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Sun., Nov. 23
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Michael Almasian leads first BDC board meeting

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MASSENA - A wide range of topics, from revitalizing the Massena Industrial Park to capitalizing on $10 million, comprised Michael Almasian’s first meeting as the director of Massena’s economic development agency.

The Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena’s Board of Directors voted to hire Mr. Almasian as executive director on Wednesday. A day later, he was at his first BDC board meeting. Mr. Almasian had spent the hours prior to his first meeting Thursday in his BDC capacity at the Massena marketing event aimed at luring Canadian businesses to the region.

One issue broached at Thursday’s meeting was the BDC’s role in a potential $10 million pot of economic development funding for the area. BDC Board President Daniel S. Pease said Alcoa could release that funding for area projects as part of a new low-cost hydropower contract it may receive from the New York Power Authority. That new contract is contingent on whether Alcoa decides to modernize its Massena operations next spring.

Should everything fall into place next year, Mr. Pease suggested the funding would be under the control of the north country regional economic development council, a scenario Mr. Almasian balked at.

Massena’s economic development agency should have control over funding released by a company in Massena, Mr. Almasian said. The BDC should take a stand before it’s too late to ensure Massena can benefit the most from that funding, he said.

“We need to start pushing back from the way we’ve always been treated,” Mr. Almasian said. “We’re the host of Alcoa ... We need to be in control of our own destiny.”

Mr. Almasian said he would also like to see improvements made to the Massena Industrial Park. As an attorney involved in real estate closings, he often saw industrial parks in other communities more attractive than Massena’s, he said.

“You say ‘wow’ when you drive into Massena’s for different reasons,” Mr. Almasian said. “We need to keep up with the competition.”

As part of its downtown revitalization effort, the BDC had been pushing for the creation of a national register historic district, which could make businesses eligible for tax incentives if they make improvements to their buildings. That district is in jeopardy because the entirety of the proposed area is not comprised of historic buildings, but Mr. Almasian said he hoped it could still come to fruition. Mr. Pease said Massena would likely need political help to get the district approved.

“You’ve got buildings from the ‘50s and ‘60s next to buildings that are 100 years old,” Mr. Almasian said. “Getting the historic district creates so many advantages and opportunities to make investments into those old buildings. That is the incentive to bring third-party investment into the neighborhood.”

Mr. Almasian also suggested a revenue-generating idea for the town. He agreed with Supervisor Joseph D. Gray that selling a fixed asset, like a riverfront parcel of land on Old River Road, is a one-time source of revenue for the town. He wondered instead if Massena could take the vacant land it has, plant tree farms, then sell the trees to Curran Renewable Energy for their harvesting.

“Do we have any renewable assets that are available?” he asked. “Vacant land up here grows on trees.”

“It might be worth a lot. It might not be worth the trouble. It might be a non-starter,” he said. “I’m here to think unconventionally.”

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