Major developers vying for Buffalo project

A half-dozen firms, including some of the region’s most prominent developers, have entered the competition to build economic development hubs the Cuomo administration has proposed for Buffalo, Investigative Post has learned.

Firms responding to a request for proposals include LP Ciminelli Inc., Uniland Development and Acquest Development. Others submitting proposals include McGuire Development, TM Montante Development and Mark Balling on behalf of Lend Lease, an international contracting and finance firm.

The developers, in their submissions, identify elements of the team they would assemble to first design, finance and construct the hubs and then recruit companies function as anchor tenants. At least two hubs are initially planned, one in downtown Buffalo to house white collar activity and another elsewhere in the city that would focus on manufacturing.

The state, borrowing from the model it used to develop a nanotechnology sector in Albany, intends to use the hubs to attract medical, energy and technology companies.

Contrary to reports in other news outlets, the Cuomo administration is not seeking to replicate a nanotechnology industry here. Rather, it wants to use the economic model in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica to foster sectors considered inherent strengths in each region, although nanotech will be a focus in some other locations upstate.

Each initiative will include components to promote business development, manufacturing, research, technology, education and job training.

The model involves the state identifying business sectors to target for growth and recruiting developers to build facilities and seed them with anchor tenants who can in turn attract other related businesses to build a critical mass of related activity. While the state provides subsidies, the bulk of investment comes from private sources.

The model is the basis of the state’s first Buffalo Billion project, in which the state is providing $50 million to build and equip a facility at or near the downtown Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to attract companies involved in pharmaceutical drug research and manufacturing.

A selection committee has been appointed by the Fort Schuyler Management Corp., a non-profit organization established to oversee the state’s initiative in Utica, to vet the six Buffalo submissions. The selection committee will include representatives from Buffalo.

“Developers must have the capacity to design, construct, finance, market and lease … facilities,” according to a request for proposals issued last month.

Here’s a look at the competition:

  • LP Ciminelli is the region’s largest contractor, with projects including the $1 billion reconstruction of Buffalo’s public schools.
  • Uniland ranks as Western New York’s largest commercial developer, whose high profile projects include the redevelopment of the former federal building downtown into Avant, home to offices, a hotel and high-end condos.
  • Acquest projects include Niagara Center on South Elmwood Avenue, which houses several federal agencies.
  • McGuire is redeveloping the former Sheehan Memorial Hospital into a mixed use facility called Compass East.
  • TM Montonte developed what it dubs the state’s first “solar ready business park” in the Town of Tonawanda.
  • Mark Balling is senior vice president at Lend Lease Construction, a large international firm that describes its expertise as “project management and construction, public partnerships, development and investment management services.”

The project RFP seeks a local developer, so it is unclear whether Lend Lease has a shot at landing the work.

The Fort Schuyler Management Corp. is expected to select a developer in January, with the objective of the project breaking ground next year and opening for business in 2015.  Sources project the creation of 1,500 to 2,000 jobs during the early years of the hubs.

The management corporation is affiliated with the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering of SUNY Albany, which oversaw the development of the nanotechnology sector in the Capital Region. The college is playing a major role behind-the-scenes role in shaping the state’s $1 billion investment to revitalize the region’s economy.