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2 state lawmakers seek to ensure funds for culinary, tourism center

Niagara County Community College is enlisting the help of the two new state lawmakers who represent Niagara Falls as plans move forward for the culinary and tourism center in the former Rainbow Centre mall.

State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, and Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston, said during a tour of the vacant mall Wednesday that they are eager to help ensure the arrival of funding that the state already committed for the project.

More than 80 percent of the money committed for the $26.3 million project comes from a state source.

With the state facing a $10 billion budget deficit, college officials have asked the lawmakers to do what they can to assure a smooth transfer of funding, some of which has been included in the budget for several years but has gone unused as plans were finalized.

"Too many times they say, 'Oh yeah, the money's there,' and then it's raided, and it's used to go someplace else," Grisanti said. He and Ceretto will look to avoid such a situation, he said, and "make sure this project moves forward as quickly as possible."

In total, $6.6 million has been allocated for the project in previous state budgets.

In addition, $9 million has been pledged from the Empire State Development Corp.'s Upstate Regional Blueprint Fund, and another $4.35 million has been committed by USA Niagara Development Corp., with another $721,500 committed in grants from the Assembly, State Senate and other sources, according to college officials.

NCCC President James P. Klyczek said the college wants to make sure the funding has been secured.

"Knowing the crisis the state has been in for years, we've been praying every year it gets rebudgeted," Klyczek said. "Now we actually have to go in and draw it down, and that's why we need their help to make that happen."

The college hopes to open its new Hospitality and Tourism Center and Culinary Arts Institute in phases in the late spring and summer of 2012.

The project will use about 70,000 square feet of the former mall. It will include classroom and laboratory space, a bakery and wine store, a student-run restaurant and a Barnes & Noble bookstore.

Klyczek took Grisanti and Ceretto on a tour of the former Rainbow Centre on Wednesday morning.

After the tour, each lawmaker said he believes the new culinary center will give tourists another option for how to spend their time and keep them in the area longer.

In addition to securing the funding, the lawmakers also will examine whether any additional legislation is necessary, including the issue of having wine tastings in an educational setting.

Making sure the project moves forward is on the agenda of the Western New York delegation in the State Legislature, Ceretto said.

"I'm hoping that the students that come here and learn here want to stay here, work and live in this area, and promote and grow this area," Ceretto said. "And that's one thing we need: our youth."

Demolition and abatement work for the entire 200,000 square feet of the former mall is being funded by USA Niagara and handled through the City of Niagara Falls.

Klyczek said that work could begin within a few weeks.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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