Ernst Valery: Using his vision to reshape the urban landscape – Buffalo News

Ernst Valery is a successful businessman today, but he brings a unique background and perspectives when he looks at Buffalo and its opportunities.
Born in Haiti with a hardscrabble childhood, Valery grew up in New York City, then earned degrees in urban planning, policy analysis and real estate development from Cornell University and Columbia University.
He set to work trying to change the urban landscape, starting out small in South Philadelphia and then Baltimore, with a vision to create more opportunity for underprivileged communities.
In graduate school, he met his friend and now business partner, David Alexander, whose father was already active in affordable housing development.
Valery and Alexander eventually teamed up to take over the company as second generation leaders, pursuing affordable and senior housing projects in Buffalo like The Forge on Broadway and Pilgrim Village, while developing new avenues to nurture and encourage minority entrepreneurs.  
Ernst Valery near one of his properties at the intersection of Carolina Street and Whitney Place on Buffalo’s west side on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.
Q: What draws you to Buffalo in the first place?
A: I first came to Buffalo because my business partner is from here, and there’s something in the water that always pulls people back.
David and I met in grad school, and when we became business partners, we had to come to Buffalo and do a project there.
The architecture gets you right away. The sense of civic pride. People in Buffalo just love everything that’s Buffalo. That’s amazing. So we started looking at projects here and meeting here.
The other thing is you can quickly meet some of the greatest people. I met Mayor Brown, and my “auntie” – the Majority Leader, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and she’s just the most genuine politician that I’ve ever met. She’s the greatest politician I ever met, who just cares and just wants the right things to happen.
It’s stuff like that. I’ve got to be here. The city and the state have just been so supportive. I grew up in New York State, so I know New York can be so expensive but it also can be very supportive. All the tax dollars they take, they actually do things with them.
Q: What do you like about doing projects in Buffalo?
A: For us, we were one of the first people to go to the East Side. As an urban planner, I wanted to just orient myself in the city, and you quickly find out what it means to be east or west of Main Street.
I love all the things happening west of Main Street, with Elmwood and all these neighborhoods and perfect homes and cafes. But I like the underdog. I started my business in Philadelphia. In south Philly, you could see some really grimy things.
I went to the East Side, and there were just as beautiful homes. People had small businesses. They weren’t A-class-level businesses, because they didn’t get the investments they needed upfront, but they were wonderful small businesses.
The East Side is not that bad. I really believed in the East Side. And so it gave me a purpose. I thought, once I orient myself here, I could really make a difference here, because I could tell these people the truth, that they were wonderful, and someday someone is going to see it.
That someday has come faster than I thought it would. Just to see the apartments that have jumped Main Street, two, three, four blocks east. I saw things jump over that you didn’t think would jump over that soon. I’m just proud because we were there before.
Ernst Valery near one of his properties at the intersection of Carolina Street and Whitney Place on Buffalo’s west side on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.
Q: What does it mean that the city is now growing in population for the first time in decades?
A: It’s something that a lot of larger cities haven’t been able to accomplish.
To get that growth means that not only do the people in the city see the positive and see the gem, but they’ve been able to market themselves effectively and show people who aren’t from here how incredible this place is.
If you start to think who’s come here, the major developers from D.C. are coming here and saying, wait a minute, what’s happening here? And major corporations are coming here as well.
I think this city might double in the next 20 years, and it has the infrastructure to do it. Businesses aren’t going to come to a place that doesn’t have the infrastructure, and this place has it.
And so there’s going to be major growth in this city, and not just people coming back because they’re from here. You’ll get a healthy number of people that come to UB.
UB is a major institution and so is SUNY Buffalo State. People from downstate, this is the place they come to to get a great education, and a lot of them are staying and building lives here.
I think those institutions, as they grow, that’s the youth, and it’s an educated force, and now you have educated folks that are staying here, so corporations that are looking for an educated workforce, they’ll come here as well.
Q: Does it build off itself?
A: That’s exactly it. And then beyond that, I don’t know what they put in the water, but somebody spends a year here, and suddenly they think the Buffalo Bills can do no wrong.
Once somebody stays here, they talk about it, they go home and they come back, and they never really let it go.
When I look at just my connection to Buffalo, I’m trying to figure out ways to spend more time here. And sometimes I think, wouldn’t it be great to have one of those houses here? Once global warming does its thing and we have shorter winters, I may be a resident here as well.
Q: What does growth mean for Buffalo’s potential in terms of development and business? What are the opportunities?
A: When you start to look at the skyline and some of the new things that are being built, Buffalo is a very classic city. It has lots of classic architecture. But when you look at the [federal] courthouse and you look at some of the architecture, that’s some of the most exciting things. You’re going to have a lot more forward-facing and innovation in architecture.
This is this global city waiting to happen, where people will want to live here, and there’s going to be the architecture to match it, there’s going to be the civic and cultural institutions that are going to expand tremendously to match it, and people are going to just want to live here.
This is a Toronto waiting to happen, and it’s going to be sooner rather than later.
But right now, there’s so much more that can be developed, and people are going to start to say we can develop it, because rents are going up. So you can build those buildings, and we’re going to make a case for being able to build those marquis buildings, and it’s going to feed on itself.
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News Business Reporter
I’ve been a business reporter at The Buffalo News since 2004, now covering residential and commercial real estate and development amid WNY’s resurgence. I’m an upstate native, proud to call Buffalo my home, and committed to covering it thoroughly.
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In this section, we take a look at Buffalo’s next wave of projects and how population growth is fueling the sizzling housing market.
Ernst Valery near one of his properties at the intersection of Carolina Street and Whitney Place on Buffalo’s west side on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.
Ernst Valery near one of his properties at the intersection of Carolina Street and Whitney Place on Buffalo’s west side on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.
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