RiverBend signals a $5 billion investment and a ‘New Buffalo’

There has not been this many people at the former Republic Steel site in South Buffalo in decades and what they heard came as a big surprise.

Hundreds turned out Tuesday afternoon to hear Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other elected officials join with the chief executive officer of SolarCity Corp. to lay out plans for what they say will be the biggest solar manufacturing facility in the Western Hemisphere.

“We’re just starting to get the generator turning. The New Buffalo is going to be bigger and better than ever before,” Cuomo declared at the 184-acre Riverbend site.

It was expected the public and private development would have a price tag of $1.5 billion; that figure has been raised to $5 billion over the next decade. And the number of jobs projected with the arrival of the SolarCity GigaFactory has more than doubled to 3,000 in Buffalo from about 1,300 and, statewide, another 2,000 jobs are expected. New York state’s investment in the development is expected to rise to about $500 million from $225 million, officials estimate. What started with plans for a 250,000-square-foot complex off South Park Avenue has now grown to encompass 1.2-million square feet.

“It was important for us to choose a state where the leadership has a strong understanding of sustainable energy,” said Solar City CEO Lyndon Rive, who cofounded the solar-power provider in 2006 along with his brother, Peter, SolarCity’s chief technology officer.

SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY) is currently based in California and its chair is entrepreneur Elon Musk.

“This is bigger than anything we could have imagined,” said Cuomo. “It is the perfect metaphor for Buffalo, where the fundamental strength was the available hydropower. That hydropower now, that renewable energy now, will fuel the renewable energy industry for the future. I am incredibly proud that the state is playing a role in this project, because Buffalo’s future is New York’s future, and today that future is brighter than ever.”

A second California company — Silevo — is continuing to negotiate with New York state for a Buffalo site, potentially at RiverBend. The company is a developer of LED technology.

The Riverbend land was sold for $2.8 million this summer by the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. to the Fort Schuyler Management Corp., the state agency credited with forming Albany’s successful and highly-touted nanoscience and research complex.

Preliminary site work has been ongoing for several weeks by LPCiminelli, the project’s construction manager. Rive said he wants the facility up and running as soon as possible but the target date is for the 2016 first quarter.

Under the terms of the pact, Fort Schuyler will own both the Solar City and Silevo buildings but the respective companies will be responsible for creating the new innovation hub.

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