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NEW AGENCY DRAWS FIRE IN LACKAWANNA

The public passed up a public hearing on a proposed Lackawanna project but members of the Lackawanna Community Development Corp. wanted to know why a new development agency is being formed instead of the work going to them.

The hearing Monday night was on the city seeking a $950,000 federal Urban Development Action Grant to assist Philpac Corp. in building a proposed $8.5 million facility on land currently owned by Bethlehem Steel Corp. near Route 5 and the proposed extension of Ridge Road.

Philpac, currently located on Great Arrow Avenue in Buffalo, wants to expand its operation and is considering a 105,000 square-foot facility on a 5-acre site Bethlehem would donate, city Development Director Vincent G. Dziechciarz explained.

If the city receives the grant, the money would be loaned to Philpac at 3 percent interest over 20 years. As the loan is repaid, the city can keep the money and use it for other development projects, Dziechciarz said.

"Everything is tentative now," including Philpac's intentions, he said. But the grant application must be filed by May 31.

No one from the "public" attended the hearing, but three community development corporation members questioned the need for another development corporation.

The Steel Heritage Local Development Corp., a joint county-city undertaking, has been formed to try to seek developers for available Bethlehem property on the west side of Route 5.

"LCDC's role is being reduced to almost nothing," complained its executive director, Michael M. Edwards, named to the job in February after the previous director left amid criticism over the corporation's poor financial condition.

"Why another development agency when some say there already are too many fingers in the pie," Edwards asked.

Development corporation board member Marie Gannon said a development vehicle is needed, "but I'm part of a vehicle. I don't understand why we don't use what's already here."

Dziechciarz said that with LCDC's financial problems and it being tied up with the New Village Industrial Park it was felt that the new agency could move faster. If it doesn't work, Steel Heritage will be disbanded, he said.

First Ward Councilman Anthony Caferro, a member of the new five-person Steel Heritage board (the others are County Executive Gorski, Dziechciarz, Mayor Thomas E. Radich and one to be named) also was somewhat skeptical of the need for it.

"I've been very critical of LCDC but the past couple of years they've started to show some results," he said.

Dziechciarz said Steel Heritage in effect is designed to "do Bethlehem's work for it" because the company lacks the personnel to find suitable users for its vacant property.

"Hopefully Steel Heritage will be out of business in a couple of years," Dziechciarz said. "Just this (property on the west side of Route 5), nothing else.

Heritage will make use of existing staff members and won't have an administrative budget, Dziechciarz said.

A second public hearing on the action grant request is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday after which the City Council is scheduled to act on it.

If it is decided that the May 31 deadline can't be met or if any of the parties have a change of heart, the hearing will be canceled, Dziechciarz said.

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