New York State Economic Development Council, Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, Area Developers and Buffalo and Erie County Leaders Today Called on Governor Cuomo and State Lawmakers to Keep the Brownfield Cleanup Program Alive
The economic development community warned loss of the environmental remediation program will cripple private remediation and redevelopment of contaminated sites – a program which has kick-started the rebirth of dozens of local brownfield sites
BUFFALO, N.Y. – The New York State Economic Development Council joined local economic development leaders and developers today in downtown Buffalo to call on Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers to keep the Brownfield Cleanup Program (BCP) alive.
“Since 2008, over 40 projects across Erie and Niagara County have enrolled in the BCP, which will result in more than a half billion dollars in new investment, tax base growth and a cleaner environment,” said Brian McMahon, executive director of the NYS Economic Development Council.
“If this program is eliminated, developers will cross brownfield sites off their lists, resulting in a lingering threat to public health and dead zones of unutilized properties and loss of historic buildings,” Mr. McMahon added.
The Brownfield Cleanup Program is the only program available which encourages developers and business owners to voluntarily clean-up and redevelop contaminated properties, while protecting the public health and welfare. At this time, state lawmakers have not reached consensus on its continuation beyond 2015.
The Buffalo Niagara Partnership and Buffalo Niagara Enterprise support the EDC’s mission to save the brownfield program, while controlling costs.
Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, President & CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, said while the State Legislature has a lot of work ahead of it during its last month of session, it needs to make reauthorization of the BCP a priority.
“Without an extension of the Brownfield Cleanup Program, one of the state’s most successful economic development programs will suffer considerably. The current program is set to expire in 2015. With 3.8 years, on average, needed to complete the program, it is essential that the program is extended now in order to ensure new applicants continue to focus on redeveloping our contaminated and blighted brownfield sites. The Brownfield Cleanup Program creates jobs, cleans up our region from dangerous toxins, and puts unusable land back on the tax rolls,” Ms. Gallagher-Cohen said.
The Buffalo area has been highly active in brownfield redevelopment, including major projects such as Steelwinds, Welded Tube and the Tecumseh Business Park, all located on the former Bethlehem Steel site. Investment in those projects currently totals $294 million, which required $3.8 million in environmental remediation through the Brownfield Cleanup Program.
In downtown Buffalo, the HealthNow office building and One Canalside (the former Donovan State Office Building), totaling $169 million in new construction, are also examples of stunning adaptive reuse on brownfield sites. The $172.2 million HARBOURCenter, set to debut late this year, is also located on formerly contaminated land which qualified for the state’s brownfield program.
Looking ahead, overhaul of the historic Trico Products Corp. building, the former Millard Filmore Gates Hospital and completion of the Conventus medical building on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus are all seeking the environmental tax credits to turn properties with contamination issues into a mix of medical, residential and Class A office space.
“The Brownfield program is a vital tool in our mission to retain businesses and attract new companies to Western New York. If developers are not able to tap the BCP to tackle contaminated sites, we will not be able to compete with other states with vigorous brownfield programs that will continue to be able to offer shovel-ready or renovation-ready relocation options,” said Thomas Kucharski, President & CEO, Buffalo Niagara Enterprise.
Samuel Savarino, President, Savarino Companies, is currently remediating a brownfield site at 500 Seneca St., in Buffalo, to convert the former F.N. Burt box manufacturing plant into 300,000 square feet of Class A office space, 55 apartments and a nonprofit job training center. The $31.7 million project, in which Savarino is partnering with the Frontier Group of Companies, could not move forward without environmental cleanup.
“This is structure that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, but was in danger of demolition unless someone was willing to take the risk of investing in a complex that needs a lot of work, including decontamination. If not for the Brownfield Cleanup Program, we wouldn’t be standing here today. You’d see bulldozers, not construction equipment. The Brownfield Cleanup Program is helping us bridge the critical financial and liability gaps that would have prevented us from tackling this project,” Mr. Savarino said.
Peter Krog, CEO, The Krog Development Corp., is counting on the BCP to execute a long-awaited, $50 million adaptive reuse of the historic Trico Products Corp. plant on Washington Street in downtown Buffalo. While the state has approved Krog for the BCP, the program could disappear before remediation can be completed.
“Despite our experience and talent in rehabbing older buildings, Trico will not be easy, and one of the hurdles is the remediation required to adapting a century-old windshield wiper manufacturing facility to modern, mixed use,” Mr. Krog said. “Without the state brownfield program, we can’t move forward. The numbers don’t work if we have to go it alone on decontamination.
Dennis M. Penman, Executive Vice President/Principal, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., said his company was able to absorb the costs of remediating the site of its Conventus building, now under construction of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, through thanks to the state’s BCP.
