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Lockport names Smith, 26, new development chief

LOCKPORT – Brian M. Smith, vice president of the City of Lockport’s development agency for the past year, is being promoted to city planning and development director.

Smith, a 26-year-old North Tonawanda native, also will serve as president and chief executive officer of the development agency, the Greater Lockport Development Corp. Its board approved the promotion Thursday.

Smith is to be paid $57,000 a year, a salary that will be split 50-50 between the city and the GLDC, at least for the first year, Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said.

“After the first year, we’ll review the split,” said McCaffrey, who said Smith likely will have a three-year contract.

It’s a substantial raise for Smith, who was being paid $43,000 a year by the GLDC, but a savings for the city. R. Charles Bell was earning $73,032 a year in the post, but only $3,600 came from the GLDC.

The Common Council was briefed in closed session Wednesday on the choice of Smith to replace Bell, who is leaving City Hall after four years to open a Lockport office for the Amherst economic consulting firm H. Sicherman & Co., which has assisted the GLDC for many years. Bell’s last day on the city payroll is April 2.

McCaffrey said the Council is to vote on Smith’s appointment as planning and development director next Wednesday.

“He’s been a quick study and has jumped right in and been helpful,” McCaffrey said. “We’ve been impressed by his work and think he would be the best candidate.”

“I don’t know Brian that well, but he’s had good raves from Chuck Bell,” Council President Joseph C. Kibler said. “Chuck will be right in Harrison Place – that’s where his office is going to be – so if he runs into trouble, all he has to do is make a phone call.”

Smith, who earned a communications degree from the University at Buffalo in 2010 and a master’s degree in urban planning from UB in 2013, had interned in the city economic development offices in Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda before Bell brought him to Lockport.

“There’s just a ton of potential here, just like Chuck said when he put the recruiting on me,” Smith said. “It’s a small town. You can make a big difference.”

Bell did, as a key player in converting Harrison Place, the auto parts plant turned multi-tenant facility, from a money pit into a profitable venture. He helped lure Trek Inc., an electronic implements manufacturer, from Medina to Lockport, bringing more than 100 jobs along. Trek is bringing 20 more jobs this summer by relocating a subsidiary from Orchard Park to Lockport.

Bell is vice president of the not-for-profit corporation that built Cornerstone Arena, the twin-rink complex that transformed the site of a long-closed supermarket into a focal point for a steady stream of visits from hockey players and parents. Bell also ordered a study that showed Lockport, with the arena traffic and anticipated tourism from the partially reopened 19th century Erie Canal locks, could support two downtown hotels.

Bell told the GLDC board Thursday, “What has happened in this room in the four years I’ve been here, and since 1998 in the run-up, has been amazing to watch.”

Smith said the city is offering aid to potential bed-and-breakfasts and boutique hotels through its new round of microenterprise assistance funding, obtained from Albany.

Smith said he gets annoyed when he hears young people bash the Buffalo Niagara area and say they can’t wait to leave.

He said, “For me, it’s all about Western New York and being able to contribute.” Smith added, “When I first heard the term ‘economic development,’ it was a revelation to me: ‘Oh, that’s what I want to do.’ ”