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Building the new Buffalo: What to expect in 2015

The tower cranes along Buffalo’s waterfront last summer were a sign of a development boom downtown that will stretch into this year and beyond. ¶ With it holds the promise of thousands of new jobs, new housing and a new attitude toward downtown as a trendy place to be. ¶ The opening of the $172 million HarborCenter complex last fall was the first big new development to swing open its doors, but even that was just a partial opening, with the center’s hotel still under construction. While some of the other developments are nearing completion, others still are more than a year away. ¶ Here’s a look at the major downtown and Buffalo Billion projects, where they stand and what comes next.

HarborCenter

HarborCenter, the $172 million hotel and hockey project opened in late October by owners Terry and Kim Pegula, is already drawing people to the foot of Main Street. Located next to First Niagara Center and the Canalside complex, it has two hockey rinks, two restaurants, an indoor parking ramp, a pro shop and training centers. This spring, the next big piece – a 205-room Buffalo HarborCenter Marriott, to be operated by Shaner Hotels – is scheduled to open. HarborCenter officials also have 10,000 square feet of retail space still to lease.

Institute for Advanced Manufacturing Competitiveness

This $45 million component of the Buffalo Billion is expected to open gradually to help manufacturers utilize advanced manufacturing techniques.

The center, on the edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, has the equipment and experts to improve automation, material testing and advanced production.

43North competition

Winners of the first 43North business plan competition will begin arriving in Buffalo from around the world early this year. The start-up firms will occupy space in the Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

The contest, also part of the Buffalo Billion initiative, is one of the richest in the world and has been funded for 2015.

SolarCity

It is the biggest of the Buffalo Billion projects: a 1 million-square-foot solar panel factory being built on the former Republic Steel site in South Buffalo known as RiverBend. Backed by a $750 million investment from New York State, construction began in late September. Crews are drilling more than 5,500 pilings that will support the plant’s foundation. As the pilings are put in place, workers will begin pouring concrete for the plant’s foundation and then its sprawling slab. Crews are expected to pour concrete through July. Meanwhile, the building’s structural steel will start going up in February, with the hope of enclosing the plant this summer. The goal is to have the building finished by the end of the year.

SolarCity, the nation’s biggest residential solar energy systems installer, will then start moving equipment into the plant, with another three months to test the equipment. It will take another three to six months to ramp up to full production. SolarCity executives said they expect to be producing solar modules in 2016 and ramp up to full capacity in 2017.

When completed, the factory will be one of the world’s biggest solar panel factories, with the capacity to produce enough solar panels each year to generate 1 gigawatt of electricity, enough to power 750,000 homes. SolarCity has committed to creating 1,460 jobs at the factory within two years of its opening and another 1,440 jobs at suppliers and service providers in the Buffalo area. The Cuomo administration hopes that will create the critical mass needed to turn the Buffalo Niagara region into a center for solar industry manufacturing, with the expertise and supply network that will help lure other renewable energy ventures.

Canalside

The first phase of Canalside, built on the spot where the Erie Canal once had its western terminus, opened in December. The outdoor skating complex, equal in size to 2½ National Hockey League rinks, has already attracted thousands of visitors. The canals will serve as reflecting pools in the summer.

This year, work will begin on the second phase: a three- to four-building development that could include restaurant, retail, office or residential space, as well as the Explore & More Children’s Museum, which will move from East Aurora to Canalside. The museum, scheduled to open in 2016, is designed for children up to age 12. It will have eight permanent exhibits, a special exhibit and administration space. It will occupy about 40,000 square feet, or 40 percent of the South Aud Block site, and also will include outdoor terraces and a “green” roof.

The other buildings will include restaurants and retail on the ground floor, and office and residential space on the upper floors. One building will house a two-story Canalside information center.

Proposals from developers are due Jan. 29. A preferred developer for the project is expected to be selected in April.

