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Environmental, business studies begin for city-owned East Side properties

Consultants hired by Buffalo Urban Development Corp. are proceeding with environmental and business studies on a dozen East Side properties acquired for a new light-industrial economic development zone, now that the public-sector agency has taken title to the buildings and land.

GZA Environmental and Fisher Associates are starting to conduct higher-level site assessments to determine the degree of environmental risks and the extent of cleanups necessary to bring the land to a shovel-ready state, officials said at BUDC’s board meeting Tuesday.

Separate business analyses and market studies are also now underway by engineering firm LiRo Group of Long Island and commercial real estate brokerage CBRE-Buffalo, both evaluating how the properties could be marketed and used.

LiRo is also doing an additional soil-gas investigation of one of the primary properties, at 537 E. Delavan Ave., which was acquired earlier. “We are already moving forward with environmentals on that site. It is a site that needs serious considerations as far as environmentals are concerned,” said BUDC President Peter Cammarata, noting that the agency has applied to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for consideration as a Superfund cleanup site.

The work is part of the effort to create another business component of the Buffalo Billion initiative, championed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to rejuvenate Buffalo’s economy by pouring state resources into targeted zones or projects centered around biotechnology, computer technology, solar and clean energy, and light industry.

The state identified the East Side land, bordered by Fillmore Avenue, Grider Street, East Ferry Street and East Delavan Avenue, as the site for a renewed manufacturing “hub” that would generate jobs and investment in a long-neglected part of the city.

The Empire State Development Corp. allocated $6.7 million to BUDC for the initial acquisition of land, as well as to pay for the environmental and market studies.

The launch of the studies come after BUDC, a urban city-focused affiliate of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, completed its acquisition of nine properties that were owned or otherwise controlled by Sweeney Steel’s Mike Sweeney and one from Hard Manufacturing, paying about $4.4 million in all. Those properties include 631, 644, 664, 683, 688, 690, 741, 767 and 777 Northland Ave., as well as 126 and 128 Dutton St.

Together with the previous purchase of 537 East Delavan, BUDC now controls 58 acres and 700,000 square feet of buildings “in various conditions” in an area known as the Northland Avenue Belt Line Corridor, according to Cammarata. The agency is also reviewing the possible purchase of an adjacent small property, whose owner recently expressed interest in selling to BUDC to capitalize on the state’s desire to redevelop the entire area.

Also, Sandy White’s Mustard Seed World Consulting Group was hired to develop a community outreach plan for the city to engage the neighborhoods over the next couple of years of development. Cammarata said officials hope to have more information about tentative plans for the industrial hub by late summer.

“We started out slow until we finalized acquisitions, but I think now we can do a little more quicker progress,” said BUDC Vice President David Stebbins.