The global manufacturing conglomerate that has owned the former Buffalo Forge property for more than 20 years has signed on to the state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program seeking to prep the vacant property for sale and redevelopment as “shovel-ready.”
Howden North America is hoping that participation in the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s program will help it move forward with its stalled efforts to unload the 12.5-acre property, where air conditioning was invented a century ago, officials said.
The Columbia, S.C.-based company hasn’t operated on the site at 490 Broadway on the East Side since the early 1990s, and the factory has been razed. But Howden has been unable to find anyone to buy the sprawling land. It’s had interest from some buyers over time, but the talks never progressed because of uncertainty about what pollution and liability might remain for a future owner.
The company, part of Scotland’s Howden Group, said it’s well aware of the revitalization efforts in surrounding neighborhoods and nearby downtown, and wants to find someone to redevelop it so the property can be part of the progress.
Officials are hoping that the property’s acceptance into the state program will enable them to assess the remaining risks, put a cap on future liability and give potential buyers more comfort about how much they’d have to spend to redevelop it. Known and potential contaminants, according to Howden’s application to the state, include petroleum, metals, PCBs and semi-volatile organic compounds.
The company is working with ERM, a global environmental consulting firm with an office in the Syracuse suburb of DeWitt.
“What we’re proposing to do is to investigate the property to a degree that it makes it much more attractive to developers in the greater Buffalo area to talk to us about how they might want to develop the property,” said Peter Elleman, director of environmental health and safety for ESAB, a sister company of Howden. Elleman has worked with Howden on the project. “We’re going to position it for the developers and take the unknowns off the table.”
The property, which includes seven parcels that could be sold together or separately, is being marketed by David Schiller of Pyramid Brokerage Co. of Buffalo, for $490,000. It includes eight acres of former factory land and 4.5 acres that was used for parking, and it’s bounded by Broadway, Toussey, Spring, Sycamore, Morimer, Matthews, George and Rey streets.
So far, Schiller said, he’s had inquiries from nonprofits, community-related groups, housing developers and educational organizations but “nothing solid yet.”
The property would be eligible for tax credits under the cleanup program, and Schiller calls it ideal for light assembly or distribution, warehousing for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, or residential, multifamily or senior housing. He said the easiest and least expensive use would be as a big parking lot, since little additional cleanup would be needed. Housing would be the best use, he said, but also more costly to clean up first.
Howden designs, produces and sells air and gas handling equipment, such as industrial fans, blowers, process gas compressors and rotary heat exchangers. The 150-year-old firm employs over 4,200 with companies in 17 countries. It’s a subsidiary of Fulton, Md.-based Colfax Corp., a global, publicly traded conglomerate.
The property was used to make industrial ventilation-related equipment since 1878, when the Buffalo Forge Company was formed to make blacksmith’s forges, drilling machines, steam engines, heaters, blowers and air exhaust systems. Engineer Willis Carrier invented air conditioning there in 1902. The company, which had been owned by the Wendt family, went public in 1941.
Howden acquired the manufacturing facility in May 1993 as part of a larger purchase of the overall company, but closed the factory within a year, transferring production and moving the employees to another location in the state. It still maintains a sales office for its aftermarket division at 1775 Wehrle Drive in Amherst.
At one time, the property was eyed for an “eco-themed” business park. The company tried to sell the property to the city, but those talks fell through. So Howden demolished the facilities seven years ago.
At the time, the company cleared the land and cleaned up the “known environmental risks,” so that the property “poses no risk to the neighborhood or the environment in its current state,” the company said in a statement. That included excavating contaminated soil and putting a layer of clean soil on top, all under state supervision, Elleman said.
“They took every step that they could determine was necessary to remove anything industrial, anything chemical,” he said.
Even so, he said, “there are still some remnants of the industrial activity,” particularly on the main lot. Several of the other parcels are less than half an acre in size and were used only as parking lots.
“So this is going back to make sure we understand it fully,” Elleman said of the company’s application to the Brownfield Cleanup Program. “We need to quantify and map anything that remains from the demolition days, so we can get our arms around what is needed to make it suitable for a developer.”