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New development will take place on the site of the former Mercy Hospital on Stone St. in Watertown.
New development will take place on the site of the former Mercy Hospital on Stone St. in Watertown.

$81.3 million for the North Country

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The big news across this region today is about money, and local hopes for what state support will do for their communities.
The North Country was awarded 81.3 million dollars in Regional Economic Development Council funds yesterday in Albany.

New York State spends about $7 billion on tax incentives and business subsidies each year.
Regional Economic Development Councils, or REDCs, were put in place in 2011. The governor's press release yesterday describes this as a redesign, from a "top-down model to a community-based, performance-driven approach."

This is third year the region has been named a top performer and received a one of the biggest chunks of money - money that funds projects from Watertown to Plattsburgh.

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Clarkson president and Regional economic Development Council chair Tony Collins says the North Country’s continued success has put the region on the map.

"People are taking notice that we must doing something right in terms of the way that we’re approaching economic development in our region,' Collins said. 

The council, he says, is doing that by funding lots of smaller projects.

"So we’re trying to invest state funds really across the region rather than in a couple of large, splashy projects."

This year’s awards include $400,000 towards a new senior community center in Gouverneur, and $100,000 for the Adirondack North Country Association to help create a brand for North Country products.

$25,000 will go towards the Canton and Potsdam school merger study.

Some of the bigger projects include $6 million to improve broadband in the region, and $7.1 million towards revitalizing Hotel Saranac and building a new resort at the former Lake Flower hotel.  

In Watertown, $2.1 million will go towards replacing the former Mercy Hospital with a mix of business and residential units.

Watertown Mayor Jeff Graham says it’s the biggest project in the city’s history. "It’s going to help transform our downtown along with some other projects," Graham says. "We emphasized how important that was, and I’m glad to see the Cuomo Administration agrees."

The state funding is a sliver of the estimated $65-70 million project cost. COR Development of Syracuse has bought the property and is responsible for the transformation.

According to city planning director Ken Mix, COR is currently removing equipment and asbestos from the site in preparation for demolition of the old buildings later this winter.

Tony Collins says projects like these reflects what matters to the North Country.

"I think what it says about our region is that we have been able to indentify what’s important to us."

But not everyone shares that enthusiasm for the regional councils.

Some critics question whether the councils are transparent, and wonder whether money will reach projects, and if those projects will create enough jobs to match the investment.  

Later today the Assembly will hold a hearing to learn whether economic development programs funded by state agencies are effective.

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