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Senecas give $1.27 million to NCCC for culinary institute

Niagara County Community College's proposed $17.1 million downtown culinary institute will receive an important ingredient: $1.27 million from the Seneca Gaming Corp.

The money, invested over the next five years, highlights a new partnership announced Friday that will include NCCC student internships at the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel and scholarships at the culinary institute for members of the Seneca Nation of Indians.

"There really could be no better opportunity for our students in hospitality and tourism programs than to live, learn and work in downtown Niagara Falls," said James P. Klyczek, president of the college.

The potential for a partnership with the Senecas played a role in the college's selection of the former Rainbow Centre Mall as the site for its 82,000-square-foot expanded culinary school, Klyczek said.

The partnership includes marketing opportunities for the Senecas, including co-sponsorship of special events, signs around the institute and inclusion in the building's tourism exhibit space, which will highlight regional attractions for tourists to visit.

The deal is part of the nation's recently expanded community outreach efforts. It comes nearly three weeks after the nation announced it will establish a $1 million fund for beautification projects in the neighborhoods surrounding the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo.

"Where better to develop talent as we continue to strengthen our ranks in the Western New York area?" asked Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter. "This is our home. We're not going anywhere."

The donation is the largest corporate investment in the project to date. Klyczek said the funds will be used to expand proposed bakery and pastry options, to fund an endowed scholarship for Senecas looking to pursue the culinary arts and for the tourism display.

The number of students in the college's culinary program has doubled the past few years to more than 350, Klyczek said, and the facility will be built to eventually hold 1,000 students.

Construction is on schedule, Klyczek said, and should be completed next summer. Retail stores are aiming to open then, and the institute will open its doors in September 2012.

Plans for the structure, vacant since the mall closed in 2000, include a 3,000-square-foot restaurant, a pastry cafe and a bakery. The restaurant, to be operated by students, will join a theaterlike classroom, a large teaching kitchen, a student-run deli and the pastry cafe and bakery on the first floor, along with a cooking-themed Barnes & Noble bookstore.

The second floor will include a satellite office for NCCC's Small Business Development Center and two spaces to be used as incubators for temporary tourism-related businesses.

A store selling local wines will be located on the third floor.

Asbestos-removal efforts were recently completed, Klyczek said, and interior demolition of the mall has started.

State-of-the-art cooking stations are expected to be installed to benefit students interested in pastry cooking, a field that faculty members said is expensive, technology-driven and expanding.

Classroom knowledge will be supplemented with real-world scenarios experienced in the banquet rooms, restaurants and buffets of the casino.

That will give up to 40 students per year the speed that culinary graduates often lack, said Brian Donaghy, an adjunct professor in the pastry department.

"There's nothing that's not going to be there," said John French, a faculty chef at the institute. "They're going to have all the tools to be successful."

e-mail: cspecht@buffnews.com

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