Thurman Thomas firm part of development team for Northland project

The Buffalo Urban Development Corp. has officially awarded the construction management contract to a team led by Gilbane Building Co.

The deal creates a cornerstone project for an emerging construction-based firm headed by former Buffalo Bills Thurman Thomas and Flip Johnson and potentially opens the door for the firm to create a larger local presence.

BUDC directors Tuesday afternoon, following a 95-minute presentation and ensuing discussion, named the Gilbane team — that including the 3480 Group run by Thomas and Johnson — and Buffalo architecture firm, Foit-Albert Associates and three other women and minority-owned companies, to oversee the $55 million Northland Training Center project. The Northland project is designed to be a workforce training center and one that focuses on working with minorities. The project is part of the Buffalo Billion.

Gilbane was selected from 10 firms that responded to an RFP issued earlier this summer by BUDC and from a three-firm short list. LPCiminelli and Turner Construction were the two other short-listed finalists.

BUDC’s staff, in August, had recommended the Providence, R.I.-based Gilbane be awarded the $146,300 six-month contract but objections from some of the agency’s board members about awarding the pact to a non-local firm caused a one-month delay in the formal vote. With the exception of Gilbane, the other members of its Northland team are Buffalo-based.

While Gilbane has worked on other local projects and maintains a Main Street office in the University District, the Northland center will be its most visible.

“This was an important contract for us and a very strategic one.” said William Gilbane III, company senior vice president. “It puts us in a position to be part of the new fabric of Buffalo.”

Thomas, the Hall of Fame running back, said teaming up with Gilbane and the Northland project is a major step forward for his company.

“We have a big brother/little brother, mentor, protege relationship with them,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the Northland project is his “top priority.”

“I will be very hands on,” he said. “This is kind of like winning the Super Bowl to me.”

A key to Gilbane be awarded the contract was its emphasis on hiring women and minority-owned firms to be part of its development team. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, who is also BUDC president, advocates for significant women and minority business participation in all city contracts.

“I wanted to see diversity and we got it,” Brown said.

John Larow, Gilbane principal-in-charge, noted that 6 percent of all fees paid for the entire Northland project will go to women or minority-owned firms. That translates to as much as $16.5 million of the project’s $55 million development price tag.

“Understand we are not just building a building, but we are building a community,” said Terry LoConte, Gilbane project executive. “We wanted to make sure we reach into every corner of Buffalo.”

The project, the renovation of a long vacant former Northland Avenue factory, will have heavy green and environmentally-friendly elements including a combined heat and power system fueled by clean burning hydrogen. Gilbane may also reach out to SolarCity for solar panels for the project.

“The idea is to decrease the carbon footprint of the building by as much as 20 percent,” said Garry Bowling, 3480’s energy and tech services specialist.