HAMILTON: DePaul, Norstar & Raid on Buffalo City Hall – Is There a Relationship?

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By: Ken Hamilton

Down Big Six!

With only two months left in office, and like the Biblical story of when David loaded a rock into the leather pocket of his slingshot — in order to slay the giant Philistine Goliath, Niagara Falls City Councilman Ezra Scott picked up the stone of the often opposing spirits of community members, spun them together and released the political power that was necessary to deal a death blow to the previously-opposed mental health complex that the giant DePaul Properties Incorporated “had hope” for the Highland Community of that city.

Had “hoped” is the operative word of this Hamilton Analysis.

I sat in council chambers during the protestation meeting of DePaul hoping to build — not just another low-income housing project on Bloneva Bond Street across from the coveted St. John’s African Methodist Episcopalian Church, but a mental health facility to boot. But as far as I was concerned about low-income housing in the Highlands, over my personal and seemingly lone protestations, that ship had already sailed into the triangular harbor of a community that was bounded by railroad tracks and bridges on 2 of its sides, and the town line on its 3rd edge.

And that brings us to hope – that’s HOPE-VI, to be precise.

If a little bit of something good by no measure means that a lot of it is likewise even better. Already within the Highlands, which was designated and redlined as a “Negro” community in the early 1940s, after the start of World War 2 the federal and state government began pouring massive amounts of “war housing” into the city.

With the quickly-built cinder block walled and concrete floored war homes of Hyde Park Village off Lafayette Avenue already in place, the Center Court public housing project would soon join in as one of the subsequent seeds of poverty and racial divide that has now long been the herald of Highland.

Center Court was originally slated to go on Falls and 14th streets in the city’s south-side (often called the Eastside in reference to the hydraulic canal that divided what was once the original village of Manchester), but that would have placed Negro housing across the street from the coveted Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church. Despite Adolph Hitler’s German armies had already having taken over their native Poland, the Polish parishioners of that church just weren’t having 134-units of housing that, post war, was slated for Negro occupancy.  

The city councilmembers were faced with a dilemma in meeting the deadlines for the start and completion of the 300-unit brick and mortar project that would place 166-units of that project on Pine Avenue for post-war whites, and in the urgency of fulfilling the terms of the federal agreements – and reelection, they moved the Negro project into the north-end’s Italian neighborhood on Centre Avenue – next to the old city ash dump. Soon thereafter, the Niagara Community Center picked up stakes and moved, and some years thereafter, NFHA executive director Stephanie Cowart allowed Center Court to dilapidate itself; and soon thereafter both the Community Center and Stephanie’s new wood and vinyl HOPE-VI project would both be sitting on ashes. That project original was supposed to have 42 homeownership units that never materialized.

Mount Saint Mary Hospital built a clinic to service the growing needs of a community after the building of the both the NFHA’s Jordan Gardens public housing project and the building of Unity Park by a Lutheran Church’s investment arm. Fast-forward, with some 16 Christian churches now dotting the Highlands and the Vincentian Niagara University, the area was then chocked full of community programs to help the low-income neighborhood. 

After the Community Health Community Health Center of Niagara was delayed inbuilding on the site upon which now sits the NFMMC’s Golisano Center, they too moved into the Highlands, creating the perfect poverty pill to attract others to join them.

There should be little wonder why Rochester’s DePaul Properties would want to join the Main Street mission that was formerly a facility abandoned by the YMCA to further – and I say this tongue-in-cheek – give “hope” to the community.

But what one now-failed organization, the Highland Community Revitalization Committee, wanted to do with the weed-filled Norstar Development Corporation property across the street from the coveted St. John’s AME Church upon which DePaul wanted to build, was to follow in the footsteps of the long-defunct Area One Community Preservation Corporation, was to build new homeownership units there in order to begin to balance out the Highlands.

From where the printed information came that cited Norstar Development Corporation was to build homeownership units on that property, I just don’t know.

Nonetheless, I have to wonder if the noble DePaul’s real reason for folding on the Norstar property had less to do with Councilman Scott’s efforts, and more to do with the file folders that were to be pulled out of Buffalo’s City hall during their most recent FBI raid.

What I do know, the perfect storm that draws poverty into Niagara Falls, and especially on Highland, are the Big HOPE –Sixes that profit from those most in needs.  And like the game of Dominoes, it all starts with “Down Big Six!”


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