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Slow Going on Medical Campus Park Construction

"The city hates it," says Ulrich's Tavern owner Jim Daley of the makeshift rail that BNMC employees used to replace the snow fence along the linear park. "But it's better than what was here." (photo by Geoff Kelly)

The snail’s pace construction of a linear park up the spine of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is a standing joke between the owner and patrons of Ulrich’s Tavern on Ellicott Street.

“We have an over and under if it would get done before the 2016 Olympics,” said owner Jim Daley, whose tavern provides a front-row seat to the construction.

It’s a simple enough project: The federal government earmarked $5.1 million of the $6.4 million project to landscape, resurface and otherwise improve about a half-mile stretch of Ellicott Street street through the medical campus. The idea was to improve traffic flow and add a green accent up the spine of the $1 billion campus, home to 8,500 employees, with 3,500 more expected by the end of the year.

Completing the work has been anything but simple, however, Investigative Post has found.

And rather than a completed project, portions of the park and pedestrian walkway look more like a crime scene. While most of the construction on the first phase is complete, a rust-colored snow fence lines about half of the six-block project and maintenance of the landscaping during the project has been hit and miss.

Here are the problems Investigative Post uncovered:

• The $6.4 million project is well behind schedule. The lion’s share of funding was allocated in 2004 and 2005 and construction was supposed to start in 2010. But only half the work was put out to bid and construction didn’t start until May 2011. That work is about 95 percent finished. The other half of the job, primarily paving and other work to convert Ellicott Street to two-way traffic, hasn’t been put out to bid.

• Work has been slowed, according to BNMC president Matt Enstice, by a disagreement among two federal agencies about project plans that resulted in an eight-month delay and an understaffed city Public Works Department that was hard-pressed to provide adequate oversight. Federal officials deny they are to blame for any delay.

• City Hall, to the consternation of some project participants, awarded the contract to Man O’ Trees, a contractor who had encountered problems with a road project in Niagara Falls. The company’s owner, David Pfeiffer, contributed a total of $17,000 to Mayor Byron Brown’s campaign committees in 2009 and 2010, making him one of the mayor’s largest donors.

• Problems with Man O’ Trees extend beyond failure to complete the project by the July 2012 deadline, for which the company may be assessed a $200 a day in liquidated damages since August 1. As of last fall, the company had failed to meet equal employment opportunity hiring goals for women and minorities and at least three subcontractors have complained of not getting paid.

Public Works Commissioner Steven Stepniak doubted that the medical campus could have finished the project quicker and he didn’t think campus officials understood the complexity of the work.

“When you have multiple agencies like this and multiple funding sources in a very unique and challenging project, you are going to have some delays all the way around,” Stepniak said. “I truly don’t believe that the medical campus understood exactly what they wanted.”

Meanwhile, Daley, the owner of Ulrich’s, keeps watching the flow of the medical campus project and can’t believe it isn’t finished.

“It makes for good conversation,” Daley said. “It’s your tax dollars at work.”

For the full story, visit, or tune in to WGRZ TV News on Thursday evening or the Saturday Daybreak show with Jim Heaney.

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