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Thurman Thomas' firm selected for Project Rainfall contract at Northland

The city just handed the ball off to Thurman Thomas in hopes of scoring another big one.

The construction company co-owned by the legendary former Buffalo Bills running back won a contract from the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. to oversee one of the smaller Northland Corridor projects, the future home of Project Rainfall.

BUDC selected Thomas' 34 Group LLC as construction manager for the renovation of the 40,000-square-foot building at 541 East Delavan Ave., which was formerly part of the larger Houdaille Industries complex at 537 East Delavan. That means the company will lead and advise on the $8 million construction project, not serve as the actual contractors.

34 Group is a minority-owned and woman-owned telecommunications, construction, architecture and engineering firm. Patti Thomas – whose family has been in the construction industry for 60 years and whose sister, Mickey, is director of construction management at Kaleida Health – is CEO of the company, while Thurman Thomas is president.

The firm will be working with Gilbane Building Co. on the project, but this time 34 Group will take the lead instead of being mentored by Gilbane. The two companies have been working together on other aspects of the Northland project, starting with the anchor building at 683 Northland Ave.

"This is a natural extension of what we started with 683 Northland," said BUDC Executive Vice President David Stebbins. "Now this is flipping that around. This is the next logical step with 34 Group, to take on a project, but still be supported by Gilbane."

Project Rainfall, founded by Rita Hubbard-Robinson, is a "social enterprise" focused on food and wellness, with a goal of improving nutrition, particularly in inner-city neighborhoods that are often "food deserts." Hubbard-Robinson, who formerly worked at Erie County Medical Center, saw that many of the patients at the hospital suffered from poor nutrition or other related health problems that could be better addressed by attacking the cause instead of the symptoms.

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The new facility will include a 25,500-square-foot aquaponics farm, which includes fish farming and hydroponics, where plants and vegetables are grown without soil. There will also be a 5,000-square-foot farmers market, a community teaching kitchen, a multipurpose room, clinics and a food store.

"It's still an evolving concept, but that’s the goal of what we want to do there," Stebbins said. "One of the biggest issues for the community is good access to food, and we don’t have that yet."

The selection followed a request-for-proposals that was issued on Jan. 29, with five responses that were narrowed down to three that were interviewed. Thomas' 34 Group beat out bids by Turner Construction Co. and Buffalo Construction Consultants, both working with Luis Rodriguez Construction to achieve a requirement for minority- and women-owned business participation.

"We thought their pricing and experience was superior to the other finalists," Stebbins said.

The first phase of the renovation project, which 34 Group will oversee, is valued at $3.5 million in total, including soft costs. The contract with 34 Group is valued at $246,528, including a two-month pre-construction period and six months of construction. The project, which will result in a leasable space for Project Rainfall, will be funded through two Restore NY grants. Any expenses for Project Rainfall itself would be on top of the renovation cost.

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