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Erie County seeking to build agribusiness park in Southtowns

County leaders are hoping to finalize a deal by year-end to acquire the former Angola Airport property in the Town of Evans, so they can turn it into a new agribusiness park to attract new employers to the region.

Officials want to spur new economic development opportunities in southern Erie County that will create jobs and lure new business investment from companies centered around agriculture, such as dairy or yogurt plants. In the process, they hope that will bolster communities in that area that struggle with rural poverty.

The plan is part of the Initiatives for a Smart Economy 2.0 program, which was unveiled by County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz in June. The project is modeled after the Genesee Valley Agri-Business Park in Batavia, as well as Genesee County's Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park, or STAMP.

Officials from the county and the Erie County Industrial Development Agency have been working for months to reach an agreement to acquire the sprawling land where the park would be located. Poloncarz said a purchase offer "is being presented to the owner, and I'm hoping that the individual will accept it and we'll be able to move forward."

He declined to reveal any potential price or other details "because I don't want to have that influence the possible purchase we've been negotiating for some time."

"I would have hoped that we would have closed this transaction by now, but it's just taken some time," he admitted. "I hope we'll get it done by the end of this year, but I thought we were going to get it done by summer."

Located at the intersection of Evans Center Road and Southwestern Boulevard, just east of Angola's central business district, the privately owned airfield has been closed since 2002, when its owner filed for bankruptcy. The 157-acre property is currently owned by Richard W. Tocha of Clarence.

Originally called Evans Airways Airfield and then Angola Airways Airfield, the small airport was constructed in the late 1960s, with a 3,000-foot unpaved landing strip running north and south, and a hangar. By 1982, the runway was paved and extended to 3,212 feet, while a second 2,800-foot gravel runway and several smaller buildings had been added.

The airport was operated by Angola Aircraft Services & Premier Airways, with fewer than 30 aircraft based there. It had a succession of private owners. The Town of Evans declined to purchase the property, even with federal and state help, so the airport closed and the property sat unused until now, except to store cars.

"We're not talking about an existing industrial park or business. This is an area that's primarily a greenfield, but there has been economic activity on that site in the past," Poloncarz said. "It was small economic activity. We want to take it much larger."

He described a scenario in which a milk producer could be located next to a cheese producer, for example.

The project would likely be developed jointly by the county and the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, and owned by the Buffalo and Erie County Industrial Land Development Corp.

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