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WATERFRONT OUT AS NATIONAL FUEL HOME

National Fuel Gas Co. has ruled out locating its new headquarters campus on the Buffalo waterfront, and will now choose between Orchard Park and Erie, Pa.

The utility announced Thursday that it had officially narrowed its shortlist of options to two sites in Orchard Park -- Sterling Park and Quaker Centre, both off Route 219 -- and Knowledge Park in suburban Erie, Pa. According to National Fuel spokeswoman Julie Coppola Cox, the final three options are "good fits" for the company.

"These remaining sites provide us with all of the qualities we need for our facilities and are ready for swift development," Cox said.

National Fuel's release of a new shortlist follows several weeks of speculation that the company was leaning toward the Orchard Park and suburban Erie locations. In addition to the Buffalo waterfront site, the company has also eliminated West Seneca and the City of Erie as possibilities.

Noting the extensive work that Mayor Anthony M. Masiello has done to promote the Buffalo waterfront site, proposing to make National Fuel the centerpiece of a completed Waterfront Village neighborhood, Cox said National Fuel took that effort very seriously.

"It is our sincere belief that no matter where National Fuel locates its headquarters, the Waterfront Village promises to be a sought-after destination for commercial, residential and retail development," she said.

The mayor said he is extremely disappointed that the utility and its nearly 500 employees will exit the city, eliminating one of the few remaining corporate headquarters -- and its positive impact -- from downtown.

"We offered them the premier waterfront site in this region," Masiello said. "We offered them free parking and an expedited construction timetable because we own the land. It was everything they said they wanted, but they are walking away."

Earlier this month, Masiello and Buffalo developer Carl P. Paladino unveiled a $45 million development plan including a parklike campus for National Fuel near the Erie Basin Marina, augmented by a new hotel, restaurants and enhanced public access. The mayor called the ambitious plan a win-win situation in which National Fuel would get the site amenities it wanted without leaving Buffalo, and the city would see the high-profile waterfront area fully developed.

"I've got to think they had another agenda all along, and I'm not happy about how we've been treated," Masiello said. "The next thing they'll do is put a gun to the governor's head and ask for more money or they'll go to Pennsylvania. This is nothing but a charade, and I find it disgusting."

National Fuel expects to make a final decision about its future home sometime next month.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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