The Buffalo Billion has given a giant boost to economic development around here, from renovations at Parkside Candy to the SolarCity plant in South Buffalo. Governor Cuomo is coming to town on Monday for the local version of his traveling State of the State message and is likely to announce Buffalo Billion Two.
In the tradition of New York governors, Cuomo has been dribbling out his priorities for the new year and the new fiscal year, like free tuition for most students at SUNY and CUNY schools. During a news conference Thursday at Parkside Candy about a grant from the Better Buffalo Fund of the Buffalo Billion, Empire State Development Regional President Sam Hoyt suggested an extension of the Buffalo Billion will be announced on Monday.
"You'll recall that Governor Cuomo in a previous visit a couple of months ago said, 'Stay tuned because there is going to be a Phase Two of the Buffalo Billion.' I'm not going to give you any details now because he's going to be making some very important announcements in the very near future," Hoyt said.
Phase Two would make sense, Hoyt said, because the Buffalo Billion is working.
"The Buffalo Billion is well on its way in terms of all of the investments from that great program," Hoyt said. "We're seeing very, very dramatic results throughout Buffalo and Niagara Falls."
The only details Hoyt discussed were an expansion of the Better Buffalo Fund. That is the sweet $30 million piece of the Buffalo Billion aimed at neighborhood economic development across Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Hoyt said expansion will mean more money to spend on the kind of improvement projects like the $125,000 renovation of the iconic Parkside Candy complex in University Heights.
"The Better Buffalo Fund that (Buffalo Assemblymember) Crystal (Peoples-Stokes) and other members of the Western New York delegation fought for will be expanded in the next phase of the Buffalo Billion so that these types of projects that stabilize and enhance our great neighborhoods and improve the quality of life of all Buffalonians will be able to continue for years to come," he said.
Parkside's Buffalo Billion grant is half the cost of improving and restoring the candy complex and making sure the chocolate will continue to flow. Owner Phil Buffamonte said store work will start next week, with several weeks closing to make way for construction that will make the landmark look better outside.
"Work that will be done on the outside of the building includes, there will be some brick pointing that needs to be done. All the brick will be cleaned. The facade will be cleaned and, most importantly, our neon sign will be totally rebuilt and it will be lit in the springtime," Buffamonte said. "Also, we will be putting up retractable awnings."
While the store is closed in the next few weeks, workers with general contractor SLR Contracting will be doing plaster repairs and replacing the floor in the main sales room. Repairs to apartments and offices upstairs will come later this winter and spring, followed by the exterior work.
University District Buffalo Common Councilmember Rasheed Wyatt said the store is important in the neighborhood.
"I remember having an ice cream float right over here in this corner. It just brought back a lot of memories. It brings back nostalgia and to have it restored is going to be huge for our community," Wyatt said. "We need more places like Parkside Candy that take us back to a time when times a little bit slower but times were still a time that you really enjoyed."
Wyatt said Parkside Candy has been in movies and he wants more movies of the store and the neighborhood. Barry Levinson, director of the 1983 Robert Redford baseball movie "The Natural,'' was the first to use the store for various scenes.
Parkside was recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the oldest continuously operating small businesses in the neighborhood. Owner Phil Buffamonte said company products have not changed much over the years, with generations visiting, even while in town for the holidays.
"I don't believe in New Year's resolutions and so many people are making resolutions about losing weight and not eating candy," Buffamonte said. "So eat the product people! Enjoy it. Forget about the gym. Chocolate is a sustainable diet."