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ECC officials see potential in Amherst campus' open land

Could a huge expanse of grass and underused athletic fields on SUNY Erie Community College’s Amherst campus be the future site of student housing, a hotel, an innovation hub and retail shops?

The News’ Stephen T. Watson reports that there still some big unanswered questions, noting that planning is in its infancy. But ECC officials are eager to put a nearly 49-acre section of the North Campus at Main Street and Youngs Road to better use. And they’ve been sharing their vision with local leaders, some of whom appear receptive to the notion of developing the swath of underused land.

"I think there's opportunity for public-private partnerships," says A.J. Baynes, president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce. "That's obviously a valuable piece of real estate. And there's a lot of commercial traffic that goes by, would you say, the front lawn of SUNY Erie there?"

ECC President Daniel Hocoy says talk about redeveloping the site is part of a broader study of the three campuses. Officials stress that any development would tie into the college’s mission. For example, if the site were to include a restaurant, culinary arts students would staff the facility.

"That would be like a little village that would serve the needs of Amherst, Williamsville and also the college," says Hocoy.

Of course, there are still some looming issues at this early stage, including what type of development would make the most sense and how the college would pay for the project. Expect to hear a lot more about this issue in the future.

WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT

Buffalo’s first homicide victim of 2019 died after throwing downtown party: His name was Frank Navarolli III. His family says he always enjoyed throwing a party. He hosted one on New Year’s Eve in downtown Buffalo. A few hours into 2019, Navarolli became the city’s first homicide victim after police found him dead in a stolen car in Allentown. He had been shot at least twice.

Sean Kirst: In Buffalo, crossing guard couple finds meaning on the corners: “When you retire, you should not just sit down,” says Clarence Simmons. This is a man who practices what we preaches. Simmons is 80 years old and works two shifts a day as a crossing guard in Buffalo. His 79-year-old wife, Zollie, was also manning a street corner each day until last autumn when she had spinal surgery.

Buffalo’s pothole woes inspire memorial rim wall: If you’ve spent any time behind the wheel over the past few weeks, you know that sinking feeling. Or perhaps jolting feeling is more accurate. Potholes have been a major problem. WIVB-TV’s Gabrielle Mediak reports that one pesky pothole on Elmwood Avenue near Hertel Avenue spurred some motorists to set up a memorial that pays tribute to ravaged tire rims.

(Got a news tip? Email citydesk@buffnews.com.)

WEATHER

There won't be a lot of precipitation, but what falls has the potential to make things icy and slippery today. The National Weather Service posted a winter weather advisory for northern Erie County as well as Niagara, Orleans and Genesee counties starting at 1 p.m. The advisory began at 10 a.m. in southern Erie County, Wyoming County and the western Southern Tier counties. Precipitation is expected to start as snow in the afternoon but will switch over to being potentially mixed with freezing rain as warmer temperatures move into the region.

FOOD & DRINK

Would you like some presidential trivia with your Tequila? “Norm had Cheers. Homer Simpson has Moe’s. My friends and I have Founding Fathers Pub,” writes Brian Hayden of Visit Buffalo Niagara who discovered the Edward Street joint on his 21st birthday. If you’ve never visited this watering hole on the edge of Allentown, you’ll be stunned by the impressive collection of historical and presidential memorabilia. It’s no surprise that Founding Fathers has garnered national attention. It’s even less of a surprise that owner Mike Driscoll is a former social studies teacher.

What's the most underrated restaurant in Buffalo? WKBW-TV's Jeff Russo posed the question in a tweet, and he's received a ton of answers. If you scroll through his feed, you'll probably find a half-dozen spots where you've dined in the not-too-distant past.

NEW BUFFALO

Employers face challenges finding skilled workers in tight job market: If you had to guess, how many Western New Yorkers are employed in advanced manufacturing? Perhaps 25,000? Maybe 40,000? According to Invest Buffalo Niagara, advanced manufacturing employs 66,000 local residents and is a “pillar of the local economy.” In this podcast, Greg Pokriki talks with talent acquisition manager Claire Petrie about the tight labor market.

POLITICS

Ralph Lorigo runs on his record in underdog bid for state Conservative chairman: The longtime chairman of the Erie County Conservative Party will face Jerry Kassar of Brooklyn Saturday in a faceoff for the party’s top state post. The News’ Bob McCarthy says Kassar, a veteran party power and State Legislature staffer, is widely predicted to win.

BILLS

If you're hoping the Buffalo Bills make a splash to help Josh Allen in this year's NFL draft, one prospect to keep an eye on is Ole Miss wide receiver D.K. Metcalf. You could argue that Allen might be helped more by adding a stud offensive lineman. LeSean McCoy would sign up for that, too. But Metcalf comes with a significant "wow" factor in addition to filling a massive need. "We use the word 'upside,'" ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper told reporters after slotting Metcalf to the Bills at ninth overall. "He’s got as much upside as anybody. That’s why I thought maybe at 9 he would make sense."

(For more Bills news, sign up here for the [BN] Blitz newsletter.)

SABRES

Since they live in Boca Raton, the Pegulas don't often see the Sabres in person. With the club in nearby Sunrise, Terry and Kim finally got to see up close what they've been seeing on television. The Sabres made too many errors again and collapsed in a 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.

(For more Sabres news, sign up here for the [BN] Hockey newsletter.)

WITH YOUR MORNING COFFEE 

Creativity knows no bounds. If you doubt the veracity of this statement, meet Brandon Farrell, a lifelong metalworker who turns beer kegs into some offbeat creations, including beer urinals (What man cave wouldn’t be enhanced with such a relieving amenity?) UpstartNY profiles Buffalo Brew Fab, a Cheektowaga metalworking shop that makes a variety of items aimed at enhancing one’s drinking experience, including keg tables and signs.

There’s something romantic and even enchanting about a covered bridge. Steve Cichon looks back on the last covered bridge that graced Erie County roads. The old Leydecker bridge in West Seneca was 70 years old in 1935 when it was replaced with a modern truss bridge.

"Describing the work of artist Justin Higner is a little like trying to explain Pee-wee Herman to your grandmother," writes Elizabeth Licata in Buffalo Spree. "Childlike, yet peculiarly sophisticated. Simple on the surface, but laced with subtext. Engaging, yet hard to classify." Licata profiles a nautical-themed exhibit at the Castellani Art Museum of Niagara University, entitled "The Higner Maritime Collection: Twenty-Five Years of Ship Building by Justin Higner." Licata says fantasy and model-making collide in Higner's creations.

Why not close out February with some big laughs? Mark Ciemcioch says there are many options for live comedy this weekend, including Samuel J. Comroe. Remember him? He had a breakthrough performance on the TBS show “Conan,” appeared on BET’s “Real Husbands of Hollywood” and had a long run on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.”

(Have feedback on the Good Morning, Buffalo newsletter? Email feedback@buffnews.com.)

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