While touting accomplishments by his administration that is now into a third term, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said he "has no illusions the next four years will be easy." Brown delivered his annual State of the City Address before an estimated 1,700 guests Thursday afternoon at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
After guests watched a video narrated by Buffalo native and CBS News television anchor Jeff Glor, Mayor Brown opened by declaring "the state of the city is strong." After acknowledging and thanking Glor and then saluting local native Emily Pfalzer for her role with the Olympic gold medal-winning USA Women's Hockey team, thanked the "changemakers" in the room who helped him for the past 12 years "leading our city out of the past, and now it's up to all of us to work together to determine our future."
"With billions in investment, we are stronger. With significant drops in crime, we are safer," he stated. "With programs and services to care for and educate our children, we are smarter. And with a real commitment to improving City services, we are better. This is our time."
He celebrated some of Buffalo's developments including the Tesla/Panasonic plant in the city's Riverbend section, acknowledging the major financial kickstart it received from New York State under Governor Andrew Cuomo's Buffalo Billion initiative.
He also recalled the November 2017 opening of the new Oishei Children's Hospital, opening of the University at Buffalo's new Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building which includes an internal NFTA Metro Rail station, expansion of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the forthcoming new Explore and More Children's Museum in the city's Canalside.
"Our city is being rediscovered," Brown said. "Property values are rising and the growing equity will be a game changer for families. Businesses are expanding and there are more jobs. Greater investment in neighborhoods has increased commercial activity, and the years of abandonment and decline have steadily reversed."
But the mayor then warned that economic recovery remains fragile and that many still lack the jobs to acquire affordable housing. He also spoke of the need to prevent development that works against those who have lived in Buffalo neighborhoods for years by pricing them out of the ability to stay.
Brown said his administration has invested $450 million in affordable housing developments but is also focusing on turning abandoned properties back into livable, affordable homes.
"Over the past year, my Administration has worked with Empire State Development, the New York State Affordable Housing Corporation, SONYMA, M&T Bank, and Habitat for Humanity on developing a new program for creating homeownership in Buffalo’s abandoned properties," he said. "Single and double family homes sold by the City will be eligible for a new type of mortgage from SONYMA that will include the cost of purchase and rehabilitation. Where rehab costs exceed the amount of the mortgage, my Administration has secured grant money from the State to cover the difference. Finally, those properties with the greatest rehab challenges will be tackled by Habitat for Humanity, ensuring that local homeowners will benefit from their investments."
When addressing economic development in neighborhoods including the East Side, Brown announced that the wi-fi system JEFF-FREE WIFI will expand by ten blocks along Jefferson Avenue and create hotspots on Best and East Ferry Streets. He also announced that Northwest Savings Bank will open a full-service branch on Jefferson Avenue.
He also tole the audience that a highly-anticipated job training program will open in August. In addition, he announced, soon coming to the Northland Corridor will be a Coding School to train candidates in information technology and a training center for developing skills in another one of Buffalo's growing industries, film and entertainment production.
When addressing public safety, he announced that Byron Lockwood, who was named interim Buffalo Police Commissioner upon the retirement of Daniel Derenda last month, has been nominated to take the job on a permanent basis.
"I know that he’s the right person for this job," he said. "His distinguished career in law enforcement and strong relationships within the Department and in our community, along with his integrity, hard work, and love for our City and our Police Department will make our neighborhoods safer, our Department stronger, and will deepen the bonds between the police and the community. He has played a major role in collaborative efforts with other law enforcement agencies, including the office of District Attorney John Flynn, and he has worked closely with the Police Athletic League, Peacemakers and the Concerned Clergy Coalition, who are all here today."
Brown also announced that he is ordering Lockwood to lead the police department in gaining New York State accreditation within the next year.
The mayor also offered tributes and honors to two individuals who died in recent months. He announced that the late Craig Lehner, who died during a police diver training exercise in the Niagara River last October, has been posthumously promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. Additionally, he awarded the late longtime M&T Bank leader Robert Wilmers a Key to the City.
"Our responsibilities are great, but our city is one that has endured as a symbol of fortitude, perseverance and pride, " the mayor said to end his hour-plus address. "We are the Queen City. And Buffalo, this is our time."