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More on that vacant Uniland industrial park

Sometimes a reporter has more information in his notebook than he is able to fit into an article for the paper, so it's nice to have a blog to amplify our original coverage.

This week, we ran an article about Uniland Development Co.'s Eastport Commerce Center in Lancaster, a site that has sat vacant for eight years despite the company's $7 million investment in roads and utility connections to the property.

Erie County is now saying Uniland will have to pay back a $490,000 federal grant --- money that passed from HUD to the county to the Town of Lancaster to Uniland --- because Uniland hasn't met the job-creation requirements included in the terms of the grant.

The status of the 120-acre industrial park has come up at recent Lancaster Town Board and Lancaster IDA meetings, so here's a few things that came out of those discussions worth pondering as we wait for the Bills to take the field Sunday against the Bengals:

---As The News reported, the Eastport site at Walden Avenue and Pavement Road was one of the properties Yahoo considered for the data center the company eventually built in Lockport. Several Lancaster officials said they believe Yahoo was scared off by the price Uniland was seeking. Similar parcels in that part of town were going for $30,000 to $40,000 per acre, while Yahoo was given a price of $77,000 per acre, several Lancaster officials said at a Town Board meeting. Buffalo Niagara Enterprise officials confirmed Yahoo's interest, but said the price wasn't the factor that drove Yahoo to look at other data-center sites. Lancaster Superviser Bob Giza said he's not sure the price scared off Yahoo, but one IDA member, channeling Jimmy McMillan, said "The price is too damn high."

---Will Uniland really have to pay back the $490,000 HUD grant by March 2012 if they don't bring in a tenant? Paul Leone, a Lancaster IDA consultant, said he's not sure, "politically speaking." At this month's IDA meeting he said he suspects that top officials from the well-connected development company will call County Executive Chris Collins to lobby him before any money is returned.

---Buffalo Niagara Enterprise officials say the Eastport site has received interest from a number of companies, and Giza said this month that the federal government considered the property, and adjoining land, as a site for a National Veterans Cemetery proposed for Western New York. If the Lancaster site had been selected, it would have been good for veterans and their families in Erie County but it would have taken the property off the tax rolls, Giza said at the IDA meeting. The federal government has not yet announced where it plans to build the cemetery, but Giza said it's likely to be somewhere in Genesee County.

---Stephen T. Watson

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