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UB POISED TO RECEIVE SHARE OF $10 MILLION

The $500 million spending package approved by the State Legislature this week includes $10 million for high-tech, economic-development efforts at colleges in Buffalo and across the state, legislators said Friday.

But competition for a share of the $10 million will be stiff, and the future of the highly anticipated biotechnology research center in Buffalo is by no means clear.

The money is to be spread among Gov. George E. Pataki's plan for research centers at four public universities, including the University at Buffalo, and the State Senate's own program for biotechnology centers.

Still it's good news to UB officials, who had been concerned about the program's status.

Though the money approved Wednesday is only a small portion of the initial proposed spending, local lawmakers say this money allows planning on the program to move forward.

And they said Buffalo is well-positioned to receive part of the $10 million and of future state money for the research centers, though it's not yet known what UB's share will be.

"Buffalo's in it, period. This is the money for initiating the process, and I anticipate that there will be more money as we move further along," said Sen. Dale M. Volker, R-Depew.

Pataki, the Assembly and the Senate each have proposed multimillion-dollar efforts to invest in high-technology and other research in a bid to create jobs across upstate New York.

UB officials said in June that the school would land a Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics, which applies the power of supercomputers to molecular biology.

Little progress has been made since then, with their fate tied to the stalled state budget.

UB administrators said they don't know how much money the Buffalo research center is set to receive from the $10 million.

The university already has created a School of Bioinformatics, which would have close ties to the Center of Excellence.

"This is something we're very strong in, so we're going to move into this area regardless" of the level of state support, UB Provost Elizabeth D. Capaldi said. "Whether we can do the economic impact without the state money, that's another question."

In January, Pataki proposed spending $283 million on the Centers of Excellence program over the next five years, with $35 million this year.

Local officials have asked for a state commitment of up to $75 million for the Buffalo center.

Kevin Quinn, a spokesman for Pataki's budget division, described the $10 million as a down payment to allow planning for the centers to continue.

Volker and Assembly Majority Leader Paul A. Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, say they're hopeful that further money for the high-tech centers could come in 2002.

"It does delay it," Tokasz said of the lower center funding, "but it's not fatal. The planning money is a clear indication of both the governor's and the Legislature's interest in these proposals."

Officials are concerned, however, about the reaction from the private sector to the lower-than-expected public financing.

Over time, private companies were expected to put up most of the money to run the research centers, which are being designed to develop new technologies that would lead to new spin-off jobs here.

Private industry had plans to invest as much as $160 million in the UB center.

Capaldi declined to comment on the project's private partners, or whether she had any concerns that private support is lagging.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com and tprecious@buffnews.com

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