Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) – The Buffalo Common Council convened on Tuesday for their Finance Committee meeting to address a number of items pertaining to the future of small business grants in the City of Buffalo, including the grant request for the Braymiller Market on Ellicott Street.
Tuesday’s meeting started with several small business owners and other advocates speaking before the Council addressing not just their struggles in their communities, but also some thoughts that have members either in favor or against the City of Buffalo granting the necessary money for Braymiller.
Following more than an hour of comments from the public, the Council then heard from the City of Buffalo and the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning with regards to a proposal of $5.5 million from the city to go towards assisting small businesses, including Braymiller Market.
“We’ve heard, and Councilmembers have heard from people in full support of Braymiller, we’ve heard of people who are on the fence, and we’ve heard from people who are staunchly against. At one point, there was a kind of a deal on the table that, ‘OK, we’ll give another $500,000 to small businesses.’ That’s not equity, that’s equal. And if it’s equal, that’s not working. That’s not going to change the conditions of small businesses that need that money,” said Common Council President Darius Pridgen on Tuesday.
According to Brendan Mehaffy, Executive Director for the Office of Strategic Planning, he details that $3.5 million of that money was grant money in the city’s American Rescue Plan funds under the minority business assistance. The other $2 million in play is a loan from the National Development Council they are willing to contribute to small businesses.
As for the timing of this $5.5 million that could become available for small businesses, the program could open within 60 days from approval of the money.
“During those 60 days, it is a program design period, where we will meet with the Councilmembers. I know some of the Councilmembers have expressed particular concerns about particular areas of their businesses,” said Mehaffy on Tuesday. “Also, the opportunity to have a community-based organization do outreach on behalf of the small businesses. During those 60 days, we will work to the finalization of those details, and then the program will be open. So at this point in time, if it’s approved next week, we are talking about by the beginning of October.”
When it comes to Braymiller Market and how their grant request of more than $562,000 plays into this, Mehaffy says its funds will come as a forgivable loan, along with the $500,000 committed to the Market from a private entity in developer Paul Ciminelli.
“That is how they are bridging the gap in their business. This is the same opportunity that is provided through this program,” Mehaffy said. “The difference is they leveraged it independently from any program we have. So we’re not asking anybody to go out and find a separate loan source. There is already a loan source that will be available, if that’s what’s needed to bridge the gap.”
What further concerns members of the Common Council, including Pridgen, is the future business model of Braymiller and the process of how the Market came to the front of the line.
“If we work out something, I want to see, to be honest, more of the forgivable loans, especially for people who have had just as much trouble,” Pridgen said. “But when you talk about equity and equal – I’m not specifically saying Braymiller – the trouble of someone who has resources and the troubles of those who have nothing but the business that they have, when they suffer, when that small business on the East Side, the West Side, whatever side, when they suffer, if they have no other alternatives, it means the difference for some of them between being homeless. And people don’t believe this, but it’s the real truth. It’s the difference of their kids not being able to do things in the summer like other kids. And I promise you, the majority of people who are saying, ‘Bad Council! You should have gave that money!’ I promise you, they are not poor people and not poor businesses that are looking for equity, not equal.”
As it turns out, Mehaffy was able to discuss some of the changes already underway at Braymiller, and some further business model changes that will look to better the Market and be more accommodating for residents of the area.
The first big change for Braymiller is their new ability to do grocery delivery across the city.
“They’re going to do two types of grocery delivery that they do not do right now. The Internet, one, if you will. I won’t say a particular entity, but I think we know what you order from Tops and Wegmans, that is now going to be available through Braymiller. In addition, a simple phone call. Call Braymiller, and they will deliver after 5 o’clock when their trucks are idle from the delivery to restaurants and things of that nature, to multifamily buildings throughout Downtown, East Buffalo, Lower West Side. Within a particular geographic area, they’re planning on doing that,” Mehaffy detailed. “That addition is expected to add several hundred-thousand dollars to the revenue, again, trying to close the gap as they move forward.”
Among the other notable business model changes that have already been implemented or plan on being looked at are generic brands they are offering now to lower prices, an addition of beer sales, enhancing their marketing strategy and more.
“All of those combined, as part of the business plan which Stuart [Green] worked on with the Small Business Development Center, will hopefully significantly increase that revenue, or should significantly increase that revenue,” Mehaffy said. “Again, working separately with the Small Business Development Center to reach that conclusion, not just what he’s saying as well. That is just an enumeration of some of the changes that he intends to make in order to make this sustainable.
