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Toronto manufacturer to buy 50-acre NFTA parcel on outer harbor

The huge terminal complex on Buffalo’s outer harbor once hosted a bustling Ford Motor Co. plant, and then ocean-going ships as key fixtures at the Port of Buffalo. Later, it was a movie set before becoming vacant for several years.

Now a new role awaits the sprawling waterfront complex known as Terminals A and B, following the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s decision Thursday to sell it to a Toronto manufacturer of outdoor furniture.

The NFTA will receive $4.7 million for the almost 50-acre parcel, while the region gains about 250 new manufacturing jobs.

But another significant change lies in the future of the complex – private ownership. For the first time in anyone’s memory, a major plot of outer harbor land will lie outside public control and pay taxes.

“Over 80 percent has been placed in public hands,” NFTA Chairman Howard A. Zemsky said of the outer harbor. “So we’ve definitely fulfilled our responsibility to provide full access. These are industrial facilities, and I don’t think we in any way are changing the use or injuring the public enjoyment of the waterfront.”

Following the NFTA’s move earlier this month to transfer the rest of its 384-acre waterfront to the state parks system and the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., Zemsky said the sale represents a fitting end to more than 50 years of ownership by the NFTA and a predecessor agency – the Niagara Frontier Port Authority.

“We’re extremely excited and proud,” he said. “It’s a great final chapter for the NFTA and the waterfront – the last piece of the puzzle.”

The sale move marks the end of years of NFTA efforts to concentrate on its core transportation mission, get out of the waterfront business and find an appropriate use for the buildings.

Until now, the agency had found no success in marketing the 400,000 square feet of warehousing and office space, high bay doors, rail and water access, and parking for 500 cars.

Gracious Living Corp. will be the new owner. It has two manufacturing facilities in suburban Toronto employing about 1,000 people and listing $100 million in sales.

The company makes outdoor furniture, indoor and outdoor organizing products, garage utility systems and pet accessories that company officials said are often sold in big-box stores.

It now looks to establish its first U.S. location as well as access to the huge American market and expects to be operating by late next year.

“We look forward to some great times, and look forward to embracing our new home,” CEO Enzo Macri told reporters. “The economic conditions here are better than what we currently have in Canada ... and we believe the U.S. is on an economic upswing and we can take advantage of that.”

The company also takes advantage of economic incentives that New York State offered, which helped in making the expansion decision. The Empire State Development Corp. offered $2 million in performance-based Excelsior Jobs Program tax credits in return for the company’s job creation commitments

The state’s help was appreciated and important, said Gracious Living Vice President David Minor.

“We want to make sure we are competitive,” he said, adding that the incentives will help “maximize” that goal.

The development Thursday also caught the attention of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who earlier this month came to Buffalo to announce the transfer of most of the outer harbor for state parks.

“We are pleased to welcome the company to build their first U.S. plant to serve its growing U.S. market, as we continue to foster redevelopment on Buffalo’s waterfront and revive New York’s manufacturing industry,” he said in a statement. Buffalo Niagara Enterprise has been working with Gracious Living since last November, assisting with site selection, workforce, access to incentives and international due diligence.

“This project reinforces what a great economic driver our waterfront can be, especially when combined with the rest of our great manufacturing assets,” BNE President Thomas Kucharski said. “We were very pleased to assist Gracious Living over the last 10 months, and I am delighted to welcome Enzo Macri and his team to Buffalo Niagara.”

Macri and Minor also seemed thrilled to relocate to the Buffalo waterfront. They expect to invest tens of millions of dollars into rehabilitating the vacant buildings and installing new plastic injection machinery, and they said they were primarily attracted to the location by its proximity to Toronto. In fact, Macri said the company all along had set its sights on Buffalo.

He said another attraction was access to highway, rail and even water, adding it will investigate the potential of using the former port facilities for maritime shipping.

The sale is expected to close after a 120-day due diligence period.