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Multi-tenant warehouse project at RiverBend to begin in March

The first spinoff development from the $900 million SolarCity manufacturing plant at RiverBend will kick off in early spring, with environmental cleanup and then construction beginning as soon as March on a sprawling new multi-tenant warehouse directly across the street on South Park Avenue.

The John W. Danforth Company received the go-ahead Monday from the Buffalo Planning Board on the company’s proposed 83,000-square-foot warehouse, to be built at 1176 South Park.

The Tonawanda-based mechanical contracting company plans to occupy more than half of the one-story facility, or about 45,000 to 50,000 square feet, with an expansion of its operation to not only serve SolarCity’s needs but also better reach its clients in the Southtowns and Southern Tier. No functions or operations are moving from Tonawanda.

But the rest of the space in the $7 million complex is designed to be leased to SolarCity vendors, suppliers or other businesses that can meet additional needs for the 1 million-square-foot solar panel manufacturing plant and its 1,500 employees.

“It’s spinoff development. It absolutely is there as a supplement and complement to what they’re doing across the street,” said J. Timothy Vaeth, owner of JT Vaeth LLC, the developer who is building the complex for Danforth.

No additional tenants have been lined up yet, but Vaeth said several firms are in the process of obtaining contracts with SolarCity, and may sign on “pretty quick” once they do.

“There is a high level of interest in support and that additional supply chain, and also the creation of jobs,” Vaeth said. “SolarCity is responsible for creating a certain number of jobs, but hopefully we can help with other jobs. They’re talking about producing 10,000 solar panels a day. A lot of material will be going into that facility each day.”

Depending on the facility’s use and the potential for creating jobs, Danforth may also seek tax breaks from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, but “if we don’t quality for something, we won’t push it,” Vaeth said.

The proposed new plant will take up about 12 acres of the 28-acre total property, which Danforth is buying next month for $1 million from the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. Like the RiverBend site itself, the Danforth property was originally part of the larger Republic Steel plant – ironically, for a similar logistics and supply purpose as its future use – and also had a railroad line running through it from across the Buffalo River.

That’s no longer there, although CSX Corp. still controls a narrow right-of-way strip, but the land was still contaminated from years of industry use.

So Vaeth and Danforth must first remediate the property to a commercial level of use through the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program. Vaeth said officials hope to begin that work in about three months, once a formal plan is approved by the state.

“We will try to expedite and get it done quickly,” Vaeth said, adding that the developer hopes to complete the entire project by fall 2016 or certainly by yearend.