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$190 million in projects on Partnership's agenda

Waterfront development, expanding Erie Community College's downtown campus and creating more ready-to-build sites in Erie County top the Buffalo Niagara Partnership's regional agenda for this year.

The agenda released Monday is the business group's a wish list of more than $190 million in projects, as well as a series of legislative initiatives, aimed at spurring job growth and making the Buffalo Niagara region more competitive.

"It isn't money that is the answer, or the only answer," said Andrew Rudnick, the partnership's president. "We need changes to some other things to have those projects have the impact that we want them to have."

The most costly elements in the agenda are $40 million in state funding that the group is seeking to create more "shovel-ready" land by redeveloping brownfield sites in the city and throughout Erie County and through "strategic demolition" and redevelopment efforts in Buffalo.

The agenda, developed jointly with Erie County, Niagara County and the City of Buffalo, also calls for $40 million in state money to expand the ECC campus downtown and build a Metro Center transportation center there.

The list also seeks $22 million in federal funding to move a sewer station in support of the proposed Bass Pro project and to increase the sewer capacity in that area in anticipation of future development along the Outer Harbor.

"We all know how critical a strong urban core is to our region," said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.

County Executive Joel A. Giambra also stressed the importance of strengthening the city and urged increased collaboration between the city and the suburbs to reduce the cost of government. "We need to move ahead in a collaborative way," he said. Giambra on Monday also released a letter to the state's candidates for governor, urging them to back "deep changes" in state policies that affect Upstate New York, including Medicaid reform and efforts to encourage municipalities and counties to merge.

The initiative also seeks $23.8 million in state funding for a variety of projects to encourage the life sciences research and its spin-off development in the region.

Those projects include $10 million in state funding that will provide matching funds to small life sciences companies that are purchasing equipment and investing in their facilities. The money also could be used to help pay salaries and obtain intellectual property protection.

The agenda also seeks $7.2 million for the Hunter Kelly Research Institute, along with the final $5.2 million in funding for recruitment, equipment and land preparation expenses at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which also is seeking $1.4 million in operating funds.

The initiative, called "Rebuilding Buffalo Niagara," started out as the Partnership's own agenda, but has been compiled in conjunction with the local governments for the last five years in an effort to present a unified front in Washington and Albany. The idea behind the collaboration is that the region can accomplish more by working together than by pursuing individual agendas.

"Just to keep up with the essential cost of government, you need increasing economic development," said William Ross, the chairman of the Niagara County Legislature, who backed efforts to upgrade the Niagara Falls International Airport and a $4.7 million Olcott Harbor breakwall project.

On the legislative side, the group is pushing for shared management of the U.S.-Canadian border and supports the use of more sophisticated driver's licenses as a practical and affordable alternative to a proposal to require passports or a new $50 ID card for Americans crossing the border.

The agenda also calls for the 70 megawatts of previously unallocated replacement power that a 2005 state law made available for projects throughout New York be once again limited to use with a 30-mile radius of the Niagara Power Project.

The agenda also backs the "Unshackle Upstate" reform measures proposed last week by a group of upstate business groups, including the Partnership. That initiative seeks reforms to the state's worker's compensation system and overturning the so-called Scaffold Law that drives up insurance premiums by making contractors liable for almost all gravity-related work site injuries.

"We need to do everything we can to reduce the cost of doing business in upstate New York," Rudnick said. "Or else all of these very important projects will not have the impact that we want them to have."

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com