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Danforth wants to build second building near SolarCity plant

Shovels haven’t yet hit the ground on John W. Danforth’s planned new multitenant warehouse across from the SolarCity plant in South Buffalo, but the mechanical contractor and its developer are already moving forward with a second building on the site.

Danforth and JT Vaeth LLC, which are already planning an 83,000-square-foot rear complex at 1176 South Park Ave., now want to put up a smaller, two-story mixed-use building at the front of the site.

Preliminary plans for the $2.5 million project call for an 18,000-square-foot facility, with retail space on the first floor to support the new development activity in the area and commercial office space upstairs.

J. Timothy Vaeth, principal of the development firm, said officials are “working on two leases” for the first floor, but would not identify either one. However, he said one of them is a national company with a drive-thru operation, which could indicate a coffee or other food-service business coming to the site. “It’s support retail for the community, for everyone involved,” he said. “It could be a lot of different things.”

The office space is “speculative” for now, although Vaeth said “we’re getting a lot of interest from a lot of potential suppliers for SolarCity, who are looking at the bigger building behind us.” But he said they’re not yet ready to sign any leases until they know for certain if they will win any of the lucrative contracts with the California-based solar panel manufacturer.

Still, the new proposal represents another indication of the spin-off benefits that are widely expected to come from the $900 million solar panel plant that New York State is constructing across the street for SolarCity. The 1-million-square-foot facility, which will be owned by the state through the Fort Schuyler Management Corp. and SUNY Polytechnic Institute, is expected to employ about 1,500 direct employees, but company and economic development officials have projected another 1,500 support jobs would be created in the area to serve the needs of the plant and its workers.

“It’s not just the 1,500 employees across the street. It’s everything else going on around it,” Vaeth said. “Plus, you’re on South Park. South Park already has a certain density of cars going up and down the street.”

That prompted Danforth to buy the 26-acre property across the street, along the Buffalo River, and then announce its first $8 million building. It plans to occupy more than half of the new warehouse that was already approved by the Buffalo Planning Board, with the rest available for lease to other SolarCity vendors, suppliers and support businesses.

Construction has not yet begun, but Vaeth said officials hope to start the environmental cleanup of the first 12 acres of the brownfield site in June, with construction to follow. About eight acres of that land would be occupied by the larger building, while the smaller one – which will likely be done first, by December – will take only about 1.5 acres. That still leaves a couple more acres available for use, even before the rest of the land is cleaned up.

Danforth doesn’t have any takers for more land or other buildings yet, but Vaeth said the company plans to keep the entire property and eventually develop it. “We have had a few people kick the tires, but nothing that has gained some traction,” Vaeth said. “It’s not something where they’re looking to flip the land. They want to keep it.”

Vaeth said more details would be presented to the Buffalo Planning Board at its meeting on May 16.