“The project is $130million and represents 350,000 square feet of new construction with an additional 100,000 square feet of underground parking (350 spaces). Total cost of the cleanup was approximately $9 million for 1 acre of land, 40 foot deep excavation and removal of soil from the entire one-acre site,” said Mr. Penman, who also serves as Vice Chairman of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation.
Mayor Byron W. Brown said loss of the state program will slow the rebirth of Buffalo by steering developers away from the city’s brownfield sites in favor of suburban or rural locations without environmental issues.
“It might cause a lot of our project sites to hang out for a long time in Buffalo and slow our momentum. It would act as a disincentive to redevelop in Buffalo and all other upstate urban areas and promote sprawl,” Mayor Brown said.
“The brownfield cleanup program has been of vital importance to Buffalo and WNY. Communities with a rich industrial past, such as ours, truly need this program to protect public health, improve the built environment, and preserve green space. The Poloncarz Administration gladly joins in the chorus of voices urging state lawmakers to extend this wildly successful program,” said Maria Whyte, Erie County Commissioner of Environment & Planning,
Paul Werthman, President, Benchmark Environmental Engineering & Science, PLLC, of Hamburg, in tandem with its sister company, Turnkey Environmental Restoration, LLC, has a portfolio that includes BCP-qualified projects across Western New York totaling $578 million in investment.
“The legacy of Buffalo’s industrial past is hundreds of vacant, abandoned properties with residual chemicals in the structures, soil and groundwater that complicate their use and development. That, in fact, is the definition of “brownfields”. Without the BCP incentives to investigate, clean-up and repurpose these brownfields, they will remain vacant, contaminated and underutilized perhaps for many decades. The liability risks, costs, scheduling delays, regulatory burden and uncertainty at environmentally-challenged sites are otherwise overwhelming to potential future users,” Mr. Werthman said, noting it is simply easier and less risky to lenders and developers to choose “greenfield” or non-brownfield sites for their projects, especially in Upstate NY where land is relatively plentiful and inexpensive.
“The BCP levels the playing field to offset the risks, delays and additional costs. A huge public health and environmental benefit of the BCP is elimination of contaminant releases and reduced potential public health exposure with private dollars. We have participated in the clean-up of over 50 BCP projects where many millions of private cleanup funds were leveraged into many tens of millions of private development funds that improved property values, increased tax revenues and created or retained many hundreds of jobs. Believe me our job is far from finished,” Mr. Werthman added.
“An unfortunate reality of Upstate and Western New York’s proud industrial past is that a significant number of former industrial properties face severe development and environmental challenges. The Brownfield Cleanup program has proven to be an indispensable tool for economic regeneration across Upstate, returning unproductive properties to the tax rolls and creating new opportunities that reflect Western New York’s economic future. Extending and expanding this program is vital to the continued revitalization of Buffalo and urban centers across Upstate.”
About The New York State Economic Development Council
The New York State Economic Development Council is the state’s principal organization representing economic development professionals. Our 900 members include the leadership of Industrial Development Agencies, Local Development Corporations, commercial and investment banks, underwriters, bond counsels, utilities, chambers of commerce and private corporations.
The purpose of NYSEDC is to promote the economic development of the state and its communities, encourage sound practices in the conduct of regional and state-wide development programs, and to develop education programs that enhance the professional development skills of NYSEDC members.
NYSEDC has been serving New York’s development professionals for more than 30 years. The Board of Directors and members of NYSEDC represent the highest standards of their profession, and have unparalleled experience and expertise working with state and local economic development programs. For more information visit: www.nysedc.org
About Buffalo Niagara Enterprise
Buffalo Niagara Enterprise (BNE) is a nonprofit, private business development and regional marketing organization dedicated to the proposition that, as a place where life works, the Buffalo Niagara region is the ideal place for businesses to locate, grow, and start up.
Our passion is shown in our results. Since we launched in 1999, by members of the local business community, we’ve attracted more than $2.9 billion in capital investment and created or retained over 36,000 jobs in our region.
Our mission, pure and simple: attract business investment to Buffalo Niagara. To help get this job done, BNE has become the driving force in marketing the Buffalo Niagara region by establishing our community as a world-recognized place to expand and attract capital investment and quality jobs.
BNE is located in downtown Buffalo, New York, the largest city – and the heart – of the eight counties in Western New York that comprise the Buffalo Niagara region. For more information visit: www.buffaloniagara.org
ABOUT THE BUFFALO NIAGARA PARTNERSHIP
The Buffalo Niagara Partnership is the area’s regional chamber of commerce and privately-funded economic development organization. Partnership members employ more than a quarter of a million people in the Buffalo Niagara region. By mobilizing members and strategic partners around common goals, the Partnership grows private investment and jobs in Buffalo Niagara through advocacy, business development, and convening.