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Watts Architecture & Engineering hired for Northland Avenue Corridor project

The city agency responsible for overseeing the creation of the state’s new Workforce Training Center on Buffalo’s East Side is hiring a local consulting team led by Watts Architecture & Engineering to design the new facility and renovations to other nearby industrial buildings.

The Buffalo Urban Development Corp. on Tuesday selected Watts, whose offices are located in the same building as the BUDC, over three other finalists, after concluding that its team had more experience and a better understanding of what would be involved in a project whose costs could range from $850,000 to $4 million.

Watts and its partners will now be responsible for a “full range of design services” for the job training facility and the broader Northland Avenue Belt Line Corridor, according to a BUDC memo. That ranges from initial programming and schematics, through construction administration and inspection.

The scope of the design contract includes not only the training center at 683 Northland Ave., but also the rest of the properties and buildings that make up the Northland hub. But the agency will issue a separate request for proposals for a construction manager to handle the actual construction work, which Watts would not be eligible for. The state also will issue a request for proposals in early May for someone to operate the workforce training center.

BUDC in January had asked for firms to submit their qualifications for the assignment, seeking expertise in educational and training facilities, as well as skills in industrial redevelopment, brownfields and environmental cleanup. The agency also wanted to ensure that at least 25 percent of the team involved minority- and women-owned businesses.

Fifteen teams submitted proposals that were reviewed by a selection committee of state and local officials, which narrowed the options to four teams led by Watts, Foit-Albert Associates, Kideney Architects and Stieglitz & Snyder Architecture. The teams all had overlapping participation, with Watts itself on three of them.

Following interviews, agency officials ultimately chose the Watts-led team, citing its “excellent overall architectural and engineering skills and experience,” its prior knowledge of the Northland project from previous involvement, its extensive environmental experience, its skills with historic preservation work, its past experience with educational and workforce training facilities, and its overall approach that went beyond the training center to encompass the entire Northland campus.

“They’ve had excellent experience in all aspects of the work,” said BUDC Vice President David Stebbins. “They were the only team that really addressed the overall campus.”

Additionally, Watts itself is a minority-owned business, and CEO Ed Watts lives a few minutes from the project site. “He had a lot of passion. He lives 10 minutes from the site, and he’s really invested in making sure this project is successful,” said Janique Curry, a BUDC board member and minority and women business enterprise compliance coordinator for Erie County Medical Center. “He just put together a really good proposal that we were interested in.”

Other participants on Watts’ team include SWBR, LiRo Engineers, KHEOPS, Popli Design, Siracuse Engineers, EDR, Baer & Associates and Barbara Campagna.

The $20 million training center, which will occupy about 100,000 square feet in the front of the 683 Northland building, is part of the larger $50 million light industrial economic development zone that is being created as part of Gov. Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative. The goal is to bring new investments and jobs to a struggling East Side neighborhood in an effort to spur development in other parts of the city.

Using a $6.7 million grant from Empire State Development Corp., BUDC last year acquired a dozen properties with more than 700,000 square feet of existing building space. Some structures are being demolished because of their deteriorating condition – including two emergency demolitions at 577 Northland last week following a garage roof collapse – but others will be renovated and reused as space for new companies’ manufacturing operations.

BUDC has already hired several firms for various environmental, marketing, facilities management and other tasks. It will seek reimbursement for all contract expenses from the ESDC grant or other sources, such as historic preservation and brownfield tax credits or the federal Economic Development Administration. In addition to state funds, the city has pledged $4 million in community development block grant money, particularly for infrastructure and some demolition work.

Also on Tuesday, the agency approved an extra $35,900 expense for previous work by LiRo, to cover additional environmental investigations and documentations, and a new $42,134 “task order” for LiRo to develop a plan for the demolition of 537 East Delavan Ave. Board members also backed allocating $213,000 more from its brownfields restoration fund – on top of a prior $100,000 – to pay for the city and Clark Patterson Lee to reconstruct and repave Northland from Fillmore to Grider avenues.