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Brownfields present development opportunities

by chocieni
Fri, Jun 8th 2012 07:00 am

The talk around here when it comes to viable development focuses on the 384-acre Outer Harbor, which fronts Lake Erie.

At issue is who will end up with control of the prime waterfront property that the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority Niagara Frontier Transportation AuthorityLatest from The Business JournalsPut Outer Harbor in right handsEC Leg supports waterfront land transferBuffalo Niagara airport to add 1,000 parking spotsFollow this company doesn't want in its portfolio. Many suspect it will end up under the domain of Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., not the City of Buffalo.

But that doesn't mean the city is being frozen out of a vast development opportunity.

Falling under the radar of many is an ongoing study by Buffalo Urban Development Corp. - the city's primary economic development arm - that focuses on three Brownfield Opportunities Areas, or BOAs.

They encompass a combined 2,500 acres of land and nearly 1,700 parcels. By anyone's count, that's a lot of real estate.

One BOA covers a large chunk of the Tonawanda Street/lower Hertel Avenue neighborhood, which has a deep industrial past. Another stretches along the Buffalo River and includes the Riverbend development area.

The third is the Buffalo Harbor area, which also navigates its way from downtown along the Buffalo River.

"I would think the goal is to develop a long-term strategy and bring all these lands back to life," said Mark Reid, a partner in Urban Strategies Inc., Toronto.

His company was awarded a bid by Buffalo Urban Development to devise a BOA development strategy.

Fortunately, staff and directors of the local development corporation agree with Reid's assessment. They didn't bring him to Buffalo to talk about the Maple Leafs.

"This is about building in the city, not building outside of it," Reid said. "In other words, smart growth."

Buffalo Urban Development, working with Urban Strategies, will hold a series of public meetings about the three BOAs, beginning June 25. Input from the meetings will be part of a final recommendation that Reid hopes to deliver by November.

He said the BOA development strategy is a huge opportunity for Buffalo. A project in a designated brownfield-development area is eligible for all sorts of public-sector incentives. By virtue of their brownfield designation, some of the properties and parcels come with more environmental cleanup issues than other sites. That's one reason why incentives are increased.

Each of the BOAs have their own attributes and issues. Most of the issues are environmental in nature and not insurmountable. If the Union Ship Canal can go from an industrial wasteland to the vibrant Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park in less than seven years, anything is possible.

According to Reid, the Tonawanda BOA is attractive because of rail access, including the International Railroad Bridge that connects Buffalo to Fort Erie - that is, the United States to Canada.

"But it is also a very blue-collar neighborhood," he said.

While there may be more environmental-cleanup issues along the Buffalo River and Buffalo Harbor BOAs, they are equally attractive given development downtown and in Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park, as well as the pending fate of the Outer Harbor.

"The best thing is that all of these are grounded in reality and they can be very real, if you let them," Reid said.

Andrew Rudnick, meanwhile, said a side benefit of Reid's work could be a development template for the Outer Harbor. Rudnick is Buffalo Niagara Partnership Buffalo Niagara PartnershipLatest from The Business JournalsQuestions tower over HSBC CenterBPO report puts orchestra's impact at M Power windfall generates opportunitiesFollow this company president and CEO and also a director of Buffalo Urban Development Corp.

"It could the guide," he said.

That's why what happens at meetings in the coming months is so important.

"This is the place and the time to talk about Buffalo's future," Reid said.

Staying local

Count the mayor as one happy person now that Louis Ciminelli, through a special company, has acquired the vacant Central Park Plaza.

Byron Brown is even happier that the developer will demolish the existing buildings as he considers options for the property. In essence, it crosses an urban headache off Brown's "to do" list.

"First of all, it gives me a great level of comfort that it is in the hands of a local developer and someone I call instantly, if I need to," he said.

But there's more.

"The Ciminelli family has the resources to make something happen there and to make it maybe into something special," Brown said. "I am excited about that prospect."


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