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Almasian shows interest 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 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 Thursday. His departure is prompting officials to consider if, and how, Massena taxpayers will fund economic development.

Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said the meeting’s purpose was not to politicize economic development but 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, was 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 St.

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 have to shift its focus from previous efforts, 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 improve its image, he said. Mr. Almasian detailed one of his plans to build a boardwalk along both sides of the Grasse River, connecting Veterans Memorial Park on Andrews Street to East Orvis Street and Parker Avenue on the south side and Main Street to Willow and Center streets on the north side. The project would require rehabilitation of the long-breached Grasse River weir to restore water levels and creation of a waterfall at the dam pedestrians could walk behind.

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

“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.”

Much of Thursday night’s meeting was held in executive session to discuss matters leading to the potential appointment or dismissal of a particular corporation, the BDC. The boards took no action Thursday night.

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