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Bidders abound as LPCiminelli auctions equipment

Snow was falling at a brisk pace on Buffalo's East Side Tuesday, but that didn't stop a couple hundred eager construction contractors and individuals from coming out to look for deals amid the tools, vehicles and equipment being auctioned from LPCiminelli's inventory.

The sale marked an ignominious end to what many people considered the largest locally based general contractor. LPCiminelli announced this month that it was closing its construction business and focusing instead on construction management, as it tries to rebound from criminal charges against its owner.

As part of that decision, the company decided to clear out its warehouse of everything it would no longer need, while raising some cash in the process.

More than 1,000 people had registered online or in person as bidders for the auction, which was conducted at LPCiminelli's giant semicircular brick warehouse at 1740 Broadway by Roy Teitsworth Inc. of Geneseo. That includes 340 people who signed up on site, standing in line at a construction trailer on Monday and Tuesday, even as snow continued to fall and accumulate around them.

"This is a large auction," said Roy Teitsworth, whose firm specializes in construction and agricultural equipment. "It's very successful so far. We're really happy."

Most attendees represented small contractors and other businesses, but Teitsworth said a few of the larger contractors also sent employees.

Ken Fisher of Fisher Concrete and Clair Zimmerman, owner of Zimmerman Contracting, both came looking for deals on concrete tools. "That's what they're selling, so that's what you buy," Fisher said.

And some people were attending as private individuals. Joseph Fuchs, a Buffalo State College employee who lives in the Town of Ashford in Cattaraugus County, said he was "more here for entertainment purposes, but you never know."

A former metal subcontractor himself who used to work with LPCiminelli, Fuchs wanted to check out ladders and toolboxes, but said he could also use a small excavator for his 75-acre property.

"Sometimes you get bargains, sometimes you shake your head," he said. "It would be nice to have the toys, but this is a little rich for my blood right now."

In all, more than 2,000 items — all contents of the facility — were available for purchase in the "wall-to-wall" asset-liquidation sale, which began promptly at 8 a.m. and continued all day.

Outside in the wet snow, the parking lot was full of white pickup trucks and various red, yellow and orange construction vehicles, from brands including Kubota, Deere, New Holland, Skytrak, Case, Caterpillar and Komatsu.

Inside, row after row of ladders, wheelbarrows, industrial fans and other equipment sat on display for bidders, along with various tools and scraps scattered throughout the warehouse.

It wasn't just construction firms, either. Nick Marcezin, president of Twin Village Recycling Co. in Depew, expected to spend the day onsite "looking for anything I can use in my business, and there is scrap here, too."

"This is a pretty big auction. This is a pretty big company," he said. "A lot of people know there is a lot of stuff here, and came to get stuff cheap."

LPCiminelli, named for longtime owner Louis P. Ciminelli, had evolved from the former Frank L. Ciminelli Construction Co. that was started by Louis' father. The company grew to become a major force in concrete work and large-scale projects, especially but not exclusively within the public sector.

It has worked as a general or subcontractor on a host of buildings, including the federal courthouse in downtown Buffalo, the new Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and Oishei Children's Hospital, where it poured concrete for Turner Construction Co.

But the company's reputation and business have suffered since Ciminelli and two of his lieutenants were arrested and indicted more than a year ago on federal bribery and corruption charges tied to alleged bid-rigging on the $750 million Riverbend construction project for SolarCity, now Tesla. The executives pleaded not guilty and have insisted they are innocent in the Buffalo Billion-related case, but the trial is still months away.

Judge rejects bid to move Buffalo Billion corruption trial to Western New York

In the meantime, the firm lost more than $4 billion in work, and the three executives quit their roles early this year. Louis' son, Frank Ciminelli II, took over as president, but then left last month to start his own construction management firm, Arc Building Partners, and took much of the business with him. That left LPCiminelli, now run by Kyle Tuttle, little choice but to downsize.

Still, other contractors say they don't see the loss of LPCiminelli's construction business as having a major impact on the market, with the exception of taking out a large and qualified concrete contractor. Most other concrete firms in the area are much smaller and can't handle the big jobs.

"I do see that as a challenge," said Steven A. Perrigo, vice president and deputy operations manager for Turner Construction in Buffalo. "There aren't that many companies that do that work on large public projects."

By contrast, there are plenty of other local firms to take up the slack on the general contracting side, as well as major out-of-town firms like Turner and LeChase Construction that are aggressively seeking to grow in Western New York at Ciminelli's expense.

And LPCiminelli will remain in business for development and construction management, while Frank Ciminelli's new Arc company will seek to replace LPCiminelli for private-sector work.

"There's plenty of people out there in the market to absorb what they don't get," said Jim Carminati, president of Waterbourne Real Estate Advisors. "There's always some guy who's on the cusp of being larger."

But it does mean as many as 500 people lose their jobs, other contractors lamented. "It's terrible for our economy, our local people," Fisher said.

And if more work is going to firms from outside Western New York, the profits are leaving town as well.

"We're losing a great cheerleader for Buffalo," said developer Rocco Termini. "You're going to see a lot of out-of-town contractors coming into Buffalo to fill the void. That's not good for Buffalo."

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