VOL. 130 | NO. 4 | Wednesday, January 7, 2015
By Amos Maki
For about three years Veronica Skinner called the two-story, 24-unit apartment building at 480 Tillman St. in the Binghampton neighborhood home.
The transformation of the Binghampton neighborhood has gone to the next level with this week’s demolition of the apartment community at Sam Cooper Boulevard and Tillman Street.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
It was affordable, Skinner said, except during the winter when a lack of insulation caused utility costs to soar. It was safe for a while, too, but that began to change toward the end when drug dealers invaded the property.
But on the morning of Monday, Jan. 5, Skinner and around two dozen other people – former residents of the apartments, neighbors and community stakeholders – braved bitterly cold temperatures to watch as a track hoe ripped the old apartments apart to make way for a new commercial development.
“It was rough over here toward the end with the drugs and everything so it’s best they tore it down,” said Skinner, who has lived in Binghampton for 27 years.
The Binghampton Development Corp. acquired the apartment community on the south side of Sam Cooper Boulevard at Tillman as the last major step in securing 7.5 acres for future development, including a grocery-anchored commercial center.
Robert Montague, executive director of the Binghampton Development Corp., said the razing of the apartment buildings represented a watershed moment in the revival of Binghampton, a tangible one that reflects the hopes and aspirations of the neighborhood.
“One of our job training graduates has said many times that people have to see change to believe in change,” said Montague, as the track hoe clawed at the apartment building in the background. “Now people are excited. They can believe it’s possible.”
Montague envisions a grocery store-anchored neighborhood commercial center emerging from the ruins of the blighted apartments, something he said neighborhood residents have clamored for over the years.
“We think today is an exciting milestone on the way to delivering on that request,” said Montague. “We’re focusing on the anchor, which is the grocery. We have a couple of operators we’re in dialogue with and that looks very promising.”
Skinner said many residents she knows in Binghampton shop at small neighborhood convenience stores because they do not have transportation to a traditional supermarket or grocery store.
“It will be nice to have a grocery store because not everybody has a car and we deserve to have a grocery store that’s close,” said Skinner.
The Binghampton community is bounded by East Parkway, Summer Avenue, Holmes Street and Poplar Avenue. As the city grew eastward and inner-city jobs evaporated during the 1970s and 1980s, residents who could move often did, leaving vacant or underutilized properties behind in a spiral that kept some locked in poverty.
But since 2003 the Binghampton Development Corp. has renovated 79 housing units and constructed 17 new homes in the neighborhood. The renovations include the redevelopment of two formerly distressed apartment properties on Tillman near the Shelby Farms Greenline into senior and low-income apartments.
The Binghampton Development Corp. housing counseling program offers homebuyer education and financial literacy services and the organization uses the blighted properties it transforms as a real-world classroom to provide construction job training.
The organization also helped turn vacant lots on Carpenter Street into an art garden, transforming abandoned, blighted properties into vibrant, color-splashed springs of urban creativity.
In 2006, the Binghampton Development Corp. began the process of assembling 7.5 acres along Tillman for future development. So far, the faith-based organization has acquired around 20 parcels and invested over $3 million into the land, two parks, two apartment communities, a church and the group’s Outreach Center. The investment along Tillman dovetails with the Hampline development effort to create a link between the Greenline and Overton Park.
The resurgence of Binghampton comes as the Historic Broad Avenue Arts District has sprung back to life. The BDC has worked with the Historic Broad Avenue Arts Alliance on several initiatives in the area, which is experiencing its own wave of investment.
“We would hope people see Binghampton as a neighborhood that’s improving day by day in a lot of ways, whether that’s improved housing or wonderful quality of life enhancements,” said Montague. “It’s everyday becoming a better and better neighborhood of choice.”