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Almasian interested in Massena economic development job

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MASSENA - Michael V. Almasian is interested in becoming Massena’s next economic development specialist.

Mr. Almasian proposed redeveloping Massena’s Grasse River waterfront at a joint meeting Thursday night of the village Board of Trustees, the Massena Town Council, the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena and the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce. Officials called the meeting following the resignation of Jason A. Clark, who will end his five year tenure as BDC executive director Aug. 16. His departure is prompting officials to consider if, and how, Massena taxpayers will fund economic development going forward.

“We’re not going to solve everything tonight,” Trustee Patricia K. “Trish” Wilson said. “I think it’s a good chance to get things started.”

“The biggest mistake we can make at this time is rushing ourselves into a decision,” Councilman Albert N. Nicola added. “We don’t need to be rushed into a decision.”

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said the purpose of the meeting was not to politicize economic development, but instead to figure out where such an initiative was headed.

“Some people read this as an opportunity for the politicians to take over economic development,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any intention from the elected side to usurp the authority on economic development.”

Mr. Almasian, 47, formerly worked as the town’s attorney and has rehabilitated buildings he owns at 55, 57, 59 and 61 Main St. over the last several years. He lives in an apartment with his family above those buildings and recently closed his law firm to focus on opening a bakery/cafe at 61 Main.

But with Mr. Clark’s departure, Mr. Almasian is interested in executing dozens of ideas he has stockpiled for revitalizing Massena as its new economic development specialist. Massena, however, would need to shift its focus from previous efforts to a new initiative, he said.

“I would be interested in being the leader and liaison but I am not interested in antiquated, conventional economic development,” Mr. Almasian said afterward. “That’s because it doesn’t work. It’s a waste of my time and taxpayer money.”

“Every town has an economic development person,” he said. “Every county has an (Industrial Development Agency) or equivalent. They’re all chasing the prettiest girl at the dance, the 2,000, 4,000, 6,000 employee factory.”

But Massena will never snag the “prettiest girl” if it doesn’t first improve its image, he said. Mr. Almasian detailed one of his plans to build a boardwalk along both sides of the Grasse River, connecting Veteran’s Memorial Park on Andrews Street to East Orvis Street and Parker Avenue and on the south side and Main Street to Willow and Center Streets on the north side. The project would also require the rehabilitation of the long-breached Grasse River weir to restore water levels, and creating a waterfall at the dam pedestrians could walk behind.

The creation of kayak and boat launches and the conversion of part of the Slavin’s building into a visitor’s center with bathrooms could complement that effort, he said.

“We can do this by leveraging a hometown spirit,” he said. “It’s something everyone will use. It’ll put us on the map.”

“You have to cater to the tastes of tourists with disposable income. They seek out the arts,” he said. “They don’t drive 300 miles to eat at Applebee’s so let’s stop chasing Applebee’s.”

Such a project would not be easy, but Mr. Almasian said overwhelming public support could convince state and federal agencies of its viability. Past projects, like establishing the Massena Electric Department, weren’t easy either, he said.

“Nothing gets done without a fight, make no mistake, particularly here,” he said. “We have to create a Massena where people within at least a 100 mile radius, on a beautiful Saturday morning at the breakfast table say, ‘Hey. Let’s go to Massena. They have tons of cool stuff.’”

Massena has to become a destination for the millions of Canadians between Ottawa and Montreal, he said. Once it becomes that destination, Mr. Almasian said he would pursue “like a viper” businesses in ascendancy to consider Massena.

“We have to start running this town the way we play hockey,” he said.

Mr. Almasian said he has already spoken to town, village and BDC officials about his intentions prior to Thursday’s meeting. At the meeting, Mr. Gray said he loved Mr. Almasian’s waterfront idea.

Much of Thursday night’s meeting was held behind closed doors. All boards adjourned into an executive session after an approximately 40 minute long open meeting to discuss matters leading to the potential appointment or dismissal of a particular corporation. The BDC is a corporation, so a discussion about its potential termination can legally take place behind closed doors per the state Open Meetings Law, Mr. Gray said.

When recently asked about the necessity of a closed-door discussion, Mr. Gray said a private conversation was necessary as was a public one. The boards took no action Thursday night.

“It affects too many people and too many agencies not to have part of the discussion in private. I trust the public would understand that,” he said. “I would hope the public would trust we’re not going to make the decision in a vacuum.”

Before that executive session, businessman Tom Sullivan said he hoped Massena would continue funding economic development in some way.

“Economic development is a very difficult process in today’s economy. Some may view there’s been no strides. Some may view there’s been great strides,” he said. “The BDC keeps Massena on the map. I really believe the BDC can provide an economic development function in our community.”

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