North District Councilmember Joseph Golombek, Jr., issued a call to Erie Community College today to consider partnering with the City of Buffalo to expand its City Campus. Since 2010, ECC has proposed constructing a $30 million facility at its North Campus in Amherst to serve health sciences, STEM, and other programs. The Buffalo Common Council and citizen advocates have urged ECC to consider its City Campus as an alternative location for this expansion.
The lure for ECC’s Board of Trustees to consider a downtown location, Golombek believes, is for the City to pitch in on the project's costs. Standing outside ECC's City Campus on Ellicott St., Golombek proposed that the City “puts its money where its mouth is.” Golombek forwarded a resolution to the Common Council this afternoon proposing that a "significant portion" of casino cash recently promised to the City of Buffalo by the Seneca Nation of Indians be devoted to assisting ECC in achieving its expansion, if the college agrees to shift the expansion downtown.
"In 1968, this region made a huge mistake by expanding the University at Buffalo to a swamp in Amherst, rather than downtown Buffalo," said Golombek. "We don’t have to repeat the mistakes of the past. I can think of no better way to spend the City's share of casino revenues than to help expand ECC's downtown campus."
In July, Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered to Mayor Byron W. Brown a ceremonial check for $15.5 million, a sum that represents four years worth of casino payments to the City that were withheld by the Seneca Nation of Indians in protest after the State allowed gaming machines at Western New York racetracks. With that dispute resolved, Golombek believes that the City should step in to help ECC shift its expansion to downtown, and is calling on the college's Board of Trustees, Mayor Brown, and his fellow Common Councilmembers to rally behind the proposal.
"I propose that we use casino payments to help achieve an economic development project that will benefit taxpayers across Erie County," said Golombek. "The benefits to the region of expanding ECC's downtown campus, rather than the North Campus in Amherst, are overwhelming.”
Golombek added that 47% of ECC students live in the City of Buffalo, yet the City Campus is still the smallest of the college’s three campuses and, due to its limited programs, serves only 25% of ECC’s students. With its abundant access to public transportation and proximity to the rapidly expanding Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, Golombek said, the City Campus has obvious advantages over expanding the college's outdated North Campus on Youngs Road.
"This is an opportunity to transform the City Campus into the flagship, rather than the smallest, of ECC's three campuses," said Golombek. "This region can't afford to miss another once-in-a-generation opportunity."
The ball, Golombek said, is in ECC's court. Will ECC's Board of Trustees consider an offer to help fund the college's expansion? Will it consider shifting its expansion to downtown Buffalo if the City pitches in with casino cash? "We need to hear from ECC's Board of Trustees," said Golombek. "We want to know how much financial assistance ECC needs to get its expansion underway, so that the conversation can start about how the City can help."
Golombek was joined by Bernice Radle, co-chair of Young Citizens for ECC, an advocacy group that has pushed for expanding the City Campus. Radle noted that when ECC initially made its proposal three years ago, the proposed expansion was more ambitious. She noted that back in 2010, ECC's proposed Health Sciences Center for Excellence was slated to be a four-story, 100,000 square foot facility. Since then, she said, college officials have told her that rising construction costs have shrunk the size of the proposed facility.
"We praise Councilmember Golombek for proposing that the City pitch in to expand the City Campus, and we believe the Mayor and Common Council will rally behind it," said Radle. "The resources City can bring to the table can help close any gap the college may be facing, or supplement the expansion’s $30 million budget so that the proposed facility can be as ambitious as the college intended in 2010. The key to getting it done is ECC agreeing to reconsider the City Campus as a location.”
Golombek added that the City's share of revenue from the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino is intended be used to bolster economic development, increase the tax base, and help lift families into the middle class. No better investment, Golombek said, can help achieve these ends than the expansion of ECC’s City Campus.
"The bottom line is, the City can and must help make this community college expansion happen, if ECC shifts this investment to a smarter location in downtown," Golobmek said. "The question now is whether ECC's Board of Trustees will reach out to the City and ask how we can help."
Photo credit: David Torke of fixBuffalo
Photo credit: David Torke of fixBuffalo