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Idled urban American Axle factory sold Buffalo-based company hopes to reuse approximately half of the facility

The dormant American Axle & Manufacturing plant on East Delavan Avenue in Buffalo has been sold, and the new owner plans to revive it as a multitenant commercial complex.

Buffalo-based Ontario Specialty Contracting Ltd. purchased the sprawling plant on Friday for $1.5 million and expects to reuse approximately half of the 1.3-million-square-foot facility.

"This is great space in a great location, it just needs a little help," said Ontario Specialty principal Jon Williams.

While there are numerous mothballed manufacturing sites in the Buffalo area, few of them have the positive attributes of the American Axle site, according to Williams. Those pluses include ample convertable space, rail and highway access, an urban setting that's not hemmed in by residential neighborhoods.

Ontario Specialty, which focuses on demolition and environmental remediation work, will raze much of the hulking plant, saving only the newest structures -- those with high, wide, heavy-duty work bays.

"What we'll be left with is very flexible, competitive space in an tremendous location," Williams said. "I expect we'll have multiple tenants with a variety of operations."

The list of potential reuses includes manufacturing, materials handling and distribution. Initial discussions have already begun with a couple of prospective tenants.

The local company made the American Axle purchase under the name of a newly-created subsidiary, East Delavan Property LLC.

Under a preliminary timetable, selective demolition of the site will begin soon after the first of the year, with the first new tenants moving in as early as next summer.

American Axle ceased production at the veteran plant, which employed some 2,000 workers at its peak, last Dec. 23 as part of its corporate retrenchment. The East Delavan Avenue facility began life in 1923 as a Chevrolet assembly plant, switching briefly to an aircraft parts maker during World War II, before being converted to make auto equipment.

American Axle, which has owned the multiparcel site since 1994, sold off equipment and supplies from the mothballed plant in June. David Tworek, a corporate spokesman, said the company is pleased to find a buyer with a reuse strategy.

"It's a good business outcome for all involved," Tworek said. "It was an asset we had up for sale and the purchaser obviously saw value in the site."

Jim Militello, of JR Militello Real Estate, a Buffalo firm specializing in sale and lease of commercial and industrial properties, said the buyer's plans for partial demolition fit an emerging pattern where the rising price of scrap steel is a purchase motivator.

"The price of steel is at a point where a lot of buildings are worth more as scrap than they are as standing structures," Militello said. "Nobody understands better than Williams who is in the demolition business. It's going to work to his advantage on this project."

Ontario Specialty, headquartered at 333 Ganson St., has taken on several high-profile demolition and industrial remediation projects in recent years, including cleanup of the former Buffalo Gas Works site on W. Genesee Street, which has been redeveloped as the HealthNow $110 million headquarters.

The local company also played a key roles in razing DaimlerChrysler's Pillette Assembly Plant in Windsor, Ont., and removal of PCB-contaminated soil along the Hudson River tied to General Electric's Ft. Edward plant.


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