Pete DeMola

In what’s become a new annual holiday season bonanza, localities across the Capital Region raked in $84.1 million in state economic development funding Thursday.

All told, the annual Regional Economic Development Council Awards distributed $761 million to 10 regions statewide.

The Capital Region was designated a “top performer,” which carries an additional $20 million in funding. Some of the top projects among the 120 approved in the region include:

* Albany-Schoharie-Schenectady-Saratoga BOCES received $5 million to build a workforce training center outfitted with cutting-edge labs and learning spaces to train students and adults for current and future industry needs, a center that will replace the current 46-year-old CTE complex.

* Saratoga Performing Arts Center secured $2 million to convert the vacant Roosevelt II Bathhouse into a yearlong arts center would generate an additional $3 million annually.

* King Brothers Dairy obtained $475,000 in state assistance to help build an additional 7,000 square feet of processing space at their Northumberland farm, a $1.8 million project designed to aid with production of their new rapidly expanding French yogurt company.

* Dagen Trucking received $1.56 million to construct a heavy lift and special cargo capacity maritime infrastructure on the state Canal Corridor in Schenectady County, a project that officials say will enhance the competitiveness of upstate manufacturing companies and open up export and import opportunities for the regional economy.

* The village of Scotia received $194,875 for upgrades to Collins Park. The state program, now in its ninth year, has proved to be a major tool that local and regional officials have come to rely on to give development projects a blast of state-subsidized firepower.

Regional councils have allocated $6.9 billion statewide since 2011, including $673 million for the Capital Region.

While less-glamorous than marquee projects like new ports and yogurt factories, critical local infrastructure projects also received funding across the region, from Rotterdam, which received $357,000 for a salt storage shed; to Ballston, which secured $5 million for a municipal sewer system; to Schenectady, which obtained $5 million for its ongoing pump station project.

The town of Glenville secured $879,489 for construction of improvements to the Scotia-Glenville Hudson-Mohawk Bike-Hike Trail along the Mohawk River, as well as pedestrian safety improvements near school zones.

“These funds are very important, allowing us to make investments in infrastructure like a walkable community,” said Glenville Supervisor Chris Koetzle. “Without state money, these projects wouldn’t be possible.”

The pedestrian safety effort was spearheaded as a grassroots effort by parents in three districts, said Koetzle, who said he appreciated that the regional council acknowledged the broader approach behind their strategy.

“I think the regional council has the same approach: take the global approach and put it together for a positive impact for the community,” he said.

Other localities receiving funding on Thursday for multi-use trails include Halfmoon, Clifton Park and Scotia, which received $241,000, $428,271 and $204,740 for efforts in their communities, respectively.

The Mohawk Valley, which includes Gloversville, Johnstown and Amsterdam, was awarded $87.2 million for 81 projects, also netting “top performer” status. Big-ticket projects in the Adirondacks include $3 million for a new hotel in downtown Lake Placid and $1.2 million for the Newcomb Historical Museum & Center.

EYE ON DRI

In the past, economic development funds would be doled out by state lawmakers as “pork,” with areas represented by powerful legislators raking in a disproportionate share.

Rensselaer County Republican Joseph Bruno, for example, unapologetically poured millions into his district and nearby parts of the Capital Region when he controlled the state Senate.

Under the regional council system created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, 10 groups statewide hash out strategic plans with input from local leaders and community members so the money can be directed more effectively.

Competitive grants are then awarded by Empire State Development. Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who announced the awards at the Albany Capital Center on Thursday, said the strategy has returned control to local officials who long felt neglected by Albany.

“There was not attention given to upstate New York and the far reaches of the state,” Hochul said.

The lieutenant governor said workforce development was a key focus this year, with $175 million allocated for additional programming designed to link employers with trained workers.

Hochul also touted the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), which has injected $10 million each into cities across the region through competitive contests.

Albany, Amsterdam and Glens Falls have all received funding, as has Schenectady, which aims to reinforce the connections between its newly-resurgent downtown and Mohawk Harbor, which replaced a sprawling polluted wasteland with a gleaming new casino, apartments and hotels.

“They know their days are much brighter going forward because they are recipients of money in this process,” Hochul said of DRI awardees.

Some of the projects awarded Thursday overlap with projects flagged by Schenectady DRI as keystones.

Two buildings located across the Electric City Apartments on Erie Boulevard were demolished earlier this year.

The same developers behind that effort, Highbridge/ Prime Erie Development, LLC, received an $800,000 grant for a new project dubbed Erie Landing, which will build 136 new apartments paired with office and retail space.

The city received $948,884 to help build a long-planned dock at Mohawk Harbor, a 680-feet unit officials believe will buoy visitation by allowing larger tour boats to dock at the facility — hopefully driving more visitors downtown in the process.

“Schenectady is winning again and the funding announced today will leverage private investment to make possible impactful projects that will continue to boost our economy,” said Schenectady County Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen in a released statement.

But not all Schenectady DRI-related projects were funded. Left out to dry was the Capital Region Aquatic Center, a priority project flagged by Metroplex as a key component to ongoing efforts at Mohawk Harbor.

Organizers asked the state to chip in $5 million for a proposed 76,000-square-foot facility. Officials said in October they had identified well over half of the funding to build the $35.4 million project.

To date, the REDC has supported 186 priority projects in the Capital Region, with 63.9 percent being completed or on schedule as of August 2019, according to an annual progress report.

And of the 799 total projects announced ahead of this year’s awards, 85 percent have been completed or are in progress.

Despite the encomiums from local officials, the effort does have its detractors, and has been criticized by fiscally conservative groups that have questioned its effectiveness in job creation.

Ken Girardin, a policy analyst for the fiscally conservative Empire Center, derided the annual event as “Subsidy Day” and said state leaders should instead focus on policy changes to make New York more competitive, including cutting taxes, controlling public employee compensation and streaming government regulations.

“Politicians loooooove the REDC awards because it lets them look like they’re ‘doing something’ about upstate’s economic struggles without upsetting the trial lawyers or unions that block meaningful reforms.” Girardin wrote on Twitter.

© 2019 The Daily Gazette

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