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Take a tour of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus; Five-block site was center of construction during 2011

One the big stories for 2011 -- and certainly for 2012 -- is the continued emergence of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

This five-block area sandwiched between Allentown and the Fruit Belt was arguably the center of construction activity for the region last year, with the building of such high-profile facilities as the Gates Vascular Institute and Kaleida Health's new nursing home.

And there's plenty more where that came from. In fact, plans for the medical campus have far exceeded expectations.

A 20-year master plan developed in 2002 to replace aging facilities, share resources and make Buffalo a more attractive destination for specialists and scientists has taken shape in just eight years.

"The growth is truly remarkable," David Gamble, a Boston-based planning consultant for the medical campus said last March, "and they have done so in a way that few other medical centers have -- as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization."

"The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus as a whole has become the economic driver the leadership envisioned 10 years ago," William L. Joyce, chairman of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus board, also said at the time.

For those who haven't been on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus lately, here's a quick tour:

*Start at the edge of campus at Ellicott and Goodell streets. The University at Buffalo is building a new $23 million Educational Opportunity Center, which will connect with UB's Downtown Gateway building, formerly known as the M. Wile building. Opening is scheduled for 2013.

*Continue along Ellicott Street, where a large portion of the former Trico building -- an old windshield wiper plant -- has been transformed into incubator space for fledgling high-tech companies spun off from the medical research on campus. Opened in 2010, the Innovation Center is already at capacity, but plans are under way to double the space.

*You're now at Ellicott and Virginia streets, where the campus first took off. Just to your left is the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, which opened in 2005. To your right is UB's Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences, which opened in 2006. Connected to that is Roswell Park Cancer Institute's genetics and pharmacology building, which also opened in 2006.

*Up the street and around the corner at Main and High streets is where Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. plans to build an $80 million medical office building to include the outpatient surgery program for Women & Children's Hospital. Construction is expected to start in the spring.

*Nearby is where a new $375 million medical school will go up.

UB announced last year it will relocate its medical school from the South Campus to the medical campus by 2016. While the exact location is being firmed up, officials want to begin construction by September 2013 and complete the building by fall 2016.

*That move, meanwhile, has fast-tracked plans to move the rest of Women & Children's Hospital to the medical campus.

Planning has begun. The new hospital probably would be moved into two buildings next to the Ciminelli medical office on the block bounded by Main, High, Ellicott and Goodrich streets. The target date for opening is 2017 at the latest.

*Down High Street -- past Buffalo General Hospital, past Roswell Park -- is a new $34 million parking ramp to help accommodate the influx of workers and visitors to the medical corridor. Today, there are 8,500 people working on the medical campus. That number is expected to jump to 12,000 within the next few years.

*Across the street from the parking ramp on Michigan, you'll notice HighPointe on Michigan -- Kaleida Health's new 300-bed, four-story nursing home. Opened in December, it's the first urban nursing home built in Buffalo in decades.

*The tour stops at Ellicott and North streets. The sleek, modern building at the corner is the Gates Vascular Institute. Kaleida and UB collaborated on the $291 million building, where doctors and researchers will focus on the treatment of vascular disease. It opens this spring.