A fresh batch of newly opened land, a bunch of companies looking to expand and interest rates offering cheap project money could make Amherst a rising tide lifting the area's economic ship.
The town is already experiencing steady construction following the approval of more than $90 million worth of commercial building permits during the last 20 months.
Now the arrival of two new industrial parks could give the town's tax base -- and Western New York's job market -- a shot in the wallet.
Several tenants are already operating in Zaepfel Development Co.'s Northpointe Commerce Park and Uniland Development Co. will welcome its first tenant to CrossPoint Business Park next week.
"We've finally brought Northpointe and CrossPoint onto the market. We've been out of that kind of land for about eight years. With that type of land now on the market, a lot of companies are going forward with projects," said James J. Allen, executive director of the Amherst Industrial Development Agency.
Although market conditions appear ripe for a commercial growth spurt, town policy appears to be shifting toward growth control. The Amherst Town Board's most recent appointee to the industrial development agency has been a vocal critic of tax abatements as a development incentive.
Amherst IDA surveys indicate 111 of 600 companies in Amherst will need to expand within the next four years.
"We knew that demand had been there. Some of these companies were just bursting at the seams," Allen said.
The positive economic signs in Amherst are not confined to the new parks. A $26 million building expansion on Wehrle Drive by Ingram Micro Inc. could house hundreds of new jobs at the high technology distribution company.
Since big companies are not banging down doors to relocate into Western New York, keeping local employers here and helping them expand has become a key economic development strategy in the 1990s.
Zaepfel Development Co. President James A. Zaepfel said much of the interest at Northpointe, near the intersection of Sweet Home and North French roads, has come from area companies looking to expand.
"A lot of it is companies that have outgrown their buildings," Zaepfel said.
Construction crews began pouring the foundation at Northpointe this week for ACTS Testing Labs, an international consumer product testing company. ACTS, which employs 170 people locally, is moving from four buildings in Cheektowaga to a new 52,000-square-foot headquarters in Northpointe.
Local developers are bullish enough about the Amherst market to begin projects on speculation, investing money before any leases are signed. Zaepfel Development is moving ahead with plans for two 28,000-square-foot multitenant facilities in Northpointe at a cost of $4 million.
Ciminelli Development Co. is making a multimillion-dollar investment on speculation for the first of three planned office buildings in its new Village Park center on Main Street. Village Park is designed to meet another increasing need in Amherst, Class A office space.
Ciminelli's Centerpointe Business Park, an 11-building, 445,000-square-foot campus off Sheridan Drive, is now 98 percent occupied. The town only has small pockets of Class A space remaining. Village Park will feature three buildings totaling 240,000 square feet. The building under construction is a single-story project with 48,000 square feet.
Uniland is also looking to add Class A inventory with the final building at its nine-year-old University Corporate Center at Amherst. Drivers on Maple Road might notice the steel frame for a new two-story building at 500 Corporate Parkway.
Uniland is courting NationsBank as a potentially major CrossPoint tenant. The bank's mortgage center has outgrown its 152,000-square-foot facility in Williamsville and is looking for room to grow.
LESCO Inc. will become CrossPoint's inaugural tenant next week. The company has leased 7,600 square feet, about 20 percent of the space in Uniland's multitenant facility. LESCO, which is relocating five jobs from Lancaster, is a leading supplier of professional turf care products for golf courses, athletic facilities and schools.
CrossPoint may need a long red carpet for prospective tenants. The 178-acres of converted farmland bordered by the Lockport Expressway, Millersport Highway and North French Road has a 10-year master plan for 1.8 million square-feet accommodating 3,000 employees.
"There are so many research and development companies in the area that are going to be experiencing growth . . . the proximity of CrossPoint to the university, we feel that will be a significant draw," said Laura A. Zaepfel, public relations manager for Uniland Development Co.
The University at Buffalo has the potential to become an economic development catalyst, according to UB President William R. Greiner, who is looking for a little regulatory relief from state legislators.
Greiner said he wants more freedom to enter into public-private research and development partnerships in health sciences on the south campus and several fields including engineering in Amherst.
The university president also said the pace of north campus integration into the Amherst community has been slow.
"The degree of awareness between this campus and Amherst residents, in terms of what we do and what goes on here, is shockingly low," he said.
The university itself will be pouring millions of dollars into Amherst in the next three years, including an $18 million student housing project, $10 million student center and $7.5 million math building.
But the majority of UB's next $100 million of construction funding will go into renovating and replacing the older south campus facilities.