Officials announce closing on $5.5-million land purchase pact
Erie County acquisition of nearly 150 acres at Bethlehem site serves as catalyst for new economic development, investment; site redevelopment will include new business park, relocation of rail tracks and construction of public road, continuation of shoreline trail as parcel is transformed
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined Tuesday by representatives from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, the Empire State Development Corp., the City of Lackawanna, and Tecumseh Redevelopment Inc. along with numerous other officials and agencies, to announce Erie County's acquisition of 148 acres of industrial land at the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna. The $5.5-million agreement, which closed that morning, transfers ownership of the parcel from Tecumseh to the ECIDA. Officials said it is a critical part of the redevelopment of the historic site, which will include the relocation of on-site rail tracks, construction of a public road at Dona Street to open the land for redevelopment, installation of electric and water utilities, and much more.
"Today's announcement is the culmination of years of work and shared vision on the part of many people, all of whom realized the significance of this long-dormant site and knew it could once again be a place of business. Signs of new economic life are already evident here and we are now moving to further transform the property, making it more accessible from Route 5 while making its unique rail assets more efficient," Poloncarz said. "Generations of local steelworkers once toiled on this site, building America with the sweat of their brows and ensuring that Lackawanna was known worldwide. The smokestacks and blast furnaces of yesterday are gone now, but the new business technologies and processes of today are ready to replace them as this site continues its return to productivity and economic vitality."
Rail relocation and construction of the Dona Street extension are key components of the redevelopment of the site. In 2013, Erie County and the ECIDA completed phase one of the rail relocation project at the site, which entailed the installation of approximately two miles of rail track in the north-south direction on the site while removing rail tracks that had hindered access to the site.
Phase one opened up approximately 300 acres of development-ready land. Now, phase two of the rail relocation project will remove approximately 13,000 line feet of rail track along Route 5, which will clear the way to create a new Dona Street extension into the parcel. Phase two will also include rehabilitation and enhancements to rail tracks elsewhere on site to make rail operations more efficient.
Upon completion of the rail project, work will commence on the new public road and will include sewer construction, storm water systems, street lighting and sidewalks.
ECIDA President and CEO Steve Weathers said, "As a mission-driven organization, the ECIDA prioritizes economic growth, and creating a manufacturing commerce park on what is now an unused parcel of land is the very definition of the right kind of economic growth. We worked very closely with the county executive and Tecumseh, the New York State Department of Transportation and the state of New York to complete this complex acquisition through our land development affiliate, the Industrial Land Development Corp. It was due to the county executive's clear vision and our board of directors recognizing the long-term positive benefits this project will have on our entire region that this deal, which was years in the making, is finally signed on the dotted line."
"In 2003, ArcelorMittal USA assumed responsibility of the Lackawanna property via the purchase of all Bethlehem Steel assets," said Paul Werthman of ArcelorMittal USA, parent company of Tecumseh Redevelopment Inc. "Now 14 years later, we celebrate the culmination of our investment of approximately $20 million to clean up the site as we transfer ownership and associated opportunities to the Buffalo & Erie County Industrial Land Development Corp. to shepherd the redevelopment of approximately 150 acres of the site."
The redevelopment of the Bethlehem steel site was identified by Poloncarz in his "Initiatives for a Smart Economy
" as a top priority for Erie County as well as the City of Lackawanna. Its close proximity to major local roads and the interstate thruway, as well as to rail and shipping traffic at the Port of Buffalo, make it a unique site in the Northeast and ideal for revitalization. The site's redevelopment also aligns Erie County efforts with the economic development strategies of the WNY Regional Economic Development Council.
"The Bethlehem Steel site is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to move Gov. Cuomo's plan for Western New York's resurgence forward," said Howard Zemsky, ESD president, CEO and commissioner. "ESD's smart growth strategy builds on the region's unique assets, and this Buffalo Billion investment will help transform this massive lakefront property into an industrial park that will bring well-paying jobs to the region."
In addition, the property's ongoing redevelopment prioritizes the continuation of the shoreline trail along Route 5, along with the design and construction of a "net zero energy" manufacturing building, which will rise on the site of Tuesday's announcement. The building will feature more than 80,000 feet of mixed-use manufacturing and commercial office space and will be powered by solar, geothermal and wind energy to produce as much energy as it consumes on an annual basis.
Poloncarz's camp said NZEs are the future of manufacturing, and that this building will place Erie County at the forefront of a growing movement, with a strategically placed demonstration facility showcasing advances in renewable-energy construction.
Public access to the site will also be enhanced through the continuation of the shoreline trail project, which will eventually connect Buffalo's Outer Harbor to Woodlawn Beach State Park in the Town of Hamburg. The existing Niagara Greenway shoreline trail will be extended approximately 7,000 feet from the Buffalo/Lackawanna municipal line to the Dona Street extension, which will provide pedestrian and bicycle access for Lackawanna and Buffalo residents to amenities on the Outer Harbor. Future phases will connect the shoreline trail to Woodlawn Beach.
"The closing of Bethlehem Steel dealt a heavy blow to Lackawanna, and for years we have been recovering from that loss and working to move forward. Now we are at the point where new business, new life and new energy are returning to the site where so many thousands of residents worked in the past," City of Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski said. "This is an incredible transformation happening right before our eyes, and I want to thank our partners at the county, the state, and every level for working with us to make today possible."
Clearing work at the site has already begun, with bids for the rail relocation, Dona Street construction, and trail project work expected to go out soon and the work to be completed in 2018. The NZE building is also targeted for completion in the fourth quarter of 2018.