CITY OF CAMBRIA — More than a decade ago, Niagara County lawmakers spent $180,000 in taxpayer dollars to purchase a 60-acre piece of land on Junction Road that was described at the time as a “ideal” location for a new public works complex, the price of which is estimated at $40 million.
About a year after reaching the agreement to purchase the property, lawmakers decided to abandon the public works projectchoosing instead to move the service’s operations to another location in Lockport.
They are now looking to turn the property into a ‘shovel-ready’ business park, which they say the county needs to keep pace with in an area where neighboring counties are preparing their own plots of public land to offer to ongoing private businesses . race to attract and retain businesses and create jobs.
“There will be developers building on this site. The county is preparing it for private sector development,” said Mike Casalecommissioner of the county economic development department.
The preparation process starts with a plan. The county hired the local architecture and engineering firm Wendel at a cost of $156,865 to prepare a master land development plan for the parcel. The plan is expected to be completed early next year and will provide county officials with more detailed estimates of the potential costs involved in developing the business park and an idea of the type of potential tenants that could be attracted to the site.
To prepare the site for development, county officials foresee the need to connect it to nearby electric, gas and water services and connect it to the sewer system. While details are still being worked out, officials said it will likely be necessary to build roads and other infrastructure on the property as well.
Based on rough estimates, county officials expect the project to cost around $8 million. They are confident that most, if not all, of the costs will be covered by state and federal grants.
With so much retail space in, say, struggling Niagara Falls, why would the county spend millions of dollars creating a retail park on Junction Road in Cambria?
Casale and Andrea Klyczek, Assistant County Economic Development Commissionersaid the answer involves a number of factors, with “site control” being one of the most important.
Although Casale and Klyczek acknowledged there was plenty of commercial space at the falls, they said much of it was privately owned.
Since the county already owned Junction Road and the site is already near an existing business park in the town of Lockport, officials said it topped the list as having the greatest potential for redevelopment. .
“We are running out of development-ready sites in Niagara County,” Klyczek said. “It’s a county-owned site. It made sense because of where it was.”
Casale said the Junction Road property is one of nine in Niagara County identified as a “priority” site in a recent study of commercial sites in Western New York that was commissioned by local business advocacy group. Invest Buffalo Niagara and completed by Newmark, a global real estate consulting and services company.
As such, Casale said his department believes it is important to prepare the site as much as possible for one or more potential commercial tenants. Too often, he said, the county attracts the interest of companies or site selectors but cannot meet their needs due to a lack of “shovel-ready” sites.
“We don’t have the capacity to implant them because there isn’t the space they are asking for,” Casale said.
“It’s not just Niagara County,” he added. “It’s the Eight Counties area that lacks development-ready sites. As an eight county region, and Niagara County is part of this group, we have missed great opportunities that would translate into investment, jobs and opportunity in our community. ”
In September, members of the county legislature passed a resolution formally approving the Junction Road project. Casale said the move was necessary to ensure it is among Invest Buffalo Niagara’s priority projects in 2023.
Casale’s views added to the list are an important step in positioning the county to receive the state and federal funds needed to move the project forward.
The goal, he said, is to grow the local economy by turning county land that now sits empty into properties used by businesses that employ county residents.
“It gives us the opportunity to pitch a site to a company whose mission is to build and invest in our county and create jobs,” Casale said.
“Right now, this vacant lot pays no taxes because his county owns it,” she said. “It does not generate anything for the benefit of the taxpayers.”