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Multiple sites weighed to accommodate IBM’s array of software, technology plans

Where will IBM’s 500 new employees in Buffalo work?

State and company officials are now considering multiple sites for IBM’s new software and technology development center announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday.

Officials did not identify specific buildings, but likely candidates could include the former Trico Building, Compass East and Key Center at Fountain Plaza. Longer shots could include 500 Seneca St. and One Seneca Tower.

Gov. Cuomo formally announced Monday afternoon that the state will invest $55 million to construct and equip a 100,000-square-foot “innovation” facility in Buffalo for IBM to work on medical-related and other high-technology software development.

The new center would be the first anchor tenant in the state’s new Buffalo Information Technologies Innovation and Commercialization Hub – the third such technology cluster to be unveiled by the state in Buffalo in recent months.

The $100 million partnership of the State Data Center, the University at Buffalo and the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering in Albany is being created to train information technology professionals, educate IT employees and develop next-generation software to support state-of-the-art research in molecular research, genomics, energy efficiency and defense.

The facility would be owned by the state, likely through SUNY.

But no one has said precisely where it would be, or even precisely what it would do.

So far, officials are only saying that the center would be somewhere in “downtown Buffalo.” Michael J. Cadigan, general manager and head of IBM MicroElectronics Systems and Technology Group, said the company has “started fundamental mapping around the facility and the data requirements,” which could include significant technology capability for things such as three-dimensional imaging. But he stressed that “we have not decided on a location.”

But because its work is tied to a large degree to medical research and health care – Cadigan cited genome mapping and medical records as two areas where IBM is doing work – some proximity to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is likely to be important.

Further, Alain E. Kaloyeros, senior vice president and CEO of the SUNY College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, said the location will be “a rehabbed building,” not new construction. That could further narrow the options, given the amount of space that is needed and what is available. “A number of prospects are currently being assessed,” he wrote in an email.

Options could include:

Trico Building. At Goodell and Washington streets, this vacant 600,000-square-foot former windshield-wiper plant is on the edge of the medical campus. It’s slated to be acquired by Krog Corp., which plans to spend $50 million to convert 500,000 square feet into two hotels with 230 rooms, plus several loft-style apartments, commercial and retail space and a parking ramp.

Given its size, location, and current undeveloped status, it could be a prime candidate.

Compass East. The former Sheehan Memorial Hospital has been redeveloped by McGuire Development into a 160,000-square-foot professional campus, with science and technology, clinical medical care, job training and back-office components.

It’s now the home of a new East Coast Service Center for Time Warner Cable Business Class, as well as University Pediatric Dentistry, but still has significant space available, as well as on-site parking. As a former hospital, it also has power redundancy and other sophisticated backup features attractive to technology operations.

McGuire, which was named this month as the preferred developer, along with fellow Buffalo commercial real estate firm LPCiminelli, for future high-tech research and manufacturing facilities here, already owns the Compass East site.

Key Center at Fountain Plaza. Delaware North Cos., one of its biggest tenants, is planning to vacate and move to a new hotel-office tower being constructed on Delaware Avenue at West Chippewa Street. Coincidentally, that would leave 110,000 square feet vacant – an almost exact match for IBM’s needs. While it’s not on the Medical Campus, it’s easily accessible to the campus by Metro Rail. The South Tower is also relatively new, built in 2000.

But the timing may be off; Delaware North may not be out by early 2015, but it is expected to be gone by the fall of that year.

500 Seneca St. Savarino Cos. and Frontier Group of Companies are spending $35 million to redevelop the 306,000-square-foot former F.N. Burt Co. manufacturing facility into Class A office space. Frontier will be the lead tenant, but space is still available. However, this is not considered to be part of downtown.

One Seneca Tower. The former One HSBC Center, formerly home to HSBC Bank USA, Phillips Lytle LLP and the Canadian consulate, is now 95 percent empty and in foreclosure proceedings, after those three tenants left.

The 850,000-square-foot building had technology operations when the bank was there, so the infrastructure may fit IBM’s needs. But the tower’s age and smaller floor plates may detract from it.

The tower’s uncertain legal status is also a barrier.

The state plans to spend $25 million to establish the facility and $30 million to buy equipment and software that would be used by IBM and available to all IT units at all state agencies. “The key for the Buffalo center will be innovation. I don’t want anyone to be confused that the Buffalo center is a data center,” said Cadigan, a Southtowns native and a UB graduate.

“You have to have a tool and a mechanism to innovate. That requires deep research, deep science and very, very skilled scientists to take the hardware platform and the data platform and translate it into very useful tools.”