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BUDC seeks to renovate two more Northland buildings

As work continues on the new home of Buffalo Manufacturing Works next to the Northland Workforce Training Center, officials with the agency that owns that facility are turning their attention to a pair of nearby buildings in the same light-industrial complex.

Citing the dearth of manufacturing and warehouse space available in the area, the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. wants to see what it would take to get a 40,000 square-foot building at 631 Northland Ave. ready for leasing.

The agency owns multiple buildings in the 35-acre Northland Corridor campus on Buffalo's East Side, which it is transforming into a business development hub designed to lure companies, jobs and investments to an impoverished but traditionally industrial area of the city.

The project, funded with more than $100 million in state and other funds, is anchored by the Workforce Training Center, which opened in September in half of the 235,000-square-foot building at 683 Northland. Soul food restaurant Gigi's also formally opened in the building this week, while Buffalo Manufacturing Works will move into the other half of the facility after the renovation work is completed.

"We are getting great buzz. We have a lot of interest," said BUDC Vice President David Stebbins. "We have multiple prospects looking for space at Northland, and we have concerns that we don't have enough space."

BUDC officials have been marketing the one-story, high-bay building "as-is," for a single tenant, but have not gotten any takers.

"We’ve had folks come through it," said Thomas Kucharski, CEO of Invest Buffalo Niagara, the regional economic development agency. "We don’t have many 50,000-square-foot crane buildings next to a workforce training center."

So now the agency is paying $27,050 to Watts Architecture & Engineering – which is already doing extensive work at Northland – to "scope out" the aging building and determine what would be needed to renovate and get it ready for immediate leasing. It's already listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Northland "mini-district," so Stebbins noted the potential for historic, brownfield and possibly New Markets tax credits to finance the cost, expected to reach $10 million.

"We think we at least have to investigate," Stebbins said.

Additionally, BUDC had planned to demolish a former Otis Elevator manufacturing building at 777 Northland because of its deteriorated condition. But the State Historic Preservation Office, as part of its review, required the agency to save certain pieces, including the first three "sawtooth" bays of the building, the smokestack or chimney and some of the foundation wall system.

The demolition had been estimated at $740,000, and was part of $1.4 million in expenses that will be covered by a Restore NY grant. But the preservation requirements are likely to raise that cost, especially since it's also attached to another building and the east facade "is pretty much gone."

"It's more complicated than just hiring a demolition contractor," Stebbins said. "This is a little more like brain surgery."

So BUDC again hired Watts, for $23,350, to calculate the new cost of the project, and also to evaluate how the remaining parts of the building can be "retained and stabilized" and if they can be reused. "If we’re saving portions of the building, can we turn them into leasable space?" Stebbins said. "Structurally, it’s probably not in terrible shape, but we need to move forward on it."

Additionally, BUDC approved:

  • A $25,943 contract with contractor Gilbane Building Co., to repair damage to the fire alarm control panel, network switches, security cameras and phones at 683 Northland that was caused by a Sept. 25 lightning strike to the building or adjacent ground.
  • Another $17,939 for additional equipment for the Workforce Training Center, funded by a state grant. "This is an evolving training center," Stebbins said. "As we started getting equipment in place, we realized we had to make some adjustments, things we couldn’t quite anticipate until the training started."

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