be set aside for those families. William Paladino, Ellicott Development’s chief executive officer, said that that would be “considered,” which was met with a chorus of laughter from the audience. After that, the John and Byron machine cranked up.

Almost as if planned, Mayor Byron Brown began a recitative about all the low-income housing the city has built or renovated on the East and West sides. But that wasn’t Grant’s question. Then, almost as if on cue, Board Chairman John LaFalce began to feed Brown a series of questions geared, it seemed, to elicit the wonders of urban rehab under the Brown administration, as indicated by the man himself. The mayor and the former congressman went on to have a conversation about rehab, about serving the low-income population of the city, and about block grants. Watching this interchange, you really had one of those “talk it to death” politician experiences. It was sort of like: “John, blah, blah, blah, blah.” “Well ,Byron, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And so it went on the stage at the auditorium that morning.

Of course, Brown could have proposed approval of Mr. Paladino’s request contingent on including a definite number of low-income apartments in the project. He did not. And neither Brown nor LaFalce ever directly responded to Grant’s question. In my view, that was downright shabby.

It was also noted that the Paladino organization incurred $3,000 in fines from Buffalo City Housing Court. But it wasn’t until Betty Jean Grant asked if any fines on the Graystone Building had been forgiven that those of us in the audience discovered that this $3,000 had been written off. Are there other fines or possibly unpaid taxes on Graystone that have been forgiven or written off?

Unfortunately, I could not stay for the entire meeting, and so do not know if the other progressive voices on the ECIDA board (Frank Mesiah, NAACP president, and Michael Hoffert, AFL-CIO Central Labor Council president) proposed approval of Mr. Paladino’s request contingent on including a definite number of low-income apartments in the project.

In any case, the project was approved by a vote of 12-2, those in opposition being Grant and Erie County Executive Poloncarz.

> Gene Grabiner, Buffalo

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