Buffalo’s revitalization accelerates as a manufacturing brownfield becomes a union training facility for sheet metal workers

On July 26, 2021, Empire State Development and SMART Local 71 announced the ribbon cutting for SMART Local 71’s expanded training center in Buffalo, New York. SMART Local 71 is the local union of International Association of Sheet Metal, Air Rail and Transportation Workers (“SMART”).

The nearly $1.3 million project on Liberty Avenue cleaned up and reused a former brownfield site to merge three separate properties into one state-of-art facility that will offer apprenticeship training in construction, sheet metal production, and other fabricating industries while relying on clean energy throughout its lifetime. See pictures of SMART Local 71 members at work here.

City of Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said, “This is a great example of the opportunities we are creating in Buffalo for our residents which include the traditional trade industries, as well as advanced manufacturing and the digital economy. Not only has SMART Local 71 created state-of-the-art training for the next generation of sheet metal workers, the union and its membership have made a meaningful investment on Buffalo’s East Side. What were once idle, brownfield sites are now a key component in attracting and training skilled workers, many who live in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The former manufacturing facility had become a neighborhood eyesore, stemming from years of vacancy, neglect and deterioration. SWM 71, Inc. purchased the property on behalf of the Union at 20 Liberty Avenue and Local 71 renovated and reconstructed the two-story 7,200-square-foot building and combined it with 24 Liberty to create an expanded, updated training facility.

Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 71 committed to making the City of Buffalo our home in 2000. Since then, we have worked, saved, and planned for this expansion, so we can continue our mission of training the next generation of Sheet Metal Workers,” said SMART Local 71 Business Manager Paul Crist (pictured in photo at top).

Our members strive to be the safest, best trained, and most productive workers on any jobsite and with this help we can simulate realistic jobsite conditions for hands on training. I cannot express enough how thankful we are to Empire State Development for partnering with us to make this expansion happen,” he added.

SMART members include sheet metal workers, service technicians, bus operators, engineers, conductors, sign workers, welders, production employees and more. The training facility now offers working modules for hands-on experience in working with sheet metal and allows for a real construction site experience. This renovation was critical to the union’s continuing education and apprenticeship programs in teaching the newest methods and tools in their trade.

The transformation of a previously vacant brownfield site into a modern training facility for the members of SMART Local 71 is not just a strategic investment that will strengthen Buffalo’s manufacturing sector, it also advances key goals for the broader New York State economy,” said Kevin Younis, ESD Chief Operating Officer and Executive Deputy Commissioner.

The state of the art facility gives meaningful place-making purpose to an abandoned building and underutilized property in the city, and ensures current and future generations of SMART Local 71’s talented, hard-working workforce have the critical training and necessary skills in construction, sheet metal production, and metal fabrication to meet the demands of the industry,” he continued.

With the expected growth of training classes, a third adjacent property at 724 Kensington Avenue was also acquired from the City of Buffalo to be used as additional parking for the renovated structure.

NYS Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said, “The completion of a once former brownfield site (sic) turned into a new state-of-the-art training center for construction and sheet metal production in the City of Buffalo will help produce the next generation of SMART workers. This project serves as a shining example of Empire State Development’s commitment to help revitalize our community and strengthen our workforce. I applaud SMART Local 71 and ESD’s collective leadership and investment in Western New York.

To assist in the funding of this significant rehabilitation and upgrade, SMART Local 71 applied for, and was awarded, $377,000 through Round 7 of the Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) process.

Senator Tim Kennedy said, “This long-awaited expanded training center will fuel new opportunities for both our region’s workforce and the surrounding neighborhoods in the City of Buffalo,” said Senator Tim Kennedy. “I applaud New York for investing in these critical hands-on programs and apprenticeships, and look forward to seeing SMART Local 71 continue to build hardworking, skilled leaders for the sheet metal industry.

Without this additional level of assurance offered by ESD, the project would have stalled due to a lack of guaranteed capital. This infusion of grant monies allowed the union to secure a loan with a lending institution for a significant portion of the project.

Assemblywoman Monica P. Wallace said, “This facility transformed a blighted industrial site into a state-of-the-art and environmentally-sustainable training facility, and demonstrates the importance of using public resources as seed money to create the trained, highly-skilled workers needed to rebuild our economy. I thank Lt. Kathy Hochul, Empire State Development and SMART Local 71 for investing in this community and ensuring workers have access to the equipment and tools that they need to thrive.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz concluded, “This expansion is being made possible thanks to collaborative efforts that will provide a state-of-the-art training facility in the City of Buffalo. Providing a venue where dedicated union members can improve and enhance their skill set and prepare to become the next generation of employees with careers that help them showcase their unique abilities is an ideal repurpose of a former brownfield site.

All images courtesy of SMART Local 71.

See SMART Local 71 website.

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