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Buying, living and smoking

Discount stores, low-income housing, loft apartments and a hookah lounge will take center stage at next week's Buffalo City Planning Board meeting.

Board members will consider a proposal by David E. Pawlik's Creative Structures Services to build a new Dollar General store, with parking, at 663 E. Ferry St. This will be Pawlik's third Dollar General, part of a long-term, 15-year relationship the developer has with the discount retailer. Two others are on Genesee and Seneca streets.

The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority is seeking design and site plan review approval for the construction of 50 new homes as part of the A.D. Price Housing Phase III project, at Jefferson Avenue and Peckham, Madison and Spring streets. This set of family homes is the last phase in the project, which Norstar Group is developing for BMHA.

Savarino Companies and FFZ Holdings LLC are proposing the construction of 78 market-rate apartments, with office space and parking, at the site of the former Erie Freight House at 441 Ohio St. FFZ represents a trio of developers, David and Dennis Franjoine and Rob Zuchlewski, all principals in Frontier Industrial Corp., who are working with Sam Savarino on several projects.(See The Buffalo News Business column on Sunday for more on this.)

And Shakhawan Hawramy wants to convert an existing restaurant at 1175 Hertel Ave. into a hookah lounge. In a hookah lounge, patrons share flavored tobacco, or shisha, from a communal pipe. Originally from India, such lounges are a centuries-old tradition from parts of the Middle Eastern and Southern Asian worlds. 

-- Jonathan D. Epstein

Canal area building sites: busy and not busy

Busy. Busy. Not so busy.

That’s what a look at three major construction sites downtown shows.

At the construction site for One Canalside, the former Donovan State Office Building that is being redeveloped by Benderson Development Co. into a Courtyard by Marriott hotel and the headquarters for law firm Phillips Lytle LLP, as many as 150 people are working on any given day, both on the inside of the building and the outside.

On the next block, to the south, the Buffalo Sabres and the Pegula family have another 100 workers driving piles, pouring concrete, manning the tower crane and performing other jobs.

Then there’s the canals on the former Memorial Auditorium site, where the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. is behind schedule on its project to symbolically recreate canals and parkland as part of Canalside. About 25 workers are on site daily at the main “historically aligned canals” phase, while an average of 13 are on site for the East Canals on the nearby Donovan site.

-- Jonathan D. Epstein

Debate over incentives for senior housing

The Amherst Industrial Development Agency’s moratorium on new senior housing projects, effective last week through the end of the year, is already sparking some discussion in the real estate and economic development community.

The agency had imposed the moratorium to allow time for more study of whether additional senior housing is needed, and whether the agency should be encouraging it through tax breaks.

Michael Bartlett, executive director of the Hamburg IDA, said his agency has also provided such assistance for senior housing in the past, but “always required a market study to justify the need” for more.

“While we don't have a moratorium in place and there have been no conversations regarding one, I don't envision another senior housing project coming before the HIDA Board and being approved,” he said by email. “I expect to keep in touch with (Amherst IDA Executive Director) Jim Allen and discuss their actions with our board.”

By contrast, Mark E. Hamister, president of Hamister Group, called the moratorium “a mistake,” but said his firm does “understand and respect that all IDAs should review policy and intentions of those policies from time to time.”

Still, “we have an aging community and need to make sure that services and facilities are built and maintained to take care of that aging community,” he said.

He noted that seniors on fixed income have limited financial capability, which changes “the dynamics of what can be built at what cost.” And the services that seniors now expect don’t come cheap, making it important for IDAs to provide such incentives to enable facilities to exist.

“Seniors who helped build our communities in my humble opinion should have the opportunity to retire and live their last years in this wonderful community with as much comfort and as many services/benefits as possible,” he said. “Today’s seniors paid taxes for a lifetime --- this is about giving back.”

- Jonathan D. Epstein

Serving up opportunity

As Jodi Gaines can attest, you never know where a job opportunity might pop up – including restaurants.

Gaines is chief executive officer of Claims Recovery Financial Services, a growing business based in Albion. In the late 1980s, she was working at a Pizza Hut, where she frequently served lunch and dinner to employees of Anchor Bancorp’s mortgage processing center.

The Anchor center employees were so impressed with how hardworking, efficient and organized she was, they urged her to apply for a job at their workplace. She took their advice and was hired as a clerk. Gaines ascended the ranks, even as the center itself later changed ownership. In 2002, she started CRFS, which now has 650 employees at three locations, specializing in claims processing.

CRFS recently opened a location in San Antonio, Texas. When Gaines and some colleagues were out to dinner there a few weeks ago, she said they had a "phenomenal" waitress, and they chatted with her about her background. The waitress had a paralegal certificate and had recently moved to Texas from California. The CRFS group urged her to apply for a job at their company, and she was hired.

Gaines said she is careful about being respectful to other employers, but always keeps an eye out for service-industry employees who are "efficient, and on top of it and polite, and you always have to treat everyone the way you want to be treated."

You can read more about Gaines and her business in BizTalk in Sunday’s Buffalo News.

-- Matt Glynn

Seneca casinos seek 300 at job fair Thursday

Seneca casinos are seeking 300 new hires in the region.

Seneca Gaming Corp. will hold a job fair Thursday from 9 a.m to 7 p.m. at Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel, 310 4th Street in Niagara Falls, in the hotel mezzanine.

New and experienced table games dealers are especially sought for the Niagara Falls casino, but there are a variety of positions available there and at Allegany and Buffalo Creek casinos.

Interviews will be conducted at the job fair, and a blackjack table will be available to test candidates' card-dealing ability.


