Peter Cammarata remembers visiting the former Hanna Furnace site in South Buffalo a few years ago, when the factory's remnants made the idea of a business park sprouting there seem improbable.
On Tuesday, the Erie County Industrial Development Agency's director of urban development was happy to display unappealing "before" pictures of the site, now that a more flattering "after" image of Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park is emerging.
Government leaders and others involved in the project met to mark a milestone: the completion of the roads and utilities serving the first 75 acres of the planned 200-acre park. Celebrating infrastructure might lack razzle-dazzle, but project leaders spoke in loftier terms.
"The whole development put the city back into the game of site selectors," said Cammarata, described by Mayor Anthony Masiello as the project's "quarterback." State, county and city funds have helped convert the park to its new use.
New roads marked Ship Canal Parkway and Hanna Drive, reflecting the land's past, are in place. And the park's first tenant, CertainTeed, a maker of fencing, plans to open its manufacturing plant by the end of the year or in early January.
Masiello and others say the park enables the city to compete for prospects that might otherwise go to the suburbs or other regions for expansions or relocations, in search of large amounts of "shovel-ready" land. They also hope the park will serve as a model for revitalizing other dormant industrial land.
"Let's take some of those companies that want to leave our community for greener pastures someplace else, let's bring them here to grow their businesses," Masiello said.
CertainTeed is moving its Cheektowaga operation into the city, along with additional work being transferred from Kansas, said Darren Campbell, vice president and general manager of outdoor products. The new plant is almost twice as large as its existing location, and will employ 180 to 200 people.
"We wanted to keep our core group of employees together, rather than start over," Campbell said.
While economic development officials have hailed CertainTeed's arrival as an important step, the project has generated some protests.
Some environmentalists have opposed the plant. CertainTeed produces fencing out of polyvinyl chlorine, or PVC, a plastic that environmentalists claim releases hazardous chemicals throughout its life cycle. And earlier this year, members of area construction unions picketed the site to criticize the developer, Krog Corp., over its hiring practices.
While the CertainTeed plant is nearly finished, economic development officials are trying to attract more tenants. Tom Kucharski, president and chief executive officer of the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, said his agency has "several more-than-curious prospects" considering the park. The fact that the park has land ready to build on makes it a much more viable contender, he said.
Kucharski said business recruiters are marketing the park's aesthetics, such as the former Union Ship Canal flowing through the property, along with incentives such as Empire Zone benefits, brownfield tax credits and low-cost power.
Organizers of Tuesday's ceremony added a twist to the typical ribbon cutting, which usually involves an oversize scissors. Masiello drove a truck through a ribbon held by other VIPs to officially open the park.