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Preliminary plans for East Side industrial hub coming before planners

City planners will get their first look at Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s planned new light industrial hub on the East Side next week, as the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. intends to bring preliminary proposals for the Northland Avenue Belt Line Corridor Business Park to the Buffalo Planning Board.

BUDC wants the Planning Board to lead the city’s environmental review of the entire redevelopment project, which includes about a dozen properties on about 50 acres on Northland, East Delavan Street and Dutton Street. Officials will not be presenting specific new details until January, because draft plans are still being formulated, but the request will start the formal review process that will likely stretch well into next year.

As part of Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative, BUDC spent $6.7 million to purchase the properties, with 700,000 square feet of existing buildings, in an area long known for industrial use. The goal is to create another economic development “innovation hub” focused on light industrial companies, with a focus on encouraging job training and employment for East Side residents.

The agency and consultant LiRo Engineers anticipate keeping and converting four primary buildings at 631, 683 and 741 Northland and 537 East Delavan, while other structures will likely be demolished in preparation for future redevelopment, said BUDC President Peter Cammarata.

A $44 million state-funded job training institute is planned for one hulking former manufacturing facility, at 683 Northland, as a core component of the entire project. It will occupy about 100,000 of the 246,902-square-foot complex at that site, leaving plenty of room for other companies or functions, but the shape of its footprint is still uncertain.

BUDC officials are currently negotiating a memorandum of understanding with Empire State Development Corp. and the New York Power Authority, which are footing the bill, while state officials finalize a business plan for the training center’s operations and educational partners.

The remaining land is largely vacant already, and the property will be evaluated to determine the best future use, based on studies and assessments by LiRo and real estate firm CBRE-Buffalo, he added.

In the meantime, environmental cleanup efforts continue with several of the buildings and properties in the development area, under contracts BUDC signed with LiRo, Fisher Associates and GZA GeoEnvironmental of New York.

The project, while announced last summer with great fanfare by the state, is still in early stages, but it’s already starting to get attention from potential tenants, Cammarata added. Batavia-based Mancuso Business Development Group, which was hired to handle leasing for Northland, has started fielding inquiries, particularly for 631 Northland, with two showings so far.

“These are all very remote prospects, and we have to keep it that way now because of the environmental issues,” Cammarata said, citing the ongoing work to clean up the properties for reuse. “They just want to get a glimpse of what’s in there. They are attracted because the types of facilities that are in there, including the craneways, are very unique for the area. People locate their businesses just because of that.”

The building at 683 Northland is also attractive, he said, because of its 200-ton crane. Canadian firms are particularly interested, because of a shortage of available options in traditional areas like Hamilton. “It’ll be great when you get someone who needs that,” Cammarata said.

In the meantime, BUDC is firming up a flexible policy for both short-term and longer-term leases that would be consistent with the planned use. The agency is also hiring appraiser Eric Lester for $4,400 to calculate fair-market rents for the four buildings.

“Every building is different. Every arrangement is different,” said Kevin J. Zanner, an attorney at Hurwitz & Fine PC and secretary of the development agency. “Flexibility is important so we can be more entrepreneurial in who we are attracting to this space.”

BUDC, which also oversees redevelopment and leasing of the Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park in South Buffalo, is seeing interest from a couple of possible tenants for about five acres of vacant land in that business park. Cammarata said he hopes to have a letter of intent from one of them by January.

“I have a very good feeling about one of the prospects,” he said.