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Full steam ahead for the construction industry, after 60% stoppage

Mike Desmond

The local construction industry has not been shut down in the last two months, but more than half of the work stopped because of the coronavirus pandemic. That changes Tuesday, with the sector part of Phase 1 of the state's reopening strategy.

During the lockdown some work that was considered essential has continued, much of it government projects like road paving and Buffalo's continuing Allen Street reconstruction.

HHL architect Matthew Meier said his firm has been involved in some affordable housing projects that continued. Meier said restarting projects will be complicated.

"Some people, admittedly, may be anxious to get back because they have been sitting there doing nothing," he said. "But I think some others have been fortunate to be able to be redirected to those, in some cases, few projects that might have been considered essential and have continued."

Traditional schedules have been thrown off by the shutdown in the time of year when projects usually start.

How much construction stopped? Buffalo and Niagara County Building Trades President Paul Brown estimates a 60% drop in the construction workforce during the shutdown. 

Brown cites three big union projects as key, starting with the Seneca One reconstruction for the M&T Bank computer complex.

"The art museum is going now. I think that's going. One World Cafe is going now, I think, because it's a school. Those are three nice big jobs for union guys," he said.

Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News
Construction can now continue at Canalside (right) and on the Seneca One tower (center).

The museum construction is a massive expansion of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. One World cafe is a major food service complex for students at the University at Buffalo. Union workers have been given special COVID-19 training, as social distancing still needs to be enforced.

Ellicott Development CEO William Paladino said his company will be finishing a major project adjacent to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

"It's going to be tough getting people. Some projects will ultimately stop," Paladino said. "I think there's going to be a good amount of construction going on, especially in this day and age, and the tenancies you don't know if they are going to look to contract or if they are going to continue previous plans. So we're going to lean more toward doing just tenant-driven development."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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