“It was not submitted with the idea that this business was going to close immediately. We wouldn’t have submitted it if that was the case in any way, shape, or form. We, too, believe with the additional money that [Paul] Ciminelli is willing to put in, and in addition, the restructuring of the mortgage by Evans [Banks], which is what we would ask of any small business with public dollars, that this store will have a future.”
Mehaffy adds Green came to the City of Buffalo to see if there was any assistance available he could have to keep business going, and to continue providing an essential service within the city.
Despite what was detailed by the Office of Strategic Planning on Tuesday, Councilmembers continued to express concerns about not just the money being granted to Braymiller Market, but the proposed money set to go towards small businesses across the City of Buffalo.
“I want to get it out of City Hall, to tell you the truth. I just want to get it out of City Hall and into the districts, to the business community. I want to see how restrictive it is, I’ll feel more confident, and then I can go back to the business community and say, ‘Hey, come and apply,'” said Council Majority Leader David Rivera. “If you divide $3.5 million by nine districts, it’s $388,000 per-district. That’s what it is. $388,000. And, of course, there’s administrative cost that goes along with it, and administrative costs, we were told, is about $250,000. You subtract the $250,000, from the $3.5 [million]. So you divide whatever’s left over by nine districts, but it should be very targeted to have the kind of impact that we needed to have.”
As for the future of Braymiller Market, Rivera agrees there is the need for a downtown grocer, but they have to put together a business plan going forward that the Council can view in writing.
“I understand and appreciate the investments that businesses are making in the city, the risk that they’re taking, but that’s a part of business. You take risk, and you have to put together a business plan that is going to work. Obviously the business plan that they had prior to this was not working, so we’re very curious and we’d like to get into the details of what that business plan is,” Rivera said. “I’m sure once we do that, we’ll probably feel more comfortable as we move forward with these items, but I definitely want to get more into the business districts, local business districts and online districts.”
For Councilman Chris Scanlon, he doesn’t believe the Braymiller Market situation should be looked at as an “either or” situation. He’s hopefully the Council and the administration can find additional funding and get creative to support all nine districts in the City of Buffalo, knowing these funds are going to dry up at some point in the very near future.
“Whatever we can do to be creative to help our small business community moving forward, I think we can’t kind of get pigeonholed where it can be either or, this business, or this type of businesses or that type of business. I think we’ve got to really be reaching out and trying to help the small businesses within our community on all of our commercial corridors,” Councilman Scanlon said. “I think each one of us knows that those commercial corridors within our districts are the lifeblood. They really drive things within our community.”
When it comes to the programs, when the city does deliver funding for small businesses, Councilman Bryan Bollman feels they have to be less restrictive for these entities to be eligible.
“Some of the businesses that need the funding the most don’t qualify for some of the programs the way that they’re administered. I really want to work towards making sure that these programs will be less restrictive so businesses can qualify for them, some of the businesses that need it the most,” said Councilman Bollman.
As for Councilman Rasheed Wyatt, Chair of the Finance Committee and who presented the resolution emphasizing the need to allocate American Rescue Plan (ARP) and COVID relief funds to support the recovery and growth of small businesses, he expressed his frustrations on how discussions for funding and support for struggling small businesses shouldn’t have come as a result of the Braymiller discussion.
“I put forth this resolution because I meant it, not because I’m campaigning. Because the people who are in the city deserve every nickel that ARP was supposed to do, it was supposed to be transformational. It’s transformed nothing,” said Councilman Wyatt on Tuesday. We sit here and we go back-and-forth with our politics… This isn’t [about] politics for me. This is about helping people in our city.”
Wyatt adds it’s not going to be an easy vote for him to vote in favor of the grant to Braymiller Market until he sees more details for what’s to come for the community at large.
“We’re talking about the headlines in one of the news articles was, ‘Braymiller’s getting help, $1.2 million. Ciminelli came through, the city is going to come through.’ But the other folks who come here, are they gonna get $1.2 million? Are they gonna get $50,000? I’m gonna be pushing to see more details, and I’m telling you, I’m not going for just what we say. I want to see it in writing,” Wyatt said. “The two-year forgivable aspect of this grant for Braymiller’s, I didn’t see that in writing anywhere. Maybe it is, but we want to see the details. I’m gonna get our legal eagle to help us make sure that everything that this community deserves is in writing, and we’re gonna hold you to that. Ain’t nothing gonna move in this Council until these folks in this community get what they deserve.”
The Buffalo Common Council will foresee the discussions of the Braymiller Market and the spending of ARP funds for small businesses at its next scheduled meeting on Tuesday, July 25, which is the last Council meeting before August recess.