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Sprawl not part of plan for jobs

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SARATOGA SPRINGS -- If we're going to grow, let's not sprawl.

That's the message from the Capital Region Economic Development Council, which is moving forward on a five-year strategic plan for the greater eight-county area Hudson Valley region. Part of its draft plan would require new projects to conform to "smart growth" criteria adopted last year by the state.

"We want to talk about sustaining and enhancing the natural environment while optimizing the use of the assets that already exist," said Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the council's co-chair. "There can be things that are lying fallow that can be revitalized, and used as a platform for economic growth."

SEFCU President Michael Castellana, the other co-chair, said the council adopted the smart growth bullet points -- including the advancement of projects in municipal centers that use existing infrastructure -- for "transformative projects" that it will recommend in its plan.

The council is now soliciting applications for the projects. One that arose during Thursday's council meeting at the Saratoga Springs City Center was for a new co-generation plant to be located on the southern portion of the Watervliet Arsenal. The Army remains active at the site with research and manufacturing of large-caliber cannon, but has agreed to open up more than 60 unused acres for private development.

Peter Gannon, president of the Arsenal Business and Technology Partnership, said it would seek funding to renovate an existing steam plant, paving the way to turn it into a co-generation facility that could provide electrical power to new or existing tenants.

The partnership has applied to host a server farm that would be the backbone of the IT infrastructure for state government, but the project -- initially promised to Oneida County -- is in its early stages.

Development cannot begin until military officials include a long-term lease for the property, which Gannon said he expects by the end of the year. He said ground could be broken, optimistically, in the spring, and it's time to start finding money.

"We're looking for $3 million of assistance that would sustain 600 jobs," he said. " ... We're on the cusp of putting a shovel in the ground."

The arsenal site already has water, sewer and transportation infrastructure in place, and elected officials have touted its existing security as a no-cost selling point for the state data center project.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo created 10 councils around the state, and their plans will compete for a slice of $200 million in economic development funding and tax credits. Those plans will include one or several big projects, as well as a list of smaller infrastructure projects.

Moving forward, the council's members -- business leaders, local elected officials and private-sector union head -- will have a say in how up to $1 billion of infrastructure funds are directed, said Irene Baker, a Cuomo aide who is directing the councils' work.

The plans are due Nov. 14. Baker asked for project submissions through Oct. 31, after which council members will begin their review. It's a short period to develop the plan, which Castellana and Jackson stressed was still very tentative.

Thursday, the council released a list of the Capital Region's assets and goals, around which the plan will be based. Castellana said they focused on items that were "unique" to its coverage area -- Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties.

The first was technological innovation, highlighting recent investments in nanotechnology. The council also touted the region's access to quality health care, its workforce educated in science, engineering and other technical fields, and the area's natural beauty as selling points.

Jackson said the plan would eventually contain specific strategies to build on the assets, and to increase collaboration among various players, when it is "fleshed out."

"Choices will be made. They just haven't been made yet," she said.


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