Getting it Done in Masten!

Here's the full text of an interview that appeared in the Buffalo News over the weekend featuring Rev. Richard Stenhouse and some of the work he's doing in the neighborhood.
The Rev. Richard A. Stenhouse of Bethel AME Church is chairman of the Jeremiah Partnership, a collaboration ofchurches focused on community-building. He is also a member of the Buffalo control board. He discussed community and economic development.

Q: How do you view Buffalo's overall economic landscape?

A: The overall economic landscape is certainly in need of improvement and job creation that would hopefully bring more people back to town and increase the tax base.

From an economic viewpoint, there's certainly a need for job creation. More jobs to fuel a greater tax base that can fuel more revenue for the city.

Right now, the economics for Buffalo is very dismal. The city has not recovered from the recession of a few years ago. So there are very few months where we gain jobs. With Delphi, Ford and General Motors going through their current situation, the future has some question marks. If we're not in crisis, we're near crisis.

Q: How can we fix the fiscal mess?

A: Through structural changes in the government. All union contracts have to be modified to fix the structural problems that prevent the city from becoming fiscally healthy. No matter what happens, Buffalocannot afford past traditions and procedures that are in the union contracts. It's just not financially feasible. . . .

Without that concession, Buffalo's fiscal future is very dismal. Heaven forbid the state ever goes through a downturn in which it cannot give municipalities more money.

Q: What is the Jeremiah Partnership and how did it begin?

A: The Jeremiah Partnership is a collaboration of seven East Side churches: St. John Baptist Church, Greater RefugeTemple of Christ, Mount Olive Baptist Church, New Mount Ararat Templeof Prayer, Pentecostal Temple of God in Christ, Bethesda World Harvest and Bethel AME Church.

Pastors started meeting to discuss various issues, biblical and community matters. We're all involved in community development. Bethel received some funds to do a project onJefferson Avenue. Most of our work had been around the church area, soI talked to the other ministers who had done work on Jefferson.

As we continued the discussion, we realized we were contiguous. Where my area stopped, their areas started. We decided we could worktogether. In putting our pieces together, we really do encompass agreat part of the East Side and we formed a partnership.

So instead of putting seven individual requests to funders, we put onerequest from all of us to do a series of projects. We don't needseparate executive directors and staff. Just as corporations, we couldmerge to be more economically feasible and have greater impact on the marketplace.

We have a lot of projects on the drawing boardthat, once we get a staff and nonprofit status, we feel will greatly improve the economics of the East Side, but we're also dealing with thedelivery of human services and education.

Q: How are plans progressing to create a retail incubator on Jefferson Avenue across from Tops?

A: We're hopeful the building will be open in May. We have four tenants lined up and leases are signed. M&T Bank is one of the tenants, along with three minority entrepreneurs. If the project is successful, we plan to do similar projects to give minority entrepreneurs an opportunity to be on the East Side at rents and overhead that assists them in becoming successful.

Here's an example of Bethel CDC's plans for the neighborhood. The New Row House Development along Michigan Avenue is scheduled to include 8 low to moderate income 3 bedroom apartments.

No news yet on the financing. I attended last week's Planning Board Meeting at City Hall and had a conversation with Bethel's point man Ben Upshaw about the project.
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