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LAIDLAW WANTS TO MOVE TERMINAL, 450 JOBS TO BUFFALO

Laidlaw Transit Inc., the nation's largest school bus carrier, wants to move a local terminal and administrative office from Cheektowaga to Buffalo, bringing approximately 450 jobs to the city.

But Laidlaw's area general manager is frustrated over the bureaucratic maze his company's officials have encountered. And James F. Doherty is no stranger to city government -- he served as a councilman-at-large for two years back in the mid-1970s.

"It seems like we've already met with the entire world," Doherty said. "It's such a huge bureaucracy. And I've lived here all my life. I can just imagine how a prospective businessman from out of town might feel."

David Sengbusch, Buffalo's director of development, said it's premature to speculate whether a suitable site can be found to accommodate Laidlaw's needs. But he stressed that the city will do everything it can to facilitate the relocation.

"We'll take care of all the agencies," Sengbusch said. "We're really trying to be a one-stop shop for businesses. Once we walk them through the process, they calm down and start understanding that they don't have to go it alone."

Laidlaw is looking to construct a building in Buffalo that would replace a facility on Gruner Road in Cheektowaga. The complex was destroyed by a powerful wind storm three months ago.

"Right now, we're operating out of two trailers and we hope to be in a new facility by next September," Doherty said.

In addition to serving as the home base for 200 bus operators and more than 200 Buffalo Board of Education bus aides, the new facility may house 30 administrative staffers who currently work out of offices on Cayuga Road in Cheektowaga.

Laidlaw has serviced the Buffalo Public School district since the early 1970s and has 2 1/2 years left on its current contract. The firm is looking for a two-year extension before it commits to moving operations into Buffalo.

A number of sites already have been considered, including the Acme Business Park in the Broadway-Bailey neighborhood and a site near Bailey Avenue and Clinton Street. Laidlaw needs eight to 10 acres of land to accommodate an estimated 200 buses and parking for more than 400 employees.

Doherty said he already has had meetings with Mayor Masiello and Common Council President James Pitts. He also met with Sengbusch.

"We want to put some property back on the tax rolls, and we're not looking for prime land," Doherty said. "But it's really tough to know where to go. Do you start at the Buffalo Development Enterprise Corp.? Or the Industrial Development Agency? Or the Community Development Department? There are too many agencies out there."

He said Pitts seemed particularly receptive to Laidlaw's proposed relocation. The company already has hired an architect and has retained James Comerford, a former city development official, to serve as construction manager.

Doherty said finding a large enough site in the city has been a challenging task.

"In a sense, the city is land poor," he said. "There are sites out there, but most of them have buildings on them. It gets expensive to start tearing down buildings."

In addition to seeking the city's assistance in finding a site, Laidlaw is anxious to consider other inducements from planners.

Sengbusch said if a suitable location can be found, city officials will meet with county and state planners to discuss a possible incentive package.

Laidlaw employs about 1,500 workers at more than a dozen facilities across Western New York. Nationally, it operates a fleet of 43,000 school buses.

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