Jazzin Up A West Side Gelato Joint... then on to Grant?
At long last, the gelato storefront (operated by Dolci) adjoining Urban Roots Garden Co-operative is getting a much needed face-lift. When I last stopped into Gelato Ji back in July, I was told that the facade improvement was scheduled to get underway. When I passed by the Rhode Island intersection yesterday, a crew was busy ripping off the front of the storefront in preparation for installing a new glass front. I spoke to Blair Woods, board member of Urban Roots and manager of the building, about the transformation and the funds that made the project possible:
"It was accomplished with a grant from the Facade Improvement Program administered by BERC (Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation). They have designated zones - all of Grant Street is eligible and only a couple people have taken them up on it. We found out that we were not within the improvement zone, but since I had heard about the program we investigated the possibilities anyways. Fortunately there are waivers as long as the money is not being used. The funds have to do with Federal Government Block Club Funds.
"We had to get two contractors to submit bids as part of the application process. Of course the lowest bid is chosen. The contractor does the work and then BERC pays for the job. It's going to be the exact same format (look) as the Urban Roots side. We pulled up the old floor and found a gorgeous entrance that had been tiled. The tile entrance will soon be in the middle of the store. Eventually the two storefronts will have a wider walk through... ideally the businesses will share hours and resources."
*Pictured working on the building: Blair Woods, Harvey Garrett, Robert Stuhr.
From Harvey Garrett:
"We took over this corner which had previously been a corner store where drugs were being dealt. The Urban Roots Garden Co-operative had been vacant for nineteen years and there were drug dealers on every corner of the Five Corners area. The Dolci storefront is going to look great. We're stripping off the vinyl siding and restoring the Victorian storefront. Do you remember what it looked like when Queen Sheba was in there (see below)?
"We're still putting the park in next to Urban Roots (Center for Landscape Design)... that project is still moving forward. Plus, the wedge-shaped building across the street is being further restored by Robert Stuhr and Siobhan McCollum - the rest of the red metal roof is being added (see below - see story). The neighborhood has seen a complete turnaround and the neighbors have done it themselves. It's the residents who are making a difference."
When Blair told me that Grant Street was one of the zones that fell within the facade improvement matching grant program I almost fell off my seat. Just this morning I had been photographing some buildings on Grant that could seriously benefit from this sort of program. Why, if moneys are available, are we still faced with boarded up eyesores on this commercial street? The two building seen below are located directly across the street from each other (near West Ferry). Can you imagine the possibilities?
It's time to get these buildings back into action. And now that people like Prish Moran are investing their lives into Grant Street, we need to find out what sort of improvement opportunities are available for similar hi-profile structures. The City needs to protect its investments by tackling the struggling commercial districts. If the building owners are ignoring opportunities, then we need to get the buildings into different owners' hands. We also need to be aware that many commercial property owners are looking to hold out for way too much money. If that is the case, then I would think that monetary fines would get them to change their tunes. Grant Street is ripe with potential... we need to push it in the right direction rather than just waiting to see what will happen. If we could just get a couple more of these buildings back into operational order, then we're really talking.
If we need inspiration to draw from... I think we know where to find it: