Tonawanda News

May 15, 2013

Delivering on a vision

FedEx breaks ground at solar park hub in town

By Neale Gulley neale.gulley@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — FedEx broke ground Tuesday on a planned $10.6 million office and distribution center in the town’s Riverview Solar Technology Park that’s expected to preserve more than 1,000 area jobs.

State and local officials touted a deal that offsets about 40 percent of the project’s cost through state Excelsior tax credits and tax abatements through the Erie County Industrial Development Agency. FedEx Trade Networks, the international freight and forwarding arm of FedEx that will operate at the park off River Road, brings $5.2 million to the total project cost.

In return for the financial incentives, the company is effectively preserving almost 1,000 existing jobs in the area, as well as promising to add at least another 82 jobs as part of the agreement for state funds.

Fred Schardt, president and CEO of FedEx Trade Networks, travelled from the company’s Tennessee headquarters to the site of the planned 88,000-square-foot building on Tuesday. He told those in attendance the decision to move into the Riverview complex is about more than subsidies. 

The 185-acre commerce park, owned by developer Thomas Montante, is the first solar-ready business park in the state. 

“We understand the importance of doing business in an environmentally friendly way,” Schardt said. “We want to be sustainable.”

As part of the project, Montante has agreed to build the area’s first integrated solar array as part of the new structure, in the form of a 100-kilowatt wall of solar panels expected to save the firm the same amount of energy as burning 80,000 gallons of gas, officials said.

He said in addition to savings, such initiatives line up with the company’s environmental goals, including reducing its fleet’s carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by the end of the decade. The company also has a goal of generating up to a megawatt of solar power.

”It’s not something we just say, it’s something we take very seriously,” he said of such initiatives.

Ken Adams, president of Empire State Development Corp., the agency behind the Excelsior credits, echoed a sentiment by Montante that such “solar ready” business properties are a model for the state and a sign that similar projects are more and more sought after.

He said businesses like FedEx specializing in logistics are a natural fit for the “economic legacy” of the area, where acces to railways, waterways and runways is abundant. But, speaking from the state’s point of view, he also said the Riverview park’s particular brand of solar power and location helped leverage the state’s tax-funded portion of the plan in a way Gov. Andrew Cuomo favors for retaining and creating jobs against a backdrop of environmental sustainability.

”In the end this entire facility becomes a model for sustainability,” he said.

Cuomo, in a prepared statement, pointed out that the project to retain and expand the presence of FedEx in Western New York is good news for the state.

“The commitment ... goes hand-in-hand with our goals to maintain New York’s position as a leader in environmental responsibility and grow our economy,” he said.

The project is expected to be completed sometime in the first quarter of 2014.

Also speaking at the groundbreaking were Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Anthony Caruana, and state Sen. Mark Grisanti, who chairs the Senate’s environmental conservation committee.

Caruana said the move underscores the value of the town’s infrastructure to retain a global shipping company, while he and Grisanti each applauded the creation and retention of local jobs.

Montante, responsible for the property, pointed out that the jobs retained in Tonawanda as part of the plan could have been sent almost anywhere in the nation.

“Securing a major hub of one of the most recognized brands in the world is a major achievement,” he said, declaring the area is once again emerging as a destination for such businesses.

Of the solar park’s superlative status statewide, he said integrating solar or other energy with commercial space offers “a glimpse at the future of construction that will one day be standard practice.”

Contact City Editor Neale Gulley at 693-1000, ext. 4114.