ECHDC prez expects lots of Webster interest

April 3, 2012 Updated Apr 3, 2012 at 6:46 AM EDT

By WKBW News
By Business First by James Fink

April 3, 2012 Updated Apr 3, 2012 at 6:46 AM EDT

The head of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. said the timing is perfect for Buffalo to be seeking bids for Webster Block.

Buffalo, Monday morning, started the RFP process for the 1.7-acre parcel in downtown Buffalo. The property is currently used as a 300-car surface parking lot.

But Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown wants to see the lot turned into some form of private sector-driven development. Bids are due by June 15 and Brown wants the property under construction by next spring.

Tom Dee, Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. president, said he expects a fair amount of legitimate development proposals for the Webster Block.

"The beauty of this process is that because the city put out the RFP, everything - meaning, all the development ideas - will come to the surface," Dee said.

Brown announced the Webster Block RFP process two months ago. The mayor said a combination of factors have come together to make this a good time to seek development bids. Among the factors: A slew of downtown developments including the $30 million renovation of the Gen. Donovan State Office Building, which sits on the northern edge of the Webster Block and more confidence in the city.

"Even before the mayor announced the RFP, our phone was ringing off of the hook," who Dee, who is curious to see how many, and from where, the development proposals come to the city.

"Judging by the calls we got and where they were coming from, it should be very interesting," Dee said.

Bidders have until May 25 to register for the June 15 bidding deadline. Brown said he expects to award the bid by late summer or early fall, after a review by his staff and input from such organizations as the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Erie County Industrial Development Agency and Buffalo Urban Development Corp., among others.

Dee said his own organization will be overseeing seven construction projects related to Canalside this year. The projects total $75 million in investments.

One benefit to the Webster Block bidders, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. has already conducted and gotten approval for all the mandated environmental reviews covering the property. While the block is city-owned, it does sit inside Canalside's 20-acre footprint.

Dee noted that the ECHDC has several open blocks that are development-ready. Bidders who are not selected by the city may be approached for one of those open parcels.

"We are looking forward to see what happens," Dee said.

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