Alain E. Kaloyeros built a success story in Albany and was trying to repeat that in Buffalo.
Starting almost from scratch, the scientist partial to black, long-sleeved shirts and luxury sports cars leveraged a 20-year, billion-dollar state investment into a sprawling, high-tech State University of New York campus in Albany. More than 300 corporate partners pumped $24 billion into the site.
Kaloyeros’ achievement in Albany prompted Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to select him to oversee the Buffalo Billion project, the governor’s economic-development initiative for Western New York.
And as Kaloyeros spent more time here getting the Buffalo Billion off the ground, he was convinced that he could do for this region what he had done for Albany.
“Folks, this is real. This is like the Yankees coming to Buffalo. This is like the Bills winning the Super Bowl,” he said three years ago during a news conference in the Adam’s Mark Hotel when the RiverBend clean-energy project was announced.
Thursday morning’s indictment marked a stunning fall for the confident, charming Kaloyeros, who hours later was relieved of his duties by the State University of New York and suspended without pay.
“It is imperative that any charges brought against SUNY Poly President Alain E. Kaloyeros today do not distract from the educational mission, groundbreaking research, and academic operation of SUNY Polytechnic Institute or negatively impact the thousands of students, faculty, researchers, and staff that the campus serves,” SUNY Chairman H. Carl McCall and Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said in a statement.
Kaloyeros, 60, has an unusual background for a researcher.
A native of Lebanon, he was a young man when that country broke out in civil war in the 1970s. A Lebanese Christian, he said he received training from the Israeli army before seeing combat himself.
He returned to college in Lebanon, then moved to the United States to earn a doctorate in 1987 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in experimental condensed matter physics.
Kaloyeros started at the University at Albany after earning his Ph.D., and his star rose as he grew a program in nanoscale technology – the manipulation of matter at the atomic and subatomic level – into a fast-growing school, as Buffalo News Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious recounted in a 2013 profile.
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One of his earliest backers was Sheldon Silver, the former longtime but now disgraced speaker of the Assembly. Kaloyeros persuaded Silver to provide $5 million in state money to build a “clean room” for research on computer chips.
Millions of dollars turned into hundreds of millions and, eventually, billions of dollars as Kaloyeros persuaded state and corporate leaders to invest in his idea.
The nanotech college, now SUNY Poly, oversees campuses and projects throughout upstate New York. The first building in Albany was finished in 1997 and covered 70,000 square feet. Today, the home nanotech campus covers 1.65 million square feet and employs more than 4,000 people.
“Dr. Kaloyeros is the father of the nanoscale, nanoscience Albany revolution,” Cuomo said in a 2013 meeting with The News’ Editorial Board.
Kaloyeros seemed well-suited for the role of SUNY’s economic-development champion.
In meetings and interviews, he came across as polished, intelligent, direct – a man with a vision for using the state’s life sciences and high-tech research to spur growth.
Kaloyeros worked under five governors, starting with the current governor’s father, Mario M. Cuomo. He had a knack for explaining technical concepts in a way that politicians, business leaders and other lay people could understand them, a skill not shared by every researcher.
“He has a certain charisma, a certain charm, and there was the quantifiable success, and identifiable success, at the campus,” said one former state official who worked with Kaloyeros, who spoke on condition that he not be identified. “I think that he proved he can get things done.”
As Kaloyeros amassed power in Albany, he also acquired enemies, although few would speak publicly for fear of angering him. Profiles of Kaloyeros tended to emphasize his track record of success in Albany, his unusual background and his personal charm.
“His vision rivals Robert Moses,” Ron Rock, a former top official with the state Division of Budget who sometimes battled with Kaloyeros over funding, told the Albany Times Union in an extensive 2012 profile.
In an interview with The News following the announcement of the first Buffalo Billion project, a drug-discovery center for Albany Molecular Research Inc. and its partners on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Kaloyeros said he would stake his reputation on the project employing 500 workers within three years and 1,000 within five years. That was 3½ years ago. AMRI had 33 workers there as of June.
“I like to say about Albany, anybody who wants to do anything, anywhere in nano has to be here,” Kaloyeros said with his typical brashness. “I can tell you this, what I predict, and what the governor wants, is anyone who wants to do anything, anywhere in medical innovation will have to be in Buffalo.”
Kaloyeros was well compensated for his career success, and that gave him the chance to indulge in personal luxuries. According to the Empire Center’s SeeThroughNY, Kaloyeros earned $1.17 million in 2015 in total compensation: $549,847 through SUNY Poly and $619,939 through the SUNY Research Foundation.
He lives in a $1.15 million mansion in Slingerlands, a hamlet in the Albany suburbs, according to the Town of Guilderland Assessor’s Office.
Kaloyeros likes to move and travel fast. He drives sports cars, including a Ferrari 458 Speciale, which sells for a base price of about $300,000. Its license plate reads “DR NANO.” Another, on his Range Rover, reads “NANO GEEK.”
Earlier this year, he talked to reporters about his plans to learn how to fly jet planes.
Kaloyeros’ love of the high life comes through in his Facebook posts, as collected by Gothamist last fall in an article titled “NY’s Highest-Paid State Employee Loves His Ferrari, Bathroom Selfies, Sexist Jokes.”
He posts photos to Facebook of his sports cars, a toy Ferrari-brand plush donkey named Enzo – after Enzo Ferrari, the late Italian carmaker – and one from outside a John Varvatos store in which he referred to the upscale men’s clothier as “Heaven.”
Kaloyeros told the Times Union in 2012 that he wanted to leave his mark on New York. “It’s not about power, it’s about achievement,” he said. “Achievement is about building a facility that is going to serve the state for the next 50 to 60 years.”
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