The New York Power Authority Trustees have approved more than $2.3 million in grants to four Western New York enterprises working to promote tourism, the distribution of locally grown food, and job training and housing services in Western New York.
The largest award, $1.75 million, will go to help finance the first phase of a multi-phase renovation and expansion of the Niagara Falls Aquarium, which has been a part of the Niagara Falls community since 1965. A comprehensive master plan, to redesign and renovate the facility, envisions developing a state-of-the-art showcase of marine life for tourists and locals alike, beginning with a new exhibit to house the aquarium's colony of Humboldt penguins.
Other Western New York entities awarded grants on Sept. 24 were the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission Inc., based in Buffalo, that works to raise public and private funds for the restoration of cultural institutions in East Buffalo that together represent the most important center of African-American history in Western New York; Field and Fork Network, Williamsville, which is dedicated to establishing a food hub in Western New York to help local agricultural businesses capitalize on local market sales opportunities; and Global Outreach Mission Inc., an organization that aims to provide job training and housing rehabilitation services for residents of the City of Niagara Falls. The entities are slated to get $250,000, $166,912, and $154,500, respectively.
"The Western New York power proceeds awards represent a creative use of New York state's power resources to foster entrepreneurship in Western New York, and I applaud Gov. Cuomo for this ambitious effort in identifying, financing and nurturing the kinds of businesses we need to help make our economy grow," said John R. Koelmel, NYPA chairman and an East Amherst resident. "By choosing wisely, we are confident that the awards will prove to be a powerful catalyst for creating jobs and luring capital investment to our region."
"The Power Authority is pleased to work closely with Empire State Development and the Western New York Regional Economic Council in this visionary economic development process," said Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA president and CEO. "Utilizing NYPA's unused power for economic development in Western New York is another example of Gov. Cuomo's determination to invigorate the area's economy by investing in its strengths."
The latest awards represent the third round of grants provided for under legislation signed into law last year by Cuomo that allow the net earnings from unutilized power from NYPA's Niagara Hydroelectric Power Plant to be used for economic development in Western New York. The awards were made at a meeting of NYPA's board of trustees following recommendations from the Western New York Power Proceeds Allocation Board.
Of the eight recommendations for grants announced following the WNYPPAB's Sept. 10 meeting, four were submitted to the NYPA trustees. It is anticipated the remaining four grant recommendations will be submitted at a later date, pending completion of required state environmental reviews.
The Western New York Power Proceeds Act authorized NYPA to deposit the net earnings from the market sale of unutilized electricity from two hydropower programs - expansion power and replacement power - into an established Western New York Economic Development Fund. The fund has accrued nearly $25.9 million through Aug. 31. Nearly $10 million from that amount, including the awards announced today, has been approved by NYPA's trustees on the basis of recommendations by the WNYPPAB.
The WNYPPAB recommended the latest organizations for funding grants in accordance with statutory provisions requiring that eligible projects be within a 30-mile radius of NYPA's Niagara plant and that the proposed initiatives support the growth of businesses and lead to the creation or protection of jobs. The WNYPPAB also considers the extent to which proposed awards would be consistent with Regional Economic Development Council strategies and priorities, including the development of tourism, food processing opportunities, workforce development and advanced manufacturing.
Field and Fork Network will use its $166,912 grant to finance a market analysis, feasibility study and business plan - the first and most fundamental step for creating a food hub in the area.
The $154,500 grant for Global Outreach Mission aims to improve the match between education and training and jobs in the region and help reduce unemployment in the City of Niagara Falls. In cooperation with Orleans-Niagara BOCES, Global Outreach will provide a free, 400-hour job-training program in construction skills necessary to rehabilitate abandoned homes in the area and turn them into affordable housing. The grant will allow the organization to purchase tools, hire additional teachers and triple the annual number of students served. The grant will support the creation of 67 jobs.
The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor Commission will use its $250,000 grant to hire a director to oversee improvements to properties along this historic corridor, including the Michigan Street Baptist Church, the Colored Musicians Club and the Langston Hughes Institute.
NYPA contracts with the grant recipients will include provisions for periodic audits to ensure the funds are used for the stated economic development purposes.
Of the 695 megawatts of power from the Niagara Plant that is provided for under state law for the EP and RP programs, 601 MW are now being utilized by more than 100 major Western New York businesses in support of tens of thousands of jobs in the region. The remaining 94 MW are currently not utilized by the region's businesses, providing the source of the market-sale net earnings being deposited by NYPA into the Western New York Economic Development Fund.
"This is a great reinvestment of Western New York's natural resources back into Western New York's economy," said Congressman Brian Higgins. "The allocations for the Aquarium and Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor, in particular, support and improve cultural tourism efforts in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, while the others will contribute to job and business growth."
"The Aquarium of Niagara has brought hundreds of thousands of visitors to Niagara Falls over the years, and the awarding of power proceeds allocation funding will go a long way of bringing in even more," said State Sen. George D. Maziarz, chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee. "The expanded exhibits that the Aquarium will now be able to offer visitors will help attract even more tourism to Niagara Falls. I am also pleased that other organizations and businesses were awarded funding, which will help the WNY community, particularly the award to Global Outreach Mission, which is based in Niagara County. I thank Gov. Cuomo, NYPA and the Power Proceeds Allocation Board for their continued support of this program."
"Production of food and agriculture plays a vital part in Western New York's economy. This economic grant award will plant the seeds for Field and Fork Network to connect our agri-business industries to new market opportunities so that jobs and our economy can flourish," said State Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer.
"Our first priority in our region is to promote job creation through the promotion of entrepreneurship," said Assemblyman John D. Ceretto. "Gov. Cuomo has been a great supporter of our area's development, and I look forward to continuing my work with him to return the Niagara Region to its former glory."
"The money that has been allocated to these projects will go a long way to making Western New York competitive again," said Assemblyman Ray Walter. "The Field and Fork Network investment lays the foundation to not only strengthen the local economy, but also create a truly innovative entrepreneurial farming program that would go a long way to providing residents with locally grown food alternatives."