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Hundreds of new, middle-class houses. A modern high-technology business park.

No, not in Amherst. It's North Buffalo.

City Hall, looking for ways of competing with the suburbs for population and jobs, is eyeing 72 acres of vacant land in the Hertel Avenue-Main Street area for a housing subdivision and business park.

The idea, still in the early planning stages, is being pushed by University Council Member Kevin J. Helfer and has the backing of the Masiello administration. In fact, the project is touted as one of the city's major development initiatives in the coming budget year.

"It could be one of the boldest, most dramatic re-engineerings of the City of Buffalo," said Daniel Bicz, the city's community development commissioner.

The site straddles Main Street just north of Hertel. The housing is proposed for a vacant swath of land behind the LaSalle Metro Rail station and the industrial uses for the east side of Main south of LaSalle Avenue.

Bicz said the business park could be developed as a medical complex because of the site's proximity to the University at Buffalo's medical and dental schools on Main Street.

Helfer said the project also may include an expansion of Shoshone Park, the city park just south of the site.

"You'd never know it's there and it's prime land," Helfer said of the vacant property on both sides of Main Street.

He said the project will hinge on whether it makes financial sense and whether residents who live in the area support the idea.

To help answer those questions, the administration will hire a private consultant for about $65,000. Helfer said he expects the consultant on board in about two weeks and a final report in three months.

The study will result in a price tag, including the cost of acquiring the land and installing roads and sewers. Most of the land is owned by the city, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority or Conrail.

In addition, the study will look at how much of the overall cost should be shouldered by City Hall and how much by private developers or individual home buyers and businesses.

To help speed the project along, the administration has tentatively agreed to recommend federal block-grant money be set aside in the upcoming budget.

Helfer said the project, on paper, looks appealing because of the site, which borders one of the city's more stable neighborhoods and is close to the Metro Rail line and major roadways.

The project also includes tentative plans for a new roadway along a railroad right of way, extending from Main to Amherst Street and maybe beyond.

Bicz said the road will provide easier access to the proposed business park and other industrial sites such as the vacant Harrison Radiator plant.

"We don't have that much left to entice business back to the city," Helfer said. "We have to maximize all the land we have."

The new road also could help remove existing truck traffic off neighborhood streets, Bicz said. He also wants to include hike and bike paths to further enhance the project's appeal.

Though still on the drawing board, the project has gained tentative support among Council members.

"If people in the neighborhoods support it, I'm for it," said Council Member at Large Eugene M. Fahey.

Fahey, who once served as University District Council member, said the site may include property the city designated as park land in the late 1970s but never developed for recreational uses.

Helfer said the city is organizing a steering committee to oversee the project, and the committee will include neighborhood representatives.

The plan also would require the involvement of the NFTA and Conrail, which own large parcels of land being eyed by the city. Bicz said he has already discussed the project with NFTA officials.

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