Second phase of construction at Michigan Street Baptist Church now underway

Michigan Street is taking another step in the right direction. Empire State Development (ESD) has announced the completion of Phase I of the Michigan Street Baptist Church (511 Michigan Avenue), which includes stabilization effort of critical structural components of the historic structure. Funding for Phase I is thanks to grants from ESD and the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), along with other State and federal sources.  

The completion of Phase I signals the start of Phase II – a $2.2 million project that includes the construction of two-story addition that will further stabilize the historic building, while providing room for additional programming. The two-story addition also allows for ADA compliancy. 

The Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition – a not-for-profit organization that owns the Church – is working alongside a number of other groups to further strengthen the corridor. Together, they have formed a public/private partnership called East Side Avenues that is managed by the University at Buffalo Regional Institute. The group has thus far benefitted from ESD’s $65 million East Side Corridor Economic Development Fund (support from Governor Kathy Hochul), with the intention of generating tourism throughout the corridor. In turn, East Side Avenues is providing funds for staff and programs for the Heritage Corridor Commission.

Ultimately, a number of groups will benefit from the coalition’s efforts, including the Michigan Street Baptist Church (circa 1848), The Nash House, The Colored Musicians Club, and WUFO Black Radio History Collective. 

Empire State Development President, CEO, and Commissioner Hope Knight said, “Our Collective goal is to create a unified tourist destination that will tell the story of Buffalo’s contribution to African American history while attracting new visitors to the region. We are strengthening Buffalo’s cultural tourism potential by creating a hub of activities for visitors that includes the Michigan Street Baptist Church, the Colored Musicians Club, Nash House and the Nash Lofts multi-use building. Capital investments in all the Corridor projects will improve the visitor experience and better connect the assets to each other and downtown Buffalo.”  

The second phase of construction includes an addition to the north side of the Michigan Street Baptist Church (circa 1848), which is designed to mirror a typical structure that would have existed in the neighborhood. 

“It has been a privilege to witness the restoration and development of a church built in 1849 by freedom seekers into a local and national historic site,” said Lillie Wiley-Upshaw, Chair of the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission Board and Chair of the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition. “The church’s operational board the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition are thankful for the ongoing support from the Buffalo area community and our funders.”

“This investment is a testament to the enduring, collaborative work being done by the anchors of the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission,” said Laura Quebral, University at Buffalo Regional Institute Director. “It also illustrates New York State’s dedication to East Buffalo along with the funding partners of East Side Avenues and the Regional Revitalization Partnership. It supports the community-driven, comprehensive strategic and economic development plans launched last year by the Commission and is part of a cohesive effort to ensure the Corridor’s successful transformation into a unique, historic, inspirational place for residents and tourists alike.”

“The strategic planning and the work of the Corridor anchors along with community support and dedicated funding are helping to make our visions a reality,” said Terry Alford, Executive Director of the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission. “We are proud of the Corridor’s growth and there is more to come, stated Terry Alford, Executive Director, of the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission.”

In June 2022, Governor Hochul announced a “Regional Revitalization Partnership” (RRP) with philanthropic organizations and local government, which will involve a $300 million combined investment in East Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Rochester.  Under the RRP, the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor and its anchors are targeted for an additional combined investment of $30 million to help implement components of its strategic master plan completed with ESD funding in February 2022.

“To God Be the Glory, it has been a long time in the making and this day has finally come,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “Congratulations to Lillie Wiley-Upshaw and the Buffalo Niagara Freedom Station Coalition, the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor, and a huge thank you to the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo for keeping this historic structure upright long enough for Empire State Development, State Parks/SHPO and others to provide the necessary funding to complete this first phase of construction. It’s very fitting that this announcement happen on MLK Jr. Day, given the church’s involvement in social justice advocacy efforts.”

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