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Development council identifies 25 'priority' economic development projects

Local development officials are putting a priority on community development as they gear up for the next round of state funding for economic development initiatives.

The wish list of projects seeking state money in the upcoming round of economic development funding is largely centered around projects that lay the groundwork for further investment and creating other types of spinoff opportunities.

From a pollution-reducing extension of a sewer line along the shores of Chautauqua Lake to a new type of cancer treatment at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and neighborhood improvements on the edge of the tourist district in Niagara Falls, the projects backed Tuesday by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council are spread across the region and cover a wide range of initiatives.

The idea, said Jeffrey Belt, the council's co-chairman, is to look for projects that will spur further economic growth.

The council on Tuesday approved 25 "priority projects" that are seeking state funding from Empire State Development Corp. and other state-financed programs. The exact amount of funding being requested for each project hasn't been determined. Even then, the projects will be vetted by state officials in Albany — who ultimately will determine how much money each project will receive, if any.

Nearly half of the 25 priority projects are located in Erie County. In addition to those 12 projects, five are in Cattaraugus County, while four are in Chautauqua County and three are in Niagara County. A single project is in Allegany County.

The council received 224 eligible applications for state funding in the upcoming round of the state's regional economic development council funding competition. From those, the council designated 25 of them as "priority projects."

All the other projects will be ranked and considered for state funding, as well, although many will not receive money.

The most expensive project on the priority project list is a $16.9 million initiative to extend a sewer system along the west side of Chautauqua Lake to reduce the runoff of harmful phosphorus and other chemicals into a lake plagued by seaweed and other vegetation.

The council also is seeking state funding for a long-sought $10.3 million project to revitalize the former Manufacturers Hanover bank building in downtown Olean.

The third biggest project is a $10 million initiative to revitalize the South End Gateway District, which borders on the tourist area and the Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls.

The council also is seeking funding for a $5 million initiative from Roswell Park that would seek ways to combine genetic and immunology techniques to find new methods of treating certain types of cancer, said Candace S. Johnson, the institute's president and chief executive officer. Roswell is seeking $1 million in state funding that, if approved, would help it purchase new equipment needed for the initiative.

The council also is backing a $7 million project from Alfred University to create a Southern Tier Business Center.

The projects identified by the council all seek to encourage smart growth that uses existing assets within the region, rather than pushing development into undeveloped areas, while also seeking to develop a better-trained work force and encouraging entrepreneurship, Belt said.

"All of them are very consistent with our strategy," said Christopher Schoepflin, Empire State Development's regional director in Buffalo.

The council's recommendations now will be reviewed and rated by state officials. The state's 10 development zones will compete later this year for funding in an annual competition established by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo seven years ago.

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