---Samantha Maziarz Christmann

Taking research to marketplace subject of UB lecture

A National Science Foundation program that boosts efforts to commercialize scientific research is the subject of a lecture Wednesday at the University at Buffalo.

The lecture, "Moving Ideas from Laboratory to Market," will offer details on the foundation's Innovation-Corps program, which is meant to help translate basic research into commercial products and technology.

Richard Voyles, the I-Corps program director, will participate by video conference. The UB members of the panel will include Martin Casstevens, business formation and commercialization manager for the Office of Science, Technology Transfer, and Economic Outreach, or STOR; Vipin Chaudhary, a professor of computer science and engineering; and Brian Schultz, a graduate student in chemistry.

The lecture will be held from 4 to 5 p.m. Wednesday in UB's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, 701 Ellicott St., Buffalo, on the second floor. Click here to register.

--- Stephen T. Watson

Yahoo holds job fair at UB to fill call center positions in Lockport

Yahoo is holding a job fair this week at the University at Buffalo to fill 125 call-center positions at its expanding campus in Niagara County.

The Internet giant in March announced plans to expand its data center that opened in 2010 in an industrial park in the Town of Lockport.

Yahoo initially said it plans to hire 115 new workers, on top of the 77 who work at the current data center, and spend $168 million to build the expanded facility, which also received an extensive set of public subsidies.

Yahoo has since raised the number of new positions to 125. The new employees starting as soon as next month will work in leased commercial space in Amherst until construction on the Lockport facility is completed in 12 to 18 months, said Mauricio Quibano, senior manager for global planning and sourcing for Yahoo Customer Experience.

Yahoo is seeking to hire 110 customer care agents and 15 managers, and job descriptions are available online.

The walk-in interviews run from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. today through Friday in the Center for Tomorrow, located near the Maple Road entrance to the UB North Campus in Amherst, at the corner of Flint and Service Center roads.

Yahoo job applicants should bring a resume to the fair. They must have a bachelor's degree and have earned a grade point average of at least 3.2.

Yahoo reached out to UB a couple of weeks ago to seek assistance in filling the positions and the university also has contacted alumni online to advertise the available jobs, said Suzanne Chamberlain, a UB spokeswoman.

--- Stephen T. Watson


UB Technology Incubator named as best in world for life sciences

A Swedish startup has named the University at Buffalo Technology Incubator as the top life-sciences business incubator based at a university in the world.

The University Business Incubator Index, a company based in Stockholm that serves the incubator industry, studied 150 university incubators in 22 countries and measured their performance on 50 indicators.

While UB took top honors in the life sciences category, Rice University's Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship in Houston was named the best overall university incubator.

UB's Technology Incubator, located in the Baird Research Park on Sweet Home Road across from the North Campus, rated well for talent retention, post-incubation relationship and other factors, according to news releases from the index and UB.

The incubator rents office and laboratory space to entrepreneurs and startups and provides mentoring, training, grant-writing assistance and access to resources and expertise, according to the university.

It opened in 1988 and today has 13 tenants. More than 100 companies have gone through the incubator, and 84 percent of those graduates lasted for five or more years, UB reported. Its current tenants and surviving graduates employ 500 people and have annual revenues of $50 million.

Perhaps the best-known Technology Incubator tenant is ONY Inc., founded by Dr. Edmund A. Egan II and the late Bruce A. Holm, both UB scientists, to market Infasurf, a commercial surfactant-replacement that reduces the rate of respiratory failure in premature infants.

--- Stephen T. Watson





What on earth is THAT????

No, it's not your imagination.

Anyone walking or driving through downtown Buffalo near Crane the waterfront might have rubbed their eyes to see if they were being misled Friday morning. But the sight that beheld them was quite real.

On the southeastern corner of the Webster Block, where the Sabres are building their HarborCenter project, stood the tallest bright yellow crane this city has seen in decades, if not ever.

At 236 feet off the ground, the canary yellow tower crane - being built with another giant crane -  dwarfs everything around it, and leaves no doubt of the height of the $172.2 million project conceived by the Sabres and owner Terry Pegula.

"You start realizing how big of a building this is, going into that lot," said Sabres spokesman Mike Gilbert.

"People in Buffalo aren’t used to seeing cranes in downtown. It’s going to be great for people coming down the 190 or at the waterfront to see this crane in the air. They’re going to know this project is for real and it’s moving forward."

The new crane -- one of two that will be erected, with the other one going up in the northern part of the block, will remain on site throughout the construction process, providing the height and reach to bring supplies up as the mammoth building takes shape. The cranes were brought in from Kansas and Tennessee.

"It makes it easier for accessibility, with the reach those cranes have," Gilbert said. "This is all part of what it costs to build a building of this magnitude."

 - Jonathan D. Epstein

Buffalo Zoning Board of Appeals' upcoming agenda

A proposal to convert a four-unit apartment building on the West Side to a retail store with three apartments and to convert a multi-family apartment house into a rooming house on West Ferry are among 13 requests coming to the Buffalo Zoning Board of Appeals.

According to the agenda for the 2 p.m. meeting on Wednesday, June 19, the board will consider, among others:

*A planned new CVS Pharmacy at 392 Kenmore Ave., with "excessive fence height and sign size."

*A request by Mohammed Nobi to turn a 7,148-square-foot building with four apartment units at 321 Vermont St. into a three-unit property with a retail storefront.

*A request by Stan Brown to convert a 3,537-square-foot, blue-shingled three-story home at 402 West Ferry St., at Hoyt Street, into a "rooming house." 

*An outdoor patio for the Irish Center at 245 Abbott Road.

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