Carpenter apprentice Joe Robinson of Local 276 builds a mold to section off an area for a concrete pour on the fifth floor during construction of Conventus on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

Western New Yorkers are captivated by the development activity along Buffalo’s waterfront, but more than three-quarters of a billion dollars in other construction work is underway 10 blocks up Main Street.

Work on Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.’s new Conventus medical building on Main Street is nearly half-done and on schedule, with the two-level concrete underground parking ramp largely complete and most of the steel now erected for the seven-story structure taking shape above it.

Despite a snowy and bitter cold season, construction remained on track, with only a couple of days lost because of frigid temperatures and high winds. The 180-foot tower crane could not be operated when sustained winds reached 35 mph.

But work proceeded on other areas of the project even on those days, said Vincent Kirsch, project executive for construction manager LPCiminelli.

Even the addition of a seventh floor for drug development firm Albany Molecular Research Inc. added only three to four weeks to the timeline.

“We’re on schedule for a spring opening next year, in spite of the tough winter that we had,” said Denise Juron-Borgese, director of development and planning for Ciminelli Real Estate, the lead developer. “The workers really kept up the pace, so we’re in great shape.”

The privately funded Conventus is part of an explosion of large-scale new construction projects now underway on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, whose total dollar investment overshadows the work at Canalside and the Buffalo Sabres’ $172 million HarborCenter project.

Next door and across High Street from Conventus, land has been cleared and site preparation work is underway for the new $270 million John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital and University at Buffalo’s $375 million new School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Both will be directly connected to Conventus, but the start of their construction has been delayed.

When complete, what had been surface parking lots and three small buildings will be more than 1 million square feet of new medical space. And across the campus, the steel is up for the $40 million first phase of Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s new Clinical Sciences Center at Michigan Avenue and Carlton Street.

“There’s an amazing amount of coordination between ourselves, Kaleida and UB,” Juron-Borgese said. “We are in touch on all these projects for site logistics and coordination.”

Most of the cost of the other projects is publicly funded, by the government and the university, as well as from Kaleida Health, the region’s largest hospital system, which includes Children’s Hospital. That makes the $110 million Conventus building, which Ciminelli Real Estate will own, more unique.

Linked building

The medical research, office and clinical building has been described as the linchpin for the new additions to the sprawling Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus that will bring about 7,000 new doctors, researchers and services to the city’s core.

From its unveiling, Ciminelli officials have positioned the 350,000-square-foot building at 1001 Main to be the focus of collaboration among various clinical and research entities, designed to foster new thinking and scientific development by bringing groups together.

Besides AMRI on the top floor, the $110 million multitenant project will house functions or operations for Kaleida Health on the second and third floors, and for medical practice UBMD on the fourth floor.

It still has two and a half floors available for lease, including the fifth and sixth levels and 25,000 square feet of first-floor retail services to support the building and the broader campus. A First Niagara Bank branch also will be located on the first floor, at the corner of Main and High streets.

The building will be directly linked to the new Children’s Hospital next door along the entire second and third floors, with the emergency room entry for Children’s located directly below and between the two buildings. It will also have a second-floor footbridge across High Street to the UB medical school. The primary pedestrian front entrance is on Main Street, while a drop-off area, parking ramp entrance and valet parking service will be on High Street.

The building is on the site of a former gas station, so it was included in the state’s Brownfields Cleanup Program. That meant Ciminelli had to excavate 40 feet of soil below ground to clean up the property before work could start. But that also set up the building for the two levels of underground parking, with 318 spaces.

Most recently, Ciminelli “added” the seventh floor for AMRI after the foundation and the structural steel for the first two floors were already in place, adding it between two other upper levels.

Complicated work

Ciminelli, one of the region’s largest and best-known commercial real estate developers, isn’t new to big construction work, having built the Centerpointe Corporate Park in Amherst over 10 years and recently redeveloped the Bethune Lofts. But spokeswoman Anne Duggan said Conventus is “certainly the largest project we’ve ever done.”

“We’ve been involved in multistory projects before. We’ve been involved with remediation before. But this project has it all merging together, plus the interconnectivity adds another interesting dimension,” said Juron-Borgese, an architect and Buffalo-area native.

“Every layer of complexity is also a great opportunity because of the challenge of it … It’s an amazing opportunity to be part of this project.”

Between 60 to 90 workers are on-site daily, pouring cement, finishing the steel beams on the roof, putting up metal wall frames and spraying white foam insulation and fireproofing material. In all, the project will use 3,150 tons of steel and 10,000 yards of concrete.

Workers have poured the concrete for the sixth floor, which is divided into five sections done over five days.

Juron-Borgese said officials plan to “top off” the steel – which means erecting the last structural beam – on Wednesday, and anticipate finishing the exterior of the building by year’s end, except landscaping, she said. Portions of both High and Washington streets will remain closed for a couple of years.

“It’s a little bit of a pain right now, but everybody knows it’s worth it,” Juron-Borgese said.


Click here to see the comments. Add yours now!