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Torch starts for Empire State Games

11:15 a.m. BUFFALO -- A $500,000 donation from First Niagara will kick start a corporate challenge to fill a budget gap for the Empire State Games.

The bank's donation will fill half of a $1 million budget hole for the games, and organizers hope to raise the rest of the money from corporate sponsors by the July games in Buffalo.

"We need the help of the entire business community," said John R. Koelmel, president and CEO of First Niagara.

First Niagara's $500,000 donation will ensure that the games will be held this summer, organizers said.

Last year, the Empire State Games were cancelled after the state withdrew its funding for the events, then scheduled for the Hudson Valley. 

A ceremonial lighting of the torch held this morning at the Larkin at Exchange Building drew Erie Community College President Jack Quinn, Mayor Byron Brown, State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash, boxer Joe Mesi and others.

The games are scheduled to be held in Buffalo July 21 to 25. 

See Koelmel's remarks and the torch "lighting" by Hamburg athlete Mike Stefani in this video:

-- Denise Jewell Gee

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