Targeting the Town: Commercial/industrial growth escalates north of the Thruway bridge on Route 98
Longtime Batavia area residents surely remember George’s Dairy, the welcoming store run by the farm family on the west side of Route 98, just past the Thruway bridge heading north out of the city.
The dairy, known for its delicious chocolate milk and specialty fruit drinks, was a destination back in the 1960s and ‘70s – a lone business surrounded by acres and acres of farmland.
Fifty years later, streets called Federal Drive, Commerce Drive and Call Parkway – filled with hotels and commercial/industrial enterprises in developments known as “corporate parks” – greet motorists traveling over that same Thruway bridge toward Saile Drive, which also has become a hot spot for new business ventures.
“What we have seen and continue to see in that part of the town is the result of the efforts of several true visionaries, people such as the Call family, George Forsyth, Torchy Babcock and Carl Scott – visionaries who paved the way at great sacrifice to their political land personal careers,” Batavia Town Supervisor Gregory Post said.
Post credited governmental officials for “getting everyone into the room” – farmers, businessmen, politicians, engineers, architects, real estate brokers and industrial development agency staff – to install the infrastructure necessary to make that area a viable alternative for entrepreneurs.
“Infrastructure is the key,” said Post, a forward-thinking administrator in his own right. “Getting public water and sewer, and don't discount the fact that sales tax in Genesee County is (or was) less than in Monroe and Erie.” (Post was referring to sales tax rates at early stages of development).
‘GATEWAY’ TO ECONOMIC GROWTH
This has enabled the Genesee County Economic Development Center to establish the Gateway I Corporate Park (Federal and Commerce Drive) and Gateway II Corporate Park (Call Parkway) off of Route 98, and to help facilitate the buildup of West and East Saile Drive, which is anchored by the Milton CAT (Caterpillar heavy equipment) facility.
Steve Hyde, GCEDC president and chief executive officer, said he realized when he started at the agency in 2002 that there would be a demand for commercial bases between Western New York’s two large cities.
“From my first days at the GCEDC, we knew that there was demand for more capacity for these industries and for larger consolidated operations centers serving Buffalo and Rochester that could support enhanced jobs and investment,” Hyde said. “There were already signs that the market was responding at Gateway I Corporate Park. We had to be ready for more.”
Hyde said that after two decades of working with municipal partners and landowners on projects, “that demand has turned into successful results.”
“Both of Genesee County's business parks are fully activated. The businesses and careers that started this momentum have thrived, and more construction is on the way,” he said.
“And it’s incredible to see our heartland industries like the ag and construction equipment and logistics and transportation growing hand-in-hand with our shovel-ready sites north of the Thruway, and all along Saile Drive.”
A FLURRY OF DEVELOPMENT
Close to two dozen businesses are located at the two corporate parks and along Saile Drive.
Gateway I, which broke ground about 20 years ago, is sold out.
Businesses there include Farm Credit East (pictured below), (formerly) Aluydne (pictured below), Fairfield Hotel, Mondelez, Traco Manufacturing, Mega Properties (Koolatron, Exide Technologies, Auto Plus Auto Parts), Jasper Engines & Transmissions, Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn and Fairbridge Inn. The 147,000-square foot Aluyde building is currently listed by Pyramid Brokerage.
Gateway II (Call Parkway) features Ashley Furniture, Mega Properties and Gateway GS LLC, the latter being a five-building project of Gallina Development Corp. of Rochester (pictured below). The Mercy Flight EMS Genesee base just off Route 98 is adjacent to the park.
Moving to Saile Drive, you’ll find Alta Equipment Company/Vantage Equipment (pictured below), SCP Distributors, Monroe Tractor, Freightliner & Western Star of Batavia, Milton CAT (pictured below) and L&M Specialty Fabrication, which is close to Bank Street Road (pictured below).
LandPro Equipment, Valiant Real Estate USA (New York Bus Sales) reportedly will be building on Saile Drive, while Rochester Regional Health is preparing to construct a four-story office building on Route 98, across from Federal Drive and near Call Parkway.
“What we’re seeing now is that the whole area is erupting with activity,” said Chris Suozzi, GCEDC’s vice president of business and workforce development. “The Gallina project is indicative of what is happening.”
GALLINA’S BIG PROJECT IS UNDERWAY
Suozzi said Gallina’s plan is to erect five 27,000-square foot buildings. One is complete and the second one is under construction.
“Everything has grown organically as our industrial parks were kind of the anchor tenants, if you will, in the beginning,” he said. “Organically, because of it being zoned Industrial out there, we’re seeing this tremendous impact over a course of time.”
GCEDC Marketing Director Jim Krencik mentioned the need for modern, office warehousing, calling it “flex space.”
“That’s what Gallina is doing,” he said. “They have 20 acres in total, and will sell four acres every time they complete one of the buildings. Then they will take ownership of the buildings from the GCEDC, which owns the property."
Krencik said Gallina’s investment is around $2 million for each building.
“When you look out across the country, including the Buffalo and Rochester markets, there isn’t a large amount of really good, modern usable facilities,” he added.
Suozzi said the reason for that is that the “industrial vacancy rate is really low.”
“A lot of the existing inventory of buildings – you get your commercial and industrial real estate folks .... there’s not inventory available. The market is demanding that you have flex space or spec space so that the capacity is there when somebody really wants a product,” he offered.
He said the first Gallina building was built on speculation, recognizing that it would fill over time.
“The first (Gallina) building went up without a tenant,” he said. “Now, they’ve subdivided into thirds and there are three tenants in there.”
Buildings two through five are being constructed with tenants already lined up, he advised.
PRIVATE OWNERS MAKING DEALS
Tony Mancuso, longtime real estate broker for Mancuso Commercial Realty, said he has represented numerous landowners at Gateway I, Gateway II and Saile Drive as well as selling the parcel where the Federal Detention Facility is located and most of the parcels on Veterans Memorial Drive to the southwest.
“There’s not a lot of land left in those areas, actually,” he said, although he did say he is representing owners of about 10 vacant acres on Saile Drive.
Mancuso said developers will be looking to areas beyond the corporate parks, likely on land further west of Route 98.
Krencik said Saile Drive has intensified over the past decade, becoming a huge corridor for logistics as well as heavy equipment manufacturing, servicing and production that feeds into agriculture and transportation.
“We have our own park, but you really see the spillover and multiplier effect happening all the way down that street from Route 98 to Bank Street Road,” he said. “We’re taking about projects that have invested over $50 million in facilities they built or are planning to build on 500,000 square feet between those two areas and creating several hundred jobs.”
REAL ESTATE BROKER ‘NOT SURPRISED’
He called Saile Drive “almost a secret industrial park” with companies serving the need for big equipment, such as Milton CAT – “like-minded businesses all having the same vision and locating within a short distance of each other.”
Suozzi said GCEDC was the catalyst of this activity, but now “you’re seeing other people that own land along Saile Drive, that once the infrastructure was put in … you’re seeing local commercial/industrial realtors like Tony Mancuso, Rick Mancuso and Russ Romano who are selling property for individual owners along Saile Drive.”
Rick Mancuso, managing partner of Mancuso Real Estate, said he has represented property owners on Saile Drive, closing on several sales, including L&M Specialty Fabrication.
A business owner for many years, he said he could see this influx of development coming.
“I think that area is just beginning to take off right now. The close proximity of the (Genesee County) Airport and the Thruway make that property a real viable area for development,” he said.
“When land became scarce, the farmland started being sold and bought up at rates that even surprised the real estate brokers. It doesn’t surprise me, though, especially with our location between Buffalo and Rochester.”
Photos by Mike Pettinella.