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Editorial: ECC's plans could spark revival at Amherst campus

Does it take a village to keep SUNY Erie Community College in the black? It certainly couldn’t hurt.

College officials have hired a consultant from Glens Falls to analyze how the college uses the space at its three campuses. ECC President Dan Hocoy is considering a plan to develop a roughly 50-acre section of the North Campus with apartments, student housing, a hotel, shops, restaurants and an innovation hub, among other things. It would be connected to the college, yet involve commerce to attract the general public.

There’s a lot to like about this idea. First, the property at the corner of Youngs Road and Main Street in Amherst is mostly green space and some athletic fields that are dormant in the winter. The wide open acreage is appealing in the warm-weather months, but it’s a bit of a luxury in these challenging times for community colleges. ECC, like other similar schools throughout the state, needs to plan for an expected loss of tuition money as high school populations decline in our area. They also compete for students with Niagara County Community College. As of last spring there were about 1,600 students from Erie County attending NCCC, which has student housing. ECC has none, so adding dorms and student apartments is a prime reason to push for the expansion on the North Campus. Student-athletes and international students are particularly interested in living on campus.

There was a debate a few years ago about consolidating ECC’s three campuses into one, at its downtown Buffalo site. (The school’s South Campus is in Orchard Park.) There’s no need to relitigate the consolidation question – a $30 million building for science and engineering students opened on the Amherst campus a year ago.

A.J. Baynes, president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, sounded optimistic about ECC’s plan.

“I think there’s opportunity for public-private partnerships,” Baynes told The News.

The idea is to match ventures such as restaurants, a brewery, wine bar, and a business incubator for start-ups with the school’s educational mission. ECC has a culinary arts program, hospitality program and brewing science and service programs. The incubator would serve business students. Amherst, Williamsville and other nearby towns have plenty of residents who have disposable income, making them prime potential customers for the new businesses at Main and Youngs.

ECC’s plan is ambitious, which is exactly what it wanted when it named Hocoy as president in 2017. Let’s hope his vision is realized.

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