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Frank L. Ciminelli, major local developer, dies at 80

Frank L. Ciminelli, who started a residential construction company in the 1950s that grew into one of the area’s major development firms that built signature projects throughout the region, died Friday after a lengthy illness. He was 80.

Mr. Ciminelli, of Williamsville, was born Oct. 6, 1934 in Buffalo, the youngest of 12 children. As a young boy, he assisted with various aspects of his father’s concrete business, learning the trade while completing his high school education. He graduated from Erie County Technical Institute in 1954.

He eventually established his own concrete business, which was incorporated in 1960 as the Frank L. Ciminelli Construction Co. (now LPCiminelli). He founded Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. in 1981.

Mr. Ciminelli steadily grew the concrete business until it eventually became a commercial general contractor and, ultimately, the largest general contractor/construction firm in Western New York. As Mr. Ciminelli’s interests grew, he sold the construction company to his son Louis in 1987.

“It was an honor for me to purchase the company from my dad,” Louis Ciminelli said. “My father worked incredibly hard his entire life and had an extraordinary work ethic. I am proud to say that, today, we continue our work based on his founding philosophies of honesty, integrity and commitment to excellence.”

Mr. Ciminelli then turned his focus on building up Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. Over the years, he developed commercial properties in Western New York and Florida, ultimately owning or managing a portfolio that now exceeds more than 12 million square feet in four states. His son Paul purchased that company in 2010.

“Ciminelli Real Estate’s success is attributable to my father’s drive and determination,” Paul Ciminelli said. “But he also had a mantra that he insisted everyone in his employ follow: Treat every customer as if it were your only customer, strive to be the best at whatever you do, and always do the right thing. That’s how my dad lived his entire life.”

Mr. Ciminelli started his residential construction firm in 1954 and expanded it into a general contracting business in 1960.

By 1991, the year before he retired, Frank L. Ciminelli Construction Co. Inc. was the 150th largest general contractor in the United States, with $160 million in contracts. Ciminelli Development Co. Inc. also managed or controlled more than two million square feet of developed space and owned assets worth more than $100 million.

Mr. Ciminelli also co-founded ADF Construction with his brother-in-law, Salvatore “Sonny” Savarino.

Mr. Ciminelli and his company had roles in some of the largest and most visible construction projects in the area, including the Ford Motor Co.’s Woodlawn Stamping Plant, the General Motors Tonawanda Engine Plant, the Natural Sciences Building on the North Campus of the University at Buffalo, the Key Center at Fountain Plaza and the Walden Galleria, and expansion projects at both Millard Fillmore hospitals and Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

Mr. Ciminelli credited his upbringing for his zeal to stand out.

“Wherever I went, whatever I did, I had to be the best,” he told a News reporter in 1992.

In 1985, Mr. Ciminelli bought the then-vacant Cyclorama Building on Edward Street. After clashing with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation on some exterior changes, the company renovated the building as its corporate headquarters.

Mr. Ciminelli also teamed up with Jim Kelly in 1992 to ask the city for some $6 million in loans and grants to convert buildings near the Market Arcade into a complex that would include a restaurant, nightclub, retail and a special-events venue.

His company also built the Centerpointe Corporate Park in Amherst and the Airport Commerce Park in Cheektowaga.

“Frank was an old-style businessman. His word was always good, and if he said he was going to do something, it got done. He was a good friend and will be missed,” said Frank J. McGuire, another Buffalo developer who partnered with Mr. Ciminelli on a host of projects, starting with construction of the air cargo facilities in the 1980s.

Both of Mr. Ciminelli’s sons have expanded their companies, taking leadership roles in some the region’s largest developments.

Mr. Ciminelli was involved in many civic and charitable organizations, including Catholic Charities, Sisters Hospital Foundation, the University at Buffalo Foundation, the Bishop’s Lay Advisory Council, St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy, Boys’ Town of Italy, The Erie Community College Foundation, Business Backs the Bills, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the Catholic Charities Appeal, Kenmore Mercy Foundation, Trocaire College, Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, Roswell Park Alliance, United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, Sisters of Mercy of the Buffalo Regional Community and many others.

He and his wife of 60 years, the former Rosalie G. Savarino, are members of Our Lady of Peace Church and Christ the King Church.

Mr. Ciminelli enjoyed golfing, fly fishing and spending time with family and friends.

In addition to his wife, survivors include four sons, Louis P., Gary M., Paul F. and John A.; two daughters, Susan E. Ciminelli VanHoven and Mary Ciminelli Read ; 11 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

A funeral service is being planned.