Sometimes our neighborhoods, politicians, not-for-profits, religious organizations, government officials and the business community get it right. That is the case for the just-approved Elmwood Historic District (West).
Two years ago, homeowners, spurred on by a New York State tax credit program spearheaded by former Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, came together to form the Richmond Ashland National Historic District Initiative (RANHDI). Their intention was to establish a National Register Historic District in the Buffalo neighborhood roughly bounded by Richmond Avenue, Summer Street, Elmwood Avenue and Forest Avenue.
A Community Council of home and business owners was formed to oversee the project. St. John’s Grace Episcopal Church became the community sponsor and provided meeting space, a secretary and a not-for-profit designation. Simultaneously an education, friend-raising and fund-raising effort moved forward so that we could obtain the professional services required to complete the application to the State Board for Historic Preservation and the National Parks Service. With 1,700 “contributing” buildings and hundreds of other historic structures around an Olmsted Parkway system, we had a story to tell that had not been told before. The State Historic Preservation Office and the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society were wonderful resources.
About 145 people and businesses from the community contributed with checks and cash. The Elmwood Village Association linked its website to ours. Our two Common Council members, Michael LoCurto and David Rivera, found funding in a challenging year. Mayor Byron Brown appointed a representative to our council. The Baird Foundation granted the largest of several local family foundation gifts. And the state came through with an important Preserve New York grant. Assemblyman Sean Ryan and State Sen. Mark Grisanti strongly backed the effort. Block clubs sent representatives and opened up their meetings for presentations, as did individual homeowners. Hundreds sent in cards and letters of support.
Once we were able to raise sufficient funds, Preservation Buffalo Niagara became the project sponsor for the state application. It contracted with Clinton Brown Co. Architecture to provide the technical assistance needed to bring the application process to a successful conclusion, on time and on budget.
Grass-roots economic development can work. The Elmwood Historic District (West) is an economic development project that is good for homeowners, contractors and businesses in the neighborhood. Already at least 20 homeowners in the proposed district have applied for the 20 percent state income tax credit for preapproved improvements in National Register districts. My family was one of the first to get preapproval, and our remodeling work is now complete. Although taking the tax credit is voluntary, we have found that our neighbors want to go through the process.
We are pleased that the state approved our listing as a State Historic District and are moving the application forward to the National Park Service for national designation. There is still plenty to do, with fund-raising, signage, community education and the like, but it is obvious that there are many helping hands ready to make this a big win for Buffalo. Congratulations to all of you, and thank you. Our community got it right!