The Faces Behind the Forge on Broadway: African American Developers Paving the Way

pictured above Ernst Valery  and  Rhonda A. Ricks

You may not know his name or recognize his face, but if you’ve driven up Broadway or passed by the corner of Best Street and Fillmore Avenue you’ve probably seen his work.  

His name is Ernst Valery and he’s one of the driving forces behind two major mixed-income housing projects in Buffalo – The Forge Broadway, at the corner of Broadway and Mortimer Street, and The Parkview Apartments at the corner of Fillmore Avenue and Best Street (just across from MLK Park). 

Ernst Valery is the Founder and President of SAA|EVI affiliate Ernst Valery Investments Corporation, a private, minority-owned real estate investment firm established in 2001 based in Baltimore, Maryland. 

Valery along with Buffalo’s first minority female developer, the late Dr. Rhonda A. Ricks were the visionaries behind seeing both these projects become a reality. 

Valery says one of the biggest challenges a developer faces, especially when that developer is a person of color, is getting investors for the project, especially if that project is in a low-income community. 

“In Buffalo, you have a lot of folks that didn’t want to acknowledge that there were opportunities east of Main Street,” he said. 

That’s why Valery teamed up with Dr. Rick’s R+A+R Development to secure partners for the projects. “She really believed in the east side, she believed in the people on the east side, and when she saw this site she said, this is something,” said Valery. 

The Forge on Broadway is a $50.7 million housing project that includes 158 affordable apartments. The Parkview Apartments completed in 2017 was an $8 million conversion of the old Buffalo Public School 59 into a 26 affordable housing unit apartment building. For Valery the journey to becoming an investor started in high school. He says it was in his freshman year when he decided he wanted to become an architect. After graduating from high school, he enrolled in the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning at Cornell University. It was during his studies there when he had an epiphany, “I couldn’t really do the drawings and the creative part,” Valery said. “But I loved the people part. So, I got into planning”. 

Valery says after college he dived into developing by renovating small houses in Philadelphia. It was during this time when he had another revelation that would forever change his approach to developing houses. “I realized the planner in me didn’t like that fact that I was renovating one home and displacing someone,” he said.  Valery calls it Development Without Displacement. Instead of displacing individuals out of the community Valery saw larger multi-family projects as a way of creating density in underdeveloped neighborhoods and keeping families in the community. 

Valery says despite his successes it hasn’t been easy. African American developers and developers of color face different challenges and obstacles than their White counterparts. Valery says good credit and a track record can help you get the necessary funding for a project, but redlining people of color continues to be a major problem. Valery says his hope is to get more people of color involved in development.  

He believes apprenticeship programs can play a key role in getting more people of color involved in development. “Now, with the resources that we have and what we know, we want to be able to bring capital together, put our own capital at risk to help people realize that dream and take that same path,” said Valery. 

Valery believes the path to becoming a successful developer isn’t easy. He says along the way you’ll face many challenges. “We have two camps of people in this country – you have people who don’t want you to succeed and there are people who don’t want you to succeed without them,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to start small and don’t be afraid to build something independent. At the end of the day you have to build something that is yours and something that you can be proud of because the next generation depends on it.