The Buffalo Billion is getting ready to take off.
More than two years after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo launched his signature economic development initiative for the Buffalo Niagara region, work is likely to begin on some of the high-profile projects as summer approaches.
And with funding for the Buffalo Billion’s remaining $680 million included in the state budget that was approved this week, the pace of activity is likely to accelerate as the initiative moves from the planning stage to the construction phase.
“The money is all there. We’re actually at the point of implementing them,” said Christina Orsi, the regional president of Empire State Development in Buffalo, who is overseeing the day-to-day operations of the initiative.
“This is the year most of the projects are getting off the ground,” she said.
Construction is likely to begin in the next few months on the Buffalo High- Tech Manufacturing Innovation Hub at RiverBend, the $225 million hub for clean energy and high-tech businesses that will be located on the former Republic Steel site in South Buffalo.
State officials said they soon expect to begin purchasing equipment for the new center for advanced manufacturing near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the medical genomics research partnership that will link the University at Buffalo with a group of prominent hospitals, medical schools and research organizations.
They expect the Buffalo Medical Innovation and Commercialization Hub, spearheaded by Albany Molecular Research, to open in a temporary home by early summer and move into its permanent home by early next year.
A site for the computer information technology center anchored by IBM is expected to be picked by the end of this year, while state officials also expect to make a choice in the coming months between the plans submitted by two finalists for redeveloping the Rainbow Centre in Niagara Falls.
Here’s a look at what’s next for the main pieces of the Buffalo Billion:
• Buffalo High-Tech Manufacturing Innovation Hub at RiverBend – Now that Buffalo developer LPCiminelli has been picked to develop the clean-energy and high-tech hub that will be the home for a pair of California companies, LED lighting manufacturer Soraa and solar panel manufacturer Silevo, work is focusing on finalizing the plans for the first of six buildings envisioned for the site.
“The buildings themselves are pretty well designed, but we need to do more on the site plan,” Orsi said.
The first building is likely to span 280,000 square feet, with Silevo’s first North American manufacturing facility taking up more than 80 percent of the facility, while Soraa’s research and development and manufacturing operations occupying the rest of the space, including 35,000 square feet of clean rooms, state officials said.
The state is targeting a groundbreaking in late spring or early summer, although officials are expected to seek additional public input on the site plan before then, Orsi said.
• Buffalo IT Innovation and Commercialization Hub – State officials are looking for a site in downtown Buffalo for the $55 million center to be anchored by IBM. Orsi said state officials hope to make a selection before the end of the year.
Buffalo-based McGuire Development was selected last week to be the developer of the hub, which aims to create a “high-end software development center” that will be packed with state-owned software, computers and servers. The hope is that IBM and other technology companies will be lured to the “innovation hub” so they can access its equipment and other resources.
• Buffalo Medical Innovation and Commercialization Hub – Drug development firm Albany Molecular Research is expected to move into a temporary home in the Jacobs Institute on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus in May or June, Orsi said.
By late this year or early next year, the $250 million drug development project is expected to move into one floor of Ciminelli Real Estate’s Conventus building now under construction. The state is paying $10 million toward the construction costs and $40 million for cutting-edge lab equipment that will be used by Albany Molecular and other tenants in the hub.
• Genomic research partnership – State officials said they expect to start purchasing the new computer equipment to upgrade the University at Buffalo’s high-performance computing capabilities and play a key role in analyzing medical genomics data in an attempt to find new ways to treat, prevent and manage serious diseases.
The $105 million initiative links UB with more than a dozen New York medical, academic and industry partners to develop new treatments based on genomic medicine. The medical genomics project builds on the strength of UB’s supercomputing abilities and the availability of cheap electricity to power that equipment.
• Buffalo Niagara Institute for Advanced Manufacturing Competitiveness – Officials from EWI, the Ohio-based nonprofit engineering services research and development company that has been selected to run the institute, are in the final stages of identifying the first wave of equipment that will be purchased, Orsi said.
The initiative, which aims to provide sophisticated equipment and support services that local manufacturers might not otherwise be able to afford to develop new products or services, also is expected to hire a president by June and begin building its technical services staff to provide engineering and other types of expertise in targeted sectors.
The $54 million center, which will be housed in the former SmartPill building at 847 Main St., will focus on flexible automation and controls, advanced materials and testing and other advanced manufacturing sectors.
• 43North business plan challenge – The competition, offering $5 million in prizes to 11 winners, including a grand prize of $1 million, has drawn more than 2,000 entries and has attracted applicants from every state except Vermont and North Dakota, organizers said Friday. The contest also has received entries from 56 countries, including Liberia, Morocco and Nicaragua. The winners receive the prize money and support services in exchange for a commitment to locate in Buffalo for at least one year.
• Workforce training and development – State officials are finalizing plans for the center and continue seeking a site for the facility, Orsi said.
• Niagara Falls tourism – State officials are evaluating proposals in a $40 million competition to select a team of designers, developers and businesses that will develop projects for downtown Niagara Falls and help turn it into a better venue for tourists. The state also expects work to begin this fall on removing a roughly one-mile stretch of the Robert Moses Parkway along the upper rapids.
• Daemen College/Empire Visual Effects – The first group of students have completed the Daemen program, which is aimed at creating a visual effects industry in Buffalo in an attempt to gain a foothold in an industry that has the potential to grow.