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East Side industrial park gets first approval

The Northland Avenue Belt Line Corridor, a city and state effort to build an industrial park on Buffalo’s East Side, got the green light from the planning board to build a new job training facility on the site.

It will be the first component of the project being funded with the state’s Buffalo Billion economic development initiative.

The panel approved the site plan Monday for the Western New York Workforce Training Center at 683 Northland Avenue, where it will occupy about 100,000 square feet out of a 235,000-square-foot complex.

The center, expected to cost $20 million, could begin operations in late 2017.

The operation is designed to train 300 to 400 workers each year in advanced manufacturing and energy jobs, with a particular focus on workers from the impoverished nearby neighborhoods. The goal is to prepare them for future jobs at employers like the SolarCity plant now under construction at Riverbend in South Buffalo.

“This action will accelerate the redevelopment of Buffalo’s East Side and prepare the next generation for the jobs powering Western New York’s revitalization,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release issued Monday evening after the vote.

The approval came after the Planning Board accepted the conclusions of a state-mandated report that found that the overall redevelopment of 35 acres of former industrial property will not create any significant environmental impacts on the area.

The overall $44 million project – a partnership between the city, state and New York Power Authority – calls for cleaning up many of the 12 properties that were acquired last year by the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. The city agency used $6.7 million in Buffalo Billion funds, allocated by Empire State Development Corp. in September 2014, to buy and prepare the properties in an effort to create a new light industrial economic development hub to add to the medical, high-technology and solar energy hubs already in progress in the city.

The city is also committing an additional $4 million to the effort, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said. “The Northland Redevelopment Project will soon accelerate the redevelopment of this section of Buffalo, re-purposing long vacant buildings and property, and most critically, providing an environment for city residents to gain valuable training for good-paying, sustainable jobs,” he said, calling it a “pivotal project.”

In all, BUDC gained 700,000 square feet in existing industrial space, and is now working with several consultants to evaluate the buildings and develop final plans for reusing them, particularly five properties with major complexes. Some structures that are deemed too far gone to be rehabilitated will be demolished, while three and a half buildings – including 683 Northland – will be fixed up for new industrial and entrepreneurial tenants.

“It’s a great project,” said Martha Lamparelli, one of the Planning Board members. “It’s the beginning of the transformation of the neighborhood.”