Here Comes the Sun: Ciminelli's SolarCity Project
The project is also unusual in its organization and financial structure. That was reflected from the outset by the state’s designation of LPCiminelli as the project developer. The firm has design-build responsibility but is not the developer in the traditional sense of having an ownership stake. From the start, the contractor had taken on the role of community liaison, dealing with issues such as local concerns about reducing the noise of the truck traffic going into the worksite.
LPCiminelli is, in effect, an agent of the state and acts as the liaison between the wishes of the tenant, SolarCity, and the actual owner, the state of New York. “This is not a traditional model by any stretch of the imagination,” Ciminelli says.
The project is the centerpiece of Buffalo Billion, an investment plan that Cuomo announced in his 2012 State of the State speech.
Aspects of Buffalo Billion are patterned on the success of an earlier program in which the state funded the creation of research and development space to attract innovative technologies to New York.
That program created the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the State University of New York’s Albany campus. Since its founding about 15 years ago, the college has attracted more than $20 billion in investment from private companies to New York state, according to David Doyle, a SUNY spokesman.
Its success also resulted in the college being moved away from SUNY Albany jurisdiction and set up as part of SUNY Polytechnic Institute, a new and separate branch of the state university system with campuses in Albany and in the Utica-Rome metropolitan region.
Fort Schuyler Management Corp., founded in 2009, is the not-for-profit real estate management and development firm affiliated with SUNY Poly.
The firm acted as the state’s agent in developing the RiverBend project, setting up and conducting the solicitations for the contractor and engaging in negotiations with SolarCity.
SolarCity, however, was not the original tenant. The RiverBend project originally called for Silevo and Soraa, a solar panel manufacturer and a maker of LED lights, respectively, to occupy two separate 250,000-sq-ft buildings that would be used for R&D. The site would also host manufacturing facilities. But when SolarCity acquired Silevo, it agreed to take over the firm’s agreement with the state, but on a much larger scale. SolarCity hammered out a deal with Empire State Development and Fort Schuyler.