IBM

In the middle of downtown Buffalo, New York State hopes to duplicate the model it used to build a semiconductor industry in Albany: Create a software development center full of so much state-of-the-art equipment and expertise that companies find it irresistible. The Buffalo Information Technologies Innovation and Commercialization Hub, part of the state’s Buffalo Billion economic development initiative, is intended to educate future IT industry workers and create new software innovations. The anchor tenant, announced in 2014, is information technology giant IBM. The state hopes IBM’s presence and reputation will attract other companies to Buffalo.

Last fall, IBM brought the first 10 employees to Buffalo, working out of 12,000 square feet of temporary space in the north tower of KeyCenter. Work on the permanent $55 million software development hub is expected to begin this summer after Delaware North moves out of its current offices in KeyCenter. The state will spend $15 million to buy part of KeyCenter and build it out for IBM, and $40 million to buy equipment and software that will be used by IBM and potentially other companies that might be lured to the center.

The software development hub is expected to grow slowly, rising to 50 jobs by midyear, but taking until September 2020 before it must reach its 500-job target, which includes positions from IBM, its partners, suppliers and contractors.

Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is a hotbed of construction. In all, about 2 million square feet – or the equivalent of about 10 Walmart supercenters – of clinical, laboratory and office space will be added over the next two years, with a total investment of $1.4 billion. When completed, the new buildings will bring an additional 5,000 workers to the 120-acre campus, increasing the Medical Campus workforce to 17,000.

Conventus medical office building. The new building’s first tenant – the state’s $250 million, public-private partnership with drug development firm Albany Molecular Research Inc. – will begin moving into the top floor in March. AMRI, part of the Buffalo Billion, will do drug development and research at the site. Work on the bottom six floors of the $110 million building are scheduled to be finished by the end of June, with UBMD, a doctors group affiliated with the university, slated to move in and a First Niagara bank branch set to open on the first floor. Developer Paul Ciminelli of Ciminelli Real Estate has said he is considering a $75 million project to build a slightly smaller building at the Langston Hughes site on High and Washington streets.

Roswell Park Clinical Sciences Center. Work on the façade and the interior of the first six floors of Roswell Park Cancer Institute’s new $50.5 million Clinical Sciences Center is expected to be completed by March. Interior work on the top five floors is expected to start in April, with about 80 percent of the building expected to be completed by the end of this year. The new center, Roswell Park’s first clinical facility expansion since 1998, will be used for new patient screening, an outpatient clinic, team diagnostics and labs, along with clinical and office space.

John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital. Construction began last fall on the $270 million John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, with workers pouring the concrete foundation last month. A tower crane is expected to go up at the site in the spring as the building’s steel frame goes up and underground utility work is done. The hospital is scheduled to open in 2017.

University at Buffalo Medical School. Construction on the first three floors of steel for UB’s new $375 million medical school at the corner of Main and High streets will begin this winter, with a tower crane expected to go up in the spring and the steel frame being built throughout the year. Exterior work on the building is slated to begin in late 2015. The medical school is scheduled to open in the spring of 2017.

Other Medical Campus projects include Krog Corp.’s $50 million project to convert the former Trico Products factory on Washington Street into a hotel, along with residential and retail space, and the eight-story Campus Square apartment complex, costing $60 million to $75 million, that is set to open in 2017 at 38 Holloway Blvd.

Delaware North headquarters

Construction is well underway on the 12-story hotel and office complex at 250 Delaware Ave. in downtown Buffalo that will be the new world headquarters for Delaware North, the Buffalo-based hospitality firm. Delaware North, now located in KeyCenter, expects to move into its new offices by August. But before then, much work needs to be done. The building’s metal framing and window installation is expected to be completed by the end of March, and construction on the 593-space parking ramp is slated to begin during the first quarter.

The building’s 193,000 square feet of office space is more than 90 percent leased, with the hospitality company set to occupy 57 percent of the office space and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement taking 26 percent of the office portion of the $110 million project. The federal agency is scheduled to move in during February 2016.

The second through fifth floors of the building will be a 119-room hotel, which is expected to carry the Westin Hotel label. It is scheduled to open by early 2016.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com