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Flush with optimism — and cash — regional economic development council prowls for projects

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POTSDAM — A leader of a regional economic development council said some uncommitted state funds could be used to improve, expand or repair the north country’s housing and its aging water, sewer, energy and transportation systems.

Anthony G. Collins, co-chairman of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, said the group would actively seek new projects to fund because it was named a top performer.

“A lot of projects that wouldn’t have been funded are moving forward,” he said. “We’re one of two teams with an unblemished record.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s recent funding announcement means an additional $90.2 million for the region. Mr. Collins said the council would use some of that money to address calls for more housing and infrastructure spending.

“Cleverly, we’ve identified a way of helping some projects tied to economic development,” he said. “When you’ve got a competitive funding process, you’re going to get creative proposals.”

Out of the $90.2 million, only $37.6 million has been designated among 78 specific projects across the region, including the $5.4 million rehabilitation of a Watertown apartment building and the $2 million construction of a mixed-use development in Carthage. The remaining $52.6 million is divided into four funds and can be distributed at the economic development council’s discretion. That money includes a $2.5 million municipal water and wastewater infrsatructure support fund, and a $1 million community renewal fund.

The council is determining which projects will be funded — and might revive some that were overlooked in the past, Mr. Collins said.

“We’re remembering the projects in our region. If they don’t get funded, we don’t forget them,” he said. “If anyone has what they think is a transformational project, please come forward.”

John R. MacArthur, a senior engineer with Beardsley Design Associates, Auburn, suggested the council turn its eyes to the pending collapse of the building at 395 Main St., Malone.

“It could have a devastating impact on the village of Malone,” he said. “It is very likely the building will collapse in the next year or two.”

The building is adjacent to the Main Street Bridge over the Salmon River, which carries Route 11. Mr. MacArthur said the building’s collapse could damage or destroy the bridge.

“We have some great infrastructure, but also a legacy of old and abandoned buildings no one knows what to do with,” he said. “This building is a poster child for that problem.”

Mr. Collins acknowledged the issue, but stopped short of prescribing a solution.

“This is a big-deal problem for our region,” he said.

The council gives priority to projects that have the best potential to deliver economic benefit, Mr. Collins said.

“I go right to the bottom line,” he said. “We’re looking to create jobs. To us the nature of the project doesn’t matter, but an investment should have a return.”

Mr. Collins said the council’s choices would fit in with a larger plan to boost regional tourism, promote sustainable development and connect underserved areas with high speed Internet.

At the meeting, the council endorsed a Franklin County proposal to levy a 5 percent occupancy tax on hotel rooms and vacation rentals and to use the revenue for tourism marketing.

In the coming months, Mr. Collins and other council members will take their plan on the road throughout the region.

“I am getting ready to visit each of the counties to get public input as we have in years before,” he said. Mr. Collins anticipated work would begin soon on another package of economic development projects, since Mr. Cuomo sought a third round of funding in his executive budget proposal.

“Until a budget is passed, we’re not sure what next year’s competition will be,” he said.

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