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Construction manager sought for Explore & More project at Canalside

After learning from past experience, the state agency that oversees Canalside development now wants a construction manager – not a developer – to direct the building of a children’s museum at the downtown Buffalo waterfront destination.

The Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. last week issued a request-for-proposals for a firm to oversee the design and construction of the “core-and-shell” of the Explore & More Children’s Museum next to the historically aligned canals. The interior would be built out separately.

The nearly 43,000-square-foot building would be located on part of the land that makes up the South Aud Block, a one-acre parcel of developable land that will ultimately include multiple buildings to be constructed over time. The building would house the museum on five levels, with an outdoor terrace.

“On behalf of Explore & More, its donors, the widespread community support we have received, and the children of Western New York, we are very excited for this demonstrative first step toward the completion of the building and our opening at Canalside,” said Explore & More CEO Douglas Love.

The request marks a significant step forward for the project, which has experienced fits and starts since the East Aurora-based museum was selected in 2012 to become part of Canalside. An earlier effort sought to select a developer for a larger 100,000-square-foot project, which would have included not only the museum but an information center, a restaurant and mixed-use space. But that faltered after the state agency imposed so many restrictions and costs on the project – including a rent-free lease for the museum that would have occupied nearly half of the building – that most developers shied away. Only Ciminelli Real Estate Corp. ultimately bid, and Ciminelli and the harbor development agency could not come to a final agreement.

Amid public pressure and criticism, the agency ultimately canceled that process and decided to start fresh. This time, the agency seeks a project manager to do the work for a fee, rather than a private developer who would own and operate the building afterward.

Proposals are due by March 31, while pre-construction services such as value engineering and analysis, scheduling, cost-estimating and document review are supposed to begin in June. Groundbreaking is slated for March 2017, with completion by June 2018, followed by the museum opening.

“This RFP is an important step as we work to redevelop the South Aud Block and build on amenities and attractions already put in place by ECHDC on the site,” said agency Chairman Robert Gioia. “With approximately 1 million visitors coming to Canalside and enjoying the diverse recreational opportunities there, the addition of Explore & More will build on the tremendous success of this dynamic waterfront area and help deliver the next phase of exciting recreational and entertainment options for residents and visitors alike.”