Risk, years of work precede high-tech deal
When Alain E. Kaloyeros, hailed as a visionary for turning nanoscience research into a billion-dollar industry, got out of a car parked on South Park Avenue outside of a nondescript tract of land in May, he declined a big tour.
"He indicated that he liked the feel of what he saw," said Peter M. Cammarata, president of Buffalo Urban Development Corp. "We spent relatively a short period time there. He had a vision immediately when he saw the site."
In the months since that visit, Cammarata provided state officials with information about the property, but it wasn't until Wednesday that he knew for sure that RiverBend, a remediated brownfield site on the south shore of the Buffalo River, had been chosen for a $225 million state investment and 850 high-tech jobs.
The process of transitioning from Buffalo's old economy to the promise of a new one started long before the state's first expression of interest in May.
Mayor Byron W. Brown said that when he was elected, there was a concern that there were no shovel-ready parcels large enough to attract a company that needed a lot of land.
The city took a risk in 2008, spending $4.6 million to purchase 185 acres that once belonged to Republic Steel and Donner Hanna Coke, and had been privately remediated at a cost of $19 million.
"There were some at that time, some naysayers, fortunately not Council members, that said it's a lot of money, why are you spending this? There's no project right now, it's kind of speculative," Brown said. "But our strategic plan and vision was to have land available so we could do this kind of deal."
The keys to drawing the interest of high-tech companies to RiverBend include proximity to major highways, an electrical infrastructure that includes a 115-kilovolt power line, and a ready workforce.
But it also includes urban amenities, such as the waterfront and outer harbor, Tifft Nature Preserve, the Larkin District, three nearby bus lines and bike paths, economic development officials said.
"It's got a lot strategically going for it," said Brendan R. Mehaffy, executive director of the city Office of Strategic Planning.
The city was in competition with suburban sites, and even other New York cities, for the project, Mehaffy said.
The announcement that 90 acres would be transformed from what was once a remnant of Buffalo's heavy industrial past to high-tech manufacturing is a validation of years of planning, said David A. Stebbins, vice president of BUDC.
"It really is all we could have hoped for this site," he said.