The state has awarded the North Country Regional Economic Development Council $90.2 million for 82 economic development projects.
The award was announced during a ceremony in Albany Wednesday morning. This is the second year in a row the North Country council has been among the top prize winners; last year, it pulled in $103.2 million in grant funding.
"We've seen a wonderful collaboration develop across the North Country under the regional economic council model," state Sen. Betty Little said in a prepared statement. "The shared vision, teamwork and implementation of a solid economic development strategy once again pays off today with another top award going to the North Country Regional Council. I want to congratulate our two co-chairs, Garry Douglas and Tony Collins, and every individual who has contributed to this plan and has made strengthening our local economy the top priority."
A model of the Wild Walk, an 850-foot-long elevated walkway into the treetops of the Wild Center museum property in Tupper Lake, is seen last week at the museum. The state on Wednesday announced a $1 million grant for the $4.5 million project through the North Country Regional Economic Development Corporation.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
A total of $738 million in awards were announced Wednesday. The regional councils were established in 2011 as a way to reinvigorate the state's approach to economic development grants. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release that prior, top-down economic development policies didn't work.
"The strategic plans created during this process have given each region a comprehensive, locally created plan for future economic growth," he said.
The second round will fund North Country projects that support transportation, biotech, affordable housing, tourism and infrastructure.
The state awarded more than $3 million to increase broadband Internet connections in Hamilton County: $1.7 million for the whole county and $1.37 million specifically for the Long Lake area.
The state will also give $2.5 million for a Community Transformation Tourism Fund, a specialized loan fund for tourism-related ventures across the North Country that will be established and run by the Adirondack Economic Development Corporation, based in Saranac Lake.
Another $2.5 million will go toward general municipal water, sewer, road and port enhancements.
The Tupper Lake community was one of the big winners this year. The village was awarded $445,000 to implement projects in its Waterfront Revitalization Strategy, the Raquette River Blueway Trail Plan and the 90-Miler Blueway Trail Strategy. The village will also get $300,000 to complete the design and engineering for a new biomass heating system for buildings in the village. Another $36,000 was awarded to Tupper Lake Crossroads LLC to conduct studies to rebuild a local hotel and restaurant.
But the biggest grant in town went to the Wild Center nature museum - $1 million to help build the Wild Walk, an 850-foot elevated walkway in the treetops with interactive exhibits. It's expected to cost $4.5 million, about $500,000 of which the museum has already invested in planning and development. The council said in a press release that it will be a "major added attraction at the Wild Center to support tourism development in the region."
"We have worked on this Wild Walk project behind closed doors for five years," museum Executive Director Stephanie Ratcliffe said in a prepared statement. "We designed it so it could become an iconic symbol for this inventive and creative region. We're just thrilled that the North Country's council embraced it."
The Lake Placid area did well, too. That village was awarded $1,012,006 for its Chubb River dam removal and restoration project, part of the village's sewer trunk line replacement project. The town of North Elba and village of Saranac Lake were awarded $463,200 to develop athletic fields on capped landfills in both communities, and to pay for a new Lake Placid-North Elba comprehensive plan.
Just outside Lake Placid, the Adirondack Mountain Club will see $221,073 to upgrade its facilities at Heart Lake, including renovation on the High Peaks Information Center at the busy High Peaks trailhead there, and to build an additional campground loop and related infrastructure.
Another $251,150 will go to the nearby town of Wilmington to improve three waterfront parks and to develop a hamlet expansion plan.
U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, praised the council for its efforts to boost the region's economy.
"Even as the economy continues to improve, we must do more to create opportunities for businesses and workers alike," Owens said in a press release. "I applaud the work that's being done through the Economic Development Councils to achieve these goals, and look forward to another year of successful efforts to support the local economy."
In remarks delivered prior to the award announcements, Cuomo said the perception of New York as a bad place to do business is changing. He said the property tax cap has made a "significant difference" and that changes to the state's income tax rates will result in lower taxes for all New Yorkers.
Cuomo said New Yorkers can't expect the economy to turn around in two years, but he cited recent polls that show consumer confidence is up. He said the national economy has been more stagnant than the state's and that when the nation's economic recovery starts picking up steam, New York will do even better.