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Thinking Robot Studios shifts plan to new site on Elk St.

A Canadian medical device manufacturer that was going to build an $84 million facility at Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park is now shifting its plan about a mile away to a different industrial site on Elk Street, where it can start construction faster and gain more lucrative tax credits to support a revised business plan.

Thinking Robot Studios, which was founded in Nova Scotia but is moving its operations to Buffalo, had planned to take up 22 acres of land in the South Buffalo business park, where it would build a 75,000-square-foot advanced manufacturing and imaging center.

The Buffalo Urban Development Corp., which owns the park, had approved a proposed $935,000 sale of the property. The deal required zoning and land-use approvals, and the project needed a tax break from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency so the company could participate in the Buffalo Brownfields Redevelopment Fund.

But the site was not completely ready for construction, and wouldn't have been even if the Covid-19 pandemic hadn't interrupted everything. The company needed more space for an enhanced vision of its business that would not include retail imaging. And it needed more financing to make the project work for the long-term, said CEO Gregg Gellman, a Buffalo native.

"This has been in discussion since before the holidays that this might be something that might need to be addressed," said Thomas Kucharski, CEO of Invest Buffalo Niagara, which had worked with  Thinking Robot under the Project Chardonnay code name before the project became public last year. "The Buffalo Lakeside site was just not big enough."

So the company's Halifax-based founder started looking online at other properties – and found a large one at 503 Elk St., between the Buffalo River and the Niagara Thruway.

Owned by Krog Corp., the 31-acre site previously housed the Buckeye Terminals complex, which Krog purchased from ExxonMobil Corp. The Orchard Park-based developer then demolished, remediated and cleared it under the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program.

The property is shovel-ready and brownfield-certified, and the value of the accompanying tax credits over the next 10 years is much higher than at Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park. That's critical for sustaining the business operation over the next decade, Gellman said.

Most significantly for the company, Krog would be able to start work on building the facility as soon as the state lifts its pandemic-related restrictions on construction. The facility can be up and running 12 months later.

"This was the major driver for us to make a decision and pivot and move to a location that is shovel-ready," Gellman said. "It allows us to get there quicker. Bottom line, I can break ground sooner rather than later."

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