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HIGH-TECH FIRMS, OFFICES PROPOSED FOR STERLING PARK

Orchard Park's Sterling Industrial Park could become more of a haven for offices and high-tech businesses, with less emphasis on manufacturing.

Acquest Properties, which owns land in the park off Sterling Drive, proposed the designation of an open development area to attract more office and medical buildings.

An Acquest executive said Wednesday there is little chance of attracting manufacturing companies to the park as the region continues to see those types of jobs decline.

Town officials are considering Acquest's proposal, which focuses more on office buildings. The Town Board made no decision Wednesday night, but plans to discuss the proposal further during its next work session, Nov. 14.

The developer's proposal still falls within the industrial zoning framework of the park.

Acquest is seeking town approval for the open development area -- which would allow it to forgo front-yard parking restrictions and reduce setback requirements for buildings -- because it wants to construct a private road between Sterling and Windward drives, a road that would serve smaller, multiple parcels of land in the park.

The proposal is a departure from the original intent of the park's first two phases, which was geared more toward manufacturing. Town officials had expected the park's third and fourth phases to focus on offices and possibly a hotel.

But an Acquest official said that the hotel project seems like a far reach and that the company is interested in marketing the property to high-tech and service-oriented businesses.

"The market is high-tech and service, and not industry," said Wayne Eisenbaum, Acquest executive vice president.

"If you let us do this, we have a fighting chance with the market. We won't be fighting the market," he told the board.

Eisenbaum pointed to National Air Cargo, a logistics-services company headquartered in Amherst, that is interested in relocating to Sterling Park. Early last year, the Erie County Industrial Development Agency approved an incentive package for National Air Cargo, which at the time said it planned to triple the size of its current quarters by moving to Orchard Park.

In contrast, Eisenbaum said that Mentholatum Co.'s move to the park was the first and probably last time that a significant manufacturer would seek land in the park area. Mentholatum opened its new $25 million world headquarters in Orchard Park in 1998 after moving from its Niagara Street headquarters of 80 years. "We're not dropping light industrial off of our marketing, but we're not getting the calls," Eisenbaum said. "Everything proposed is included in the current industrial (zone)."

Investor Paul Steinwachs emphasized the need to shift the park's focus if it translates into greater success.

"As long as we can put up good-looking buildings, what's the loss?" he said.

Town Engineer Michael Merritt said he favors the general concept, but also said it is important for the town to study what was originally envisioned for the industrial park.

Also, an open development area would not be needed if a hotel is developed at the site, he said.

"Certainly, because of the situation, it warrants rethinking, and open development is the way to do it," Merritt said. "Everybody would like to see a hotel, but the demographics aren't there yet."

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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