RiverBend signals a $5 billion investment and a 'New Buffalo'
There has not been this many people at the former Republic Steel site in South Buffalo in decades and what they heard came as a big surprise.
Hundreds turned out Tuesday afternoon to hear Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other elected officials join with the chief executive officer of SolarCity Corp. to lay out plans for what they say will be the biggest solar manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere.
And for Buffalo that means billions of dollars in investment and the creation of thousands of jobs.
"We're just starting to get the generator turning. The New Buffalo is going to be bigger and better than ever before," Cuomo declared at the 184-acre Riverbend site.
It was expected the public and private development would have a price tag of $1.5 billion; that figure has been raised to $5 billion over the next decade. And the number of jobs projected with the arrival of the SolarCity GigaFactory has more than doubled to 3,000 in Buffalo from about 1,300 and, statewide,
another 2,000 jobs are expected. New York state's investment in the development is expected to rise to about $750 million from $225 million, officials estimate. What started with plans for a 250,000-square-foot complex off South Park Avenue has now grown to encompass 1.2-million square feet.
"It was important for us to choose a state where the leadership has a strong understanding of sustainable energy," said Solar City CEO Lyndon Rive, who cofounded the solar-power provider in 2006 along with his brother, Peter, SolarCity's chief technology officer.
SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY) is currently based in California and its chair is entrepreneur Elon Musk.
"This is bigger than anything we could have imagined," said Cuomo. "It is the perfect metaphor for Buffalo, where the fundamental strength was the available hydropower. That hydropower now, that renewable energy now, will fuel the renewable energy industry for the future. I am incredibly proud that the state is playing a role in this project, because Buffalo's future is New York's future, and today that future is brighter than ever."
A second California company — Silevo — is continuing to negotiate with New York state for a Buffalo site, potentially at RiverBend. The company is a developer of LED technology.
The Riverbend land was sold for $2.8 million this summer by the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. to the Fort Schuyler Management Corp., the state agency credited with forming Albany's successful and highly-touted nanoscience and research complex.
Preliminary site work has been ongoing for several weeks by LPCiminelli, the project's construction manager. Rive said he wants the facility up and running as soon as possible but the target date is for the 2016 first quarter.
Under the terms of the pact, Fort Schuyler will own both the Solar City and Silevo buildings but the respective companies will be responsible for creating the new innovation hub.
BUFFALO, N.Y. - WGRZ (September 23, 2014) - The SolarCity project that will be built on the Riverbend site in South Buffalo will break ground today, a source tells 2 On Your Side.
SolarCity, a solar panel provider led by billionaire Elon Musk, become involved in the Riverbend project after purchasing solar panel manufacturer Silevo in June. The company announced that it planned to turn that Buffalo site into one of the largest solar panel production plants in the world.
Musk is the founder and CEO of Space X, the chief executive of Tesla, and co-founder of Pay-Pal.
New York State has pledged to spend more than $225 million to build the Riverbend site. The funding will come from the Billion to Buffalo program.
SolarCity executives have promised their planned facility will create thousands of jobs, which is more than the 475 jobs Silevo promised when Riverbend was first announced. SolarCity executives also said the plant could be five-times the size of the original plans Silevo agreed to with the state. Silevo was the company originally involved with the Riverbend project when plans were announced last fall.
The exact terms of the agreement between SolarCity and New York and whether or not the state offered additional incentives to the company to keep their project from going elsewhere are unknown.
Right now at the site, construction teams are busy clearing it and already have offices and heavy equipment in place. A sign is posted at the parking lot entrance showing what the innovation hub will look like once complete. There is also what appears to be a hospitality tent set up and ready to go for the groundbreaking.
2-On-Your-Side spoke with Governor Andrew Cuomo about the deal, and its price tag, in July when the governor indicated there could be other states trying to get Solar City's business.
"We want to grow businesses. We want them located here, but of course we're talking about taxpayers dollars and that's precious, so we want to make the best deal we can. We want them here, but we don't want to pay more than we have to pay, so that's where we are now," said Cuomo.
The governor will be in Buffalo Tuesday afternoon, and a source says he will be in town for the groundbreaking. Cuomo was here for the original Riverbend announcement last November.
SolarCity currently has six-thousand employees. The company's website does not have any job openings listed for Buffalo.