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Governor Announces $20M Grant to ESF, Partners

Funds support Water Resource and Education Center at Onondaga Lake

N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday, Sept. 16, that ESF and several partners will receive $20 million through the New York SUNY 2020 Challenge Grant program to develop a SUNY Water Research and Education Center (WREC) at Onondaga Lake.

The funding was announced during a packed news conference