The Niagara County Community College culinary arts institute, seen by many as a key to downtown revitalization, remains on schedule for a September opening.
As officials Friday accepted a $375,000 check from the Seneca Gaming Corp. that will fund a pastry laboratory on the school's third floor, they said they will be ready to accept 350 students when classes begin Sept. 1.
"This facility, we believe, is going to revolutionize the way our hospitality students learn their various crafts," said NCCC President James P. Klyczek. "This is the kind of experience public and private schools elsewhere are not providing yet."
The Seneca donation is the first payment of the $1.27 million the gambling corporation pledged to the college last summer.
"This project needed a private partner, and the Seneca Nation has stepped up very generously," said State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane.
It also marks the Indian nation's latest attempt to invest in properties outside of its casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca. The Senecas announced last year they would establish a $1 million fund for improvements in the neighborhoods surrounding the Buffalo casino.
"People don't live in there and never leave," Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter said of the casinos. "This is just a tangible recognition of how Seneca Nation businesses are collaborative and harmonious with outside business."
Standing in front of the hammering workers who are transforming the former Rainbow Centre mall, Klyczek marveled at how fast the construction workers have been framing, drywalling, plastering and painting in recent weeks.
A slew of carpenters, electricians, plumbers and heating and cooling workers have been busy transforming the long-vacant mall. The east side of the mall is near completion, while the west side -- where a video screen will sit -- needs the most work.
The first floor of the 90,000-square-foot space will include a student-run kitchen, walk-up restaurant and lounge, a Barnes & Noble cooking-themed bookstore, 100-seat theater classroom and teaching kitchen and a small business incubator.
Food laboratories, group study rooms, a wine store and ice-carving laboratory will take up the second floor, along with an area featuring local exhibits like the Niagara Wine Trail and a kitchen where tourists can take cooking classes and eat the meals they make. The third floor will include storage space and a 40-seat classroom and computer lab.
The college's entire culinary school eventually will transition to the downtown campus, and state development officials plan to encourage retail in the remaining portion of the mall, which was given to the school by Baltimore developer David Cordish in 2010.
Enrollment at the college has doubled in the last few years because of the anticipated opening of the school, Klyczek said, and could eventually rise to 1,000 students.