Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced a $225 million investment to build the Buffalo High-Tech Manufacturing Innovation Hub at Riverbend on the old Republic Steel site on South Park Avenue, formerly known as “Steelfields.”
But if it hadn’t been for the city’s $4.6 million purchase of the former brownfield property in South Buffalo, this endeavor might not have been possible.
The city bought the land five years ago under Mayor Byron W. Brown, putting 185 shovel-ready acres of prime industrial/commercial land in the city’s inventory. The deal was financed by the city and purchased through the Buffalo Urban Development Corp.
Brown and his team withstood criticism at the time for getting into the development business. But preparing for future opportunities was the right thing to do. Although it took years to land a tenant, the end result made it worth the wait.
The city under the previous administration added shovel-ready acres in the nearby Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park. Brown, concerned that there were no shovel-ready parcels large enough to attract a company that needed a lot of land, wanted more.
He tasked his staff members with identifying land the city could purchase, and they targeted the Steelfields industrial site that had already been remediated at a cost of $19 million. Brown personally got involved in negotiations, which stretched over close to a year. In 2008, the city finally purchased the property, formerly the site of Republic Steel and Donner Hanna Coke.
After transferring the property to BUDC, a city-created economic development agency, five years of stewardship began. The acquisition required management, maintenance and investment in roads to improve the property. The work hasn’t been sexy or compelling, just necessary to fulfill a vision.
Now two companies – Soraa and Silevo – will ultimately invest $1.5 billion in Riverbend, initially creating 850 jobs. The state will purchase the equipment for the two companies, and the facilities and equipment will be owned by the state.
This project is designed to create an entirely new, green, high-technology industry in Buffalo and make it one of the industry leaders in the world for this kind of development, research and investment.
It was the vision of Brown that laid the groundwork for the high-tech industrial park at Riverbend. Going forward, his administration is interested in acquiring more former industrial land to be remediated and made ready for development.
The city, which has been successful during the mayor’s tenure in competing for brownfield opportunity area designations from the state, is hoping to do the same for the Delevan-Grider Brownfield Opportunity area. That site is in the inner city in the East Delevan-Grider-Northland area, in close proximity to Erie County Medical Center. Brownfield opportunity designation could lead to the type of development we’re seeing now along the Buffalo River.
The Brown administration’s goal back in 2008 was to attract green, high-tech companies to Riverbend. At the time the effort seemed wildly overoptimistic. But by sowing that seed five years ago, Brown opened the door to an incredible development. Great job.