Region cashes in on grants
$165M designated for area development
ALBANY The third time’s the charm.
The Capital Region found that to be true Wednesday, when it received one of the largest awards in the governor’s much-touted statewide economic development competition. In an awards ceremony at The Egg, local officials learned their region had won $82.8 million in state funds for 100 different projects, including a massive redevelopment project at a former locomotive factory in Schenectady.
“We finally got our act together,” joked James Barba, Albany Medical Center CEO and co-chair of the region’s economic development council, as people congratulated him on the big win.
The excitement among local officials was palpable at the third annual awards ceremony, where 10 regions across the state competed against one another for a large pot of state money. In both 2011 and 2012, the Capital Region was awarded the least amount of money — $62.7 million and $50.3 million, respectively. The council’s former co-chairs gave up their positions last year and local officials began to wonder what the state had against the Capital Region.
But Barba, who co-chairs the local council with University at Albany President Robert Jones, said Wednesday he thinks the real reason the Capital Region finally came out on top was a change in approach.
“We re-created our work groups and instead of waiting for applicants to push their applications to us, as we had in the first two years, we actually went out into the region, person by person, council member by council member, and we pulled those applications in,” he said. “We toured the area. We communicated. We had an email list of over 14,000 people who received monthly emails.”
Overall, $716 million was awarded to 824 projects across the state in round three of the Regional Economic Development Council competition.
The Capital Region’s neighbor to the west was also a big winner. The Mohawk Valley — which includes Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties — was another top performer and landed $82.4 million in state funds for 76 projects. Long Island received the largest award of the 10 regions across the state, at $83 million.
As top performers, the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley each get as much as $25 million in bonus funding to allocate to any projects they want. It was too soon to tell Wednesday just where that money might go.
In Schenectady, a proposal to build a $68.9 million film studio at the city’s old American Locomotive Company site did not receive any funding. Santa Monica-based Pacifica Ventures had requested $15 million in state funds for that project. Company CEO Dana Arnold previously told The Daily Gazette public funds were important for getting a studio off the ground. He did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
But the developer that’s leading the overall redevelopment of the former brownfield site said the lack of funding for the film studio in this round is not the project’s death knell.
“The good thing about the studio is that the regional council named it a priority project,” said Galesi Group COO David Buicko. “It can be included for funding in the following year or through some other process. I don’t think that if it’s not included this year that means it’s dead. The question is, what’s the timing on it? Is it urgent for this year?”
Buicko was in high spirits Wednesday: Galesi Group was awarded $5 million to redevelop the former Alco site into a mixed-use, waterfront community that would attract young professionals to downtown Schenectady and create jobs. Plans for the nearly $200 million project have been in the works for years, but Wednesday’s award was a shot in the arm for the development, which has seen slow going because of the massive cleanup and infrastructure work required.
“We have engineers working on roads, water, sewer and power right now,” said Buicko. “We hope to have an application into the Army Corps of Engineers in January for approval. Every agency that you can think of is involved, and I don’t like to over-exaggerate. It’s actually a breath of fresh air to see all these agencies working together. I mean, these projects are not easy to do. If they were, you would see everybody doing them. This is going to be a game-changer on the river.”
Proctors also landed a hefty award Wednesday. The landmark Schenectady theater won $2.9 million for a project that will provide heating and cooling to seven historic buildings downtown, in addition to the five it services now with a combined heat and power system.
While Utica and surrounding Mohawk Valley communities won big at Wednesday’s awards, the city of Amsterdam fared well itself, with a $1 million award to build an assisted living center and rehabilitation center at the River Ridge Living Center, the former Montgomery County infirmary on Sandy Drive.
The $20.7 million project, Deer Run at River Ridge, calls for the construction of senior housing units to accommodate 120 more residents. It would create as many as 80 new jobs in the city.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, commended both the Capital Region and Mohawk Valley councils for their hard work in the competition.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, our area has the resources, the infrastructure, the high-quality workforce and the diverse industry sectors that make it a great place to do business and raise a family,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “The funding awarded will allow our region to capitalize our strengths and allow businesses to create and retain good-paying jobs.”