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Plans for 'zero net energy' building in Lackawanna advance

Plans for an office and light manufacturing building on the Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna that would be a model for sustainable energy keep moving forward.

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency on Wednesday agreed to hire Turner Construction to provide construction management services for the “zero net energy” building that the agency plans to build on the northern end of the former steel property.

The idea is to show how highly energy efficient facilities work and to act as a catalyst for further development on the former steel mill site.

The proposed building would use geothermal energy, solar panels, wind turbines and architectural features to meet goals of a healthy work environment, low-energy use, a sustainable carbon-neutral footprint and little or no waste.

“It’s going to be a demonstration facility,” said Philip Riggs, the IDA’s facility and project manager.

The IDA agreed in June to spend up to $1.5 million for preliminary work on the project. It also authorized spending $2.7 million in September to buy land that will be used by the project and potential future development.

“We’re putting our foot on the gas,” said Steven Weathers, the IDA’s president.

The building would include 76,280 square feet of leasable space, with about two-thirds set aside for light manufacturing and the remaining third used for office space. A small portion of the building would be used for meeting and event space that could accommodate gatherings of up to 75 people.

The building could cost $25 million to $30 million to build, Weathers said. The agency is hoping to obtain energy efficiency grants from the state government and utilities to help finance the project, he said.

The IDA is seeking new sources of revenue amid a drop in fee income because of fewer projects seeking tax breaks and the loss of a major source of dividend income following the acquisition earlier this year of Gemcor, a West Seneca company in which the IDA held a major ownership stake.

But Weathers said the building, which will be located on the west side of Fuhrmann Boulevard, near the intersection of Ridge Road and Route 5, could spur additional development within the former steel complex.

The project, if the IDA decides to proceed with it, would be the first net zero energy project undertaken by an upstate IDA. Turner will work with the project’s design firm to determine how much the building will cost.

“This puts us on the precipice,” Weathers said. “IDAs do undertake construction projects, not only for the community, but it’s a revenue generator.”

Weathers said the IDA’s involvement is important because it would be the first significant new development on that portion of the steel site. “The private sector doesn’t like to be first,” he said. “They like to be second or third.”

County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the IDA’s plans for a zero net energy building already are attracting attention. “This is the type of project that’s getting noticed,” he said. “It’s something that will certainly help put us ahead of the curve.”

But Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, an IDA board member and president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, opposed the project, saying a bigger need within the region is to prepare shovel-ready sites that can be developed quickly.

“I’d much rather see us spend our money creating shovel-ready sites at the Bethlehem Steel site than building a building,” she said.

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