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Cost jumps for proposed Queen City Landing project

The cost of building a controversial 23-story apartment tower on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor may have soared to as high as $85 million, according to documents filed in state Supreme Court for a pending lawsuit.

The increased estimate for construction costs on Gerald Buchheit’s Queen City Landing represents a 42 percent hike in the price tag from what was previously stated by the Orchard Park developer and his team.

That prior $60 million value remains the low end of a range that Buchheit cited in an Aug. 12 affidavit submitted to the court. The affidavit was among documents Buchheit’s attorneys filed in opposition to a pair of lawsuits by four individual project critics and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.

Buchheit did not explain in the filing how the potential costs had escalated. But spokesman Phil Pantano explained that the range anticipates any changes to the schedule, increases in material costs, and “any potential enhancements and further private investment we would make in order to make Queen City Landing the signature project we envision it to be.”

Buchheit, who has owned the 20-acre peninsula at 975 Furhmann Boulevard since November 2007, wants to demolish the six-story refrigerated warehouse known as the Freezer Queen building and replace it with his new 370,000-square-foot project. Plans call for 197 one- and two-bedroom apartments, two restaurants, a three-story parking ramp and multiple tenant and recreational features.

A prior proposal envisioned reusing the Freezer Queen, adding a couple of floors with penthouse units, and creating 120 luxury units. That concept would have cost about $40 million and was met with more local support. But Buchheit said it proved unworkable because of the condition of the building, the presence of asbestos and the risk of basement flooding.

The developer changed direction to the current project, but spent weeks overcoming vehement opposition from a group of vocal opponents, who cited environmental, historic preservation and other arguments in a bid to stop the effort. Ultimately, the city Planning Board and Common Council each approved the project, prompting the two lawsuits.

The litigation seeks an injunction to block the waterfront project by preventing demolition and construction work, but Buchheit responded that such action would cause “substantial economic harm” to him by driving up both financing and construction costs even further. Specifically, he said that a delay in financing $75 million over 30 years would cost $11,000 per month or $131,000 per year for every quarter-point hike in interest rates – which the Federal Reserve might approve in the second half of the year. And the costs of labor, materials, overhead and other construction factors could increase between $87,500 and $124,000 per month, based on an evaluation by construction consultant Baer & Associates LLC.

A hearing on the two lawsuits is scheduled before Justice Donna M. Siwek on Sept. 9.

Meanwhile, the asbestos cleanup of the existing building, which was permitted by the judge and started in early July, continues as planned, spokesman Phil Pantano said Thursday.

That work is expected to wrap up before Labor Day, with demolition of the six-story Freezer Queen to begin shortly afterwards, barring any schedule changes or court action. Crews will finish taking the building down by yearend, at which point construction on the new project can begin, Pantano said.

email: jepstein@buffnews.com

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