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Canal Side: Lift All Boats

At an Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation meeting co-hosted by Mayor Byron Brown last week, the mayor allowed a generous amount of time for questions, concerns, and suggestions regarding the Canal Side project from the audience. As reported in Artvoice, many of the public comments focused on job creation and minority hiring goals.

The issues raised by the community at the forum amplified the need to create quality jobs to address the unemployment and underemployment crisis in Buffalo. Further, many of the comments expressed at the meeting made it clear that our job creation programs need to ensure minority access to quality jobs.

The Canal Side Community Alliance, comprised of 50 labor, faith and community organizations, local and independent businesses, and service providers, has included quality job standards and local and minority hiring goals for construction and permanent jobs, among other equitable, high road economic development principles, in the Community Benefits Agreement for the Canal Side project its members and allies have urged the ECHDC to negotiate for more than a year.

A Community Benefits Agreement is a legally binding contract between community groups and a development oversight agency. By establishing clear, legally enforceable guidelines for the Canal Side project ensuring the project produces tangible public goods, a Community Benefits Agreement is an essential ingredient to a successful development project on our waterfront.

In addition to including in the Community Benefits Agreement quality job standards and local and minority hiring goals for the construction and permanent jobs created from the development of our waterfront, the Canal Side Community Alliance has also included the following terms: Green Design and Operations, Opportunities for Local and Independent Businesses, Mixed Income Housing, Community Engagement and Enforceability.

Members of the Canal Side Community Alliance and its allies have lifted up these core tenants of equitable development for over a year, urging the ECHDC to negotiate an agreement that is a win win for the community and the developers. For instance, the Coalition for Economic Justice spoke at a public hearing on October 20, 2009 at the Albright Knox requesting that the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation negotiate an agreement that would “prioritize and set legally binding goals for local and minority hiring” and “require prevailing rate be paid on all construction jobs, with minority, local hiring, and apprenticeship goals.” The Alliance has and will continue to make this a top priority in negotiating a Community Benefits Agreement.

Despite the massive public investment in the project, and the public’s expectations that a return on its investment is realized, the ECHDC has yet to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement.

To the credit of the ECHDC, it has negotiated a Project Labor Agreement which includes minority and women hiring standards with the building trades. The pre-hire collective bargaining agreement established terms and conditions for employment for all public work within the parameters of the inner harbor development. The increase in investment for infrastructure as detailed by the amended Modified General Project Plan should also be guided by such terms. Negotiation of a Community Benefits Agreement will accomplish this.

In other cities, some that look like Buffalo and others that don’t, including LA, Pittsburgh, and New Haven, Community Benefits Agreements have proven to be a successful economic development tool used to direct public money towards public benefit.

We have a remarkable opportunity here in Buffalo to create a model for economic development that maximizes the public’s investment. The Canal Side project must be a job and economic development generator. There must be guarantees in place in advance of any further construction on the inner harbor. Without these guarantees, we run the risk of handing community investment dollars over to corporate interests who are concerned first and foremost with their own profits and not with addressing the challenges we face here in Buffalo.

A Community Benefits Agreement is about building upon existing resources, establishing clear expectations for development, addressing real needs through public participation, creating real accountability and ensuring meaningful implementation. The time is now to transform our local economy through mutually beneficial repurposing of money that leads to shared prosperity for all. This is our opportunity, our money, our future, our waterfront.

Mark Manna, Coalition for Economic Justice

Artvoice reserves the right to edit letters for content and length. Shorter letters have a better chance at being published in their entirety. Please include your name, hometown, and contact number. E-mail letters to: or write to: Artvoice Letters, 810 Main Street, Buffalo, NY 14202

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