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Three city projects competing for regional economic development funding

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"Three projects in Watertown are vying for funding in this round from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s North Country Regional Economic Development Council.

Applications were submitted on Monday for an upgrade of the municipal ice arena at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds, a project to make the city’s sewage treatment plant more efficient and a proposed theater in the Franklin Building that will feature independent and art films.

The city is applying for the ice arena and sewage treatment projects, while the North Country Arts Council is behind the theater project. The arts council has a gallery in the Franklin Building.

The $884,000 sewage treatment project would change the plant’s sludge disposal process, eliminating its incinerator. Under the new process, sludge would be turned into a mulch material that can be used as fertilizer, said Elliott B. Nelson, assistant to the city manager.

By shutting down the incinerator, the city will no longer have to use 28,000 gallons of fuel oil a year and will reduce the plant’s demand for electricity. In addition, methane gas created by the new sludge material would be used to support a micro turbine that would generate electricity.

Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith is excited about the prospects of the project.

“This was one of my campaign goals,” said the former mayoral candidate.

The city will contribute 25 percent toward the project’s cost through $120,000 in in-kind services by making changes to the plant’s digester heating system and completing other modifications. The city applied for the funding through the regional economic council’s Consolidated Funding Application process, but funding could also come through the New York State Energy Research and Development (NTSERDA) and Greenhouse Gas Reduction programs, Mr. Nelson said.

For its theater project, the arts council unsuccessfully applied for money through the regional council’s first round of funding last fall.

Board member Michael C. Miller, who is spearheading the $150,000 project, said recently that the arts council needs $50,000 more for the theater to become a reality.

In the works for more than a year, the theater would have flexible seating for 60 to 100 people.

It would be a venue for showing the small independent, art and foreign language films and documentaries that are shown at the Cannes, Toronto and Sundance film festivals. Other events also would be held there.

The arts council is also waiting to hear about funding from three unnamed foundations that would help pay for the project, Mr. Miller said. If all goes well, construction would start this fall and the theater would open after the first if the year, he said.

The council already has two contractors in mind to work on the project. Initially, volunteers would run the theater but two full-time employees would be hired in about a year after its opening.

City officials again will try to obtain funding for nearly $5.7 million in improvements at the ice arena.

The project was not funded through the council last year. City officials said they will have a stronger application now that the Thousand Islands Privateers hockey team will play its games at the ice rink next season.

The relocation of the hockey team should fulfill the council’s requirements for job-growth opportunities, private sector investment and economic development, city officials said.

Upgrades at the arena have been a goal of the city for a number of years. In 2009, Bernier, Carr & Associates completed a 10-year plan that included replacing the roof, installing a new stage, building additions for a new locker room and space to house the Zamboni, adding a pair of new entrances and making a series of other improvements.

The Watertown applications are competing for money with other projects in Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Lewis, Clinton, Franklin and Essex counties.

This year, a pool of $750 million in state funding will be up for grabs. Last year, the north country received $103 million of the $783 million awarded to the 10 state regional councils.

Gov. Cuomo launched the program last year as a way to offer a competitive process to distribute state funding.

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