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Land purchase advances Thinking Robot Studios plan for Buffalo

Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park is now full – maybe.

The Buffalo Urban Development Corp. on Tuesday approved the sale of the final 22 acres of the South Buffalo business park to a Canadian-based 3D printing and medical implant manufacturing company.

Thinking Robot Studios plans to spend $84 million to construct a new 75,000-square-foot advanced manufacturing and imaging facility at 200 Ship Canal Parkway, just off Tifft Street. The company – which was founded in 2011 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, by Kendall Joudrie – is relocating its operations to Buffalo.

There, it will use 3D printing technology to design and produce customized orthopedic implants and systems for reconstruction of bones and joints like hips and knees.

Plans also call for a net-zero energy facility, powered by solar, battery and hydrogen systems. And contrary to initial expectations of just 88 jobs, the company told BUDC that it planned to create 270 jobs over the next five years. Many of the jobs will be for engineers, with average projected salaries of $100,000, but the company will also hire a mix of both "high-end" and "entry-level" positions, agency officials said.

“We are extremely excited to move this project forward in the weeks and months ahead," said Gregg Gellman, TRS' CEO and partner.

The project is designed as a "Center of Excellence for Orthopedics," with work extending from concept and design, through manufacturing, to packaging, sterilization and delivery in one facility. TRS also says it wants to expand its business into advanced surgical tools and kits, as well as "other products for highly regulated industry sectors."

Indeed, the new venture fits within the targeted industries and employment areas in which regional and state leaders have been focusing their efforts to grow the Western New York economy. The company plans to work with General Electric Co.'s GE Additive division, as well as IBM Watson Health.

"This is a project that we have been actively pursuing for the better part of two years," said Tom Kucharski, president and CEO of Invest Buffalo Niagara. "We were able to land this project after competing with several parts of the world and North America. This is one that we’ll all be very proud of down the road."

“The company is committed to increasing job growth here in Western New York," said Gellman, a Buffalo native and veteran entrepreneur. "We will also make every effort to draw former Buffalonians that meet the company employment qualifications back to the Queen City.”

Before closing, TRS also must obtain zoning and land-use approvals, apply for a property tax break through the Erie County Industrial Development Agency so it can participate in the Buffalo Brownfields Redevelopment Fund and demonstrate it has financing. And if TRS can't start construction within 18 months of closing, BUDC can repurchase the land for $88,500 or the appraised value – whichever is less.

Buffalo Mayor and BUDC Chairman Byron W. Brown called the sale "a major milestone for this board, for the city of Buffalo, but also for our entire region because of the jobs that this will create."

The $935,000 sale of the last five parcels – at $42,500 an acre – potentially fills in the last remaining part of the once-polluted industrial area that the agency acquired 15 years ago, cleaned up and converted into a shovel-ready site. It's also the third major property sale this year at the park, after years of inactivity following the initial occupancy by the first three tenants – CertainTeed, Cobey and Sonwil Distribution – after the park opened in 2014.

The agency earlier this year agreed to sell 20 acres of land at 255 Ship Canal Parkway to Uniland Development Co. for a new distribution center, and 71 acres to Zephyr Investors for Flora Buffalo, a high-tech cannabis campus.

But completion of the park is still uncertain, because Flora Buffalo's project depends on the state Legislature passing – and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signing – legislation to legalize recreational marijuana. Otherwise, the California-based company cannot proceed with its plans, and BUDC can terminate the land sale.

BUDC's board agreed Tuesday – at Flora's request – to extend the expiration of the land sale agreement until July 31, 2020, covering the end of the legislative session.

BUDC also agreed to extend the due diligence period – which was initially 90 days but was already extended once, through the end of October – until next July. In exchange, Zephyr agreed to double the "exclusivity fee" it is paying BUDC from $1,000 per month to $2,000 per month for the duration of the due diligence period. Those fees are not refundable and are taken out of the $100,000 deposit that Zephyr initially put in escrow.

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