Long-time East Side resident Tony Borden is eager to participate in Buffalo’s upward momentum.

Could you please tell us a little about yourself? 

My name is Tony Borden. I’ve lived on the east side of buffalo my entire life. I graduated from Burgard High School. I’m developing a plan for a mixed-use project on East Delevan Avenue. I live in the Ellicott District, close to downtown, and I’ve lived over there for about 18 years. I also lived in the Bailey-Delevan University District of Buffalo for about ten years as a child, so I’m very familiar with the East Side. I know how to get around & I know the problems the community is currently facing. Really, right now, I would just like to participate in the city’s upward momentum that’s building and try to contribute and give back to the community — because they really need it.

How did you learn about the CBREDT program?

I’m one of those very well-self-educated people. I do my research and I’ve learned a lot of things on my own. I’ve never actually had investors or mentors or anything like that or even a family member, besides one or two, that actually knew anything about this. So I am self-taught on a lot of things that I do now. I was actually looking for programs that I could train myself in different fields — project management, real estate, and after I did that, somehow I got caught up in the analytics, and every morning I read the Buffalo News and I’ll be on LinkedIn. And then this program, East Side Avenues, pops up doing exactly, exactly what I’ve been Google searching. So it was like it was meant to be. I applied for the program, then got a call, did an interview, and here I am today, more excited about getting into it than ever.

Could you tell us about your building/project/goals? What are you hoping to accomplish?

The building itself is a 3,700-square-foot mixed-use development project. It is located on the east side of buffalo. The building has the potential to add two extra apartments and the back area also has an area suitable for outdoor dining. The idea is to create a development plan and try to incorporate those two new ideas and maximize the true potential of the building. Goals-wise, this is just the first project of many that I’m planning. Before getting involved in this program, I was going to become a real estate developer anyway. The program [East Side Avenues] gave me a lot more confidence and a whole bunch of connections and knowledge and experience just to make it a lot easier.

How will your project benefit the neighborhood/East Side community?

I think it’s going to enhance the overall aesthetics of the neighborhood. The neighborhood doesn’t have anything along the lines of something with outdoor seating in the back in that particular area. A lot of the restaurants are particularly soul food. They don’t really offer a place where you can actually come and have a good time. I don’t necessarily want to reopen it as a bar, but more as a lounge or an event space where you can have weddings and other events. We could have certain days when people just come out and sit on the patio — something that brings people together because a lot of the restaurants are typically takeout. You don’t really technically “sit-in” in this part of town. So it’s bringing people together. I think that’s really important.

How will what you learned from this class help you accomplish your development goals?

This class has been all about getting things done and getting rid of that thought that it may seem unlikely or impossible because of the way things have been or how people of color have been dismissed by traditional finance in the real estate world. It really has given me a desire to take action and work with these people in the program and within the community, so we can address these immediate needs, address some systemic issues, and just move forward with some long-term building. I’m all about that building up. This class has given me a boost of focus. I’m just happy to be in a position where I can be one of the people who actually get to take advantage of this opportunity.

Would you recommend this program to others who hope to develop commercial property on the East Side? If so, why, and what would you say to them?

I would most definitely recommend this program to anybody who has just a little bit of interest in real estate development, but just doesn’t have any actual experience. There has to be plenty of people in the same position as me where they walk past the building and they think “that place will be a good apartment building or make a great spot for people with mental health conditions.” They don’t have a lot of those places to take those people to; they take them to hospitals. So my mind just gets working. I would recommend this class to anybody who has that passion, that drive, or just that slight interest because one thing I’ve learned about real estate is once you get a taste, you want more.

What are your immediate next steps?

I’ve already identified plenty of properties in the area that I live in and I’m just going to run some pro formas and see if I can come together with some people in the community to see if we could take something that people may view as an eyesore and turn it into a community asset. So really, I’m just going to focus my business plan for my company around some of those buildings that I have identified.

This class has given me a boost of focus. I’m just happy to be in a position where I can be one of the people who actually gets to take advantage of this opportunity.

What is your vision for the East Side?

Right now I see it as economically distressed, but I could see injecting new life in that area to really transition a lot of things. I see the building of properties that create jobs for people living in these communities. People can then buy homes. I see so much development that is far beyond what I can probably even imagine. They’re focusing more or less on Broadway right now, but I’m looking at places like Sycamore and Genesee, William Street, and Clinton. Those areas are not seeing very much attention. The vision that I see for them is the momentum that I see for the future. So right now it’s Broadway, but I see the future being some of those streets that aren’t as well talked about.