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ECC project's promising progress Financing needs careful attention to make downtown expansion happen

A just-announced plan to erect a new academic building and parking garage for Erie Community College represents a large step toward the redemption of Buffalo's downtown area, assuming the key question of financing is appropriately settled.

College officials and Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra announced the tentative agreement last week. It calls for construction of a seven-story academic building and a parking ramp with space for 800 cars. Construction, estimated at $45 million, could begin next fall.

The new buildings are needed to accommodate students from certain of the college's programs, including allied health and culinary arts, in downtown Buffalo. Both are naturals for a city campus, and while students will benefit from the new location, so will the city.

While the infusion of several hundred college students will not make the difference between a dormant downtown and a vibrant one, it can help revival. Already, new high-rent apartments are being snapped up in downtown Buffalo, and with the pending arrivals of a Seneca casino, a Bass Pro outdoor shop and $279 million in waterfront funding, Buffalo stands to be a much livelier place in just a few years.

The problem for the ECC project is money. Typically, the host county and the state Dormitory Authority split these costs evenly, but Erie County's finances are such that borrowing $22.5 million, even for a worthwhile project, could be risky.

The details need to be considered thoroughly, but it's good to see that some creative ideas already are cropping up. One is to share the new building with other partners, including academic institutions. That would ease the burden on county taxpayers. The trick here is to pursue this project with the idea that it is important enough to the city and county to find creative ways to ensure that it gets done. If the county and college do that, everyone will come away with high marks.

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