Gilbane, Thurman Thomas firm, hired for Workforce Training Center project

The nonprofit quasi-city agency overseeing development of the Northland Corridor light-industrial hub on Tuesday hired a team led by Gilbane Building Co. and Thurman Thomas’ 3480 Group as the construction managers for the project’s new Workforce Training Center.

The board of the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. voted overwhelmingly in favor of approving a contract with Rhode Island-based Gilbane for the East Side construction project, whose total cost is estimated at $45 million to $50 million.

That’s a big change from a month ago, when the board tabled the vote after members wanted to hear from the firm to get more information.

Gilbane and its team, which will hire the contractors and subcontractors, will now be responsible for working with BUDC officials and Watts Architecture & Engineering, which was already hired to design the Buffalo Billion-funded project. The “at-risk” contract means that Gilbane will absorb any cost overruns if the ultimate costs exceed the agreed-upon amount.

“We want to have the two working together so that all the design functions are right,” said Peter Cammarata, BUDC president, referring to Watts and Gilbane.

The Northland initiative, which includes a dozen properties and more than 700,000 square feet of existing building space, is designed to create a light manufacturing economic development zone in an impoverished part of the East Side. BUDC, using $6.7 million in state funds, already purchased the properties, and has been working with several consultants to evaluate the properties and develop plans to either renovate and reuse them, or demolish and remediate the sites for future construction.

The centerpiece of the effort is the proposed 100,000-square-foot training center, to be located in a much larger 246,902-square-foot facility at 683 Northland Ave. The project will be funded by $29 million from the Buffalo Billion, $15 million from the New York Power Authority, and additional city funds.

BUDC issued a call in June for construction management teams, receiving 10 proposals that it narrowed down to three – led by Gilbane, Turner Construction Co. of New York City and Buffalo-based LPCiminelli. A BUDC panel last month recommended the Gilbane team based on their experience and the team mix – even before three LPCiminelli executives were arrested by federal agents last week and charged with criminal bribery and big-rigging.

But several board members balked at the August meeting, saying they felt it was important for the agency to support wealth creation locally by giving preference to hiring firms based in Western New York whenever possible. So the agency delayed the vote until it could bring in Gilbane’s team to provide more details, especially about how the team would engage the neighborhoods and maximize participation from the minority community in particular.

“It’s not just building a building. It’s building a community,” said Terry LoConte, Gilbane project executive.

The Gilbane team represents 6 percent of the overall budget, while contractors and subcontractors account for $43 million to $47 million. Of that, at least $13.5 million to $16.5 million in contract work must be allocated to women-owned or minority-owned businesses and workers.

Gilbane, through its strategic “mentor protege” program, partnered with Buffalo-based 3480 Group, a construction and telecommunications firm founded and led by Thomas and former Buffalo Bills teammate Fulton “Flip” Johnson, a 25-year veteran of the construction industry after leaving professional football. The mentorship program is designed to support and help minority-owned firms by advising and coaching them on strategy, business development and operations, while also bringing them in on jobs. Already, 3480 has been working with Gilbane on another project in Albany for eight months.

“They’re a perfect company for us,” said Thomas, whose minority-owned company is headquartered at 500 Seneca. “It’s a big brother/little brother protege.”