Medical campus seeks parking site

April 29, 2013 Updated Apr 29, 2013 at 7:46 AM EDT

By Tracey Drury, Buffalo Business First

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Medical campus seeks parking site

April 29, 2013 Updated Apr 29, 2013 at 7:46 AM EDT

Tired of waiting for resolution with preservationists, planners at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus are looking at building a second Innovation Center on the site of a city-owned parking ramp at Goodrich and Ellicott.

The BNMC was planning to create Innovation Center Two by converting a portion of the shuttered Trico Building next door to the existing Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center on Ellicott Street. Those plans have been stymied by the Buffalo Preservation Coalition, which has pushed for preserving the 1920s era facility, once used to manufacture windshield wipers.

Pressure from potential tenants however - including Albany-based manufacturer AMRI - has caused BNMC planners to look elsewhere, which led to consideration of a site at Goodrich and North, currently the site of a parking ramp owned by the City of Buffalo but controlled with a longterm lease by the BNMC at the other end of the campus, said Patrick Whalen, chief operating officer at BNMC.

The campus also has to have parking available to accommodate two major projects in the pipeline: the new University at Buffalo School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and the John R. Oishei Children's Hospital of Buffalo, both set to open in 2016.

"We have to build a parking garage that's got to be open for UB when the medical school opens," he said. "If we don't knock down the existing garage, we've got to make the existing garage ADA compliant by the time Children's opens. The third dynamic is we've got an anchor tenant that wants 100,000 square feet that's quite anxious."

Whalen said the organization is looking at taking down the 900-spot parking ramp at 880 Ellicott St., and replacing it with a 1,500-spot ramp topped by a multi-tenant building. The project could have a price tag of about $100 million. But it's dependent on the BNMC reaching a purchase agreement with the City of Buffalo. Some preliminary talks have taken place, and additional meetings are scheduled, Whalen said.

A solution is needed soon: About 40 companies are housed in the existing 108,000-square-foot, four-story Innovation Center, with space ranging from cubicles rented monthly to multiyear leases for thousands of square feet. The two newest tenants moved in this spring: Tartis Aging Inc., and OncoTartis Inc., which will occupy a combined 5,700-square-feet of lab and office space.

The 590,000-square-foot Trico complex is adjacent to the Innovation Center at the corner of Goodell and Ellicott streets. Though parts of the building are falling apart after sitting vacant for more than 30 years, a report completed by developer Doug Swift this fall called for saving and renovating 270,000 square feet of the complex.

Preservationists say the entire complex, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, could be saved and they want it kept as a landmark and key example of early 20th century "Daylight Factory" design.

The Innovation Center Two facility could be anchored by Albany Molecular Research Inc. (AMRI), a drug manufacturer and developer, which plans to bring about 75 employees to Buffalo this year. The expansion to Buffalo will get a financial assist from the state as part of the Buffalo Billion Investment Development Plan detailed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in early December. That plan included financing $35 million in equipment for AMRI plus $15 million in facilities improvements to make space ready on the BNMC.

Until a new permanent site is identified, AMRI will open in temporary space on the campus. Whalen said the BNMC is in talks to potentially buy another building on the campus, though he would not reveal the site. If that doesn't work out, AMRI would have to use whatever space is available within the existing Innovation Center.

A decision is expected as soon as next week, Whalen said.

"Another reason to do it now is we have parking available now," he said. "In three years, we won't."

There's also still the possibility of using part of the Trico complex, he said.

"We've got an anxious tenant and we're three years away from having that anchor tenant satisfied from the day we get a site," Whalen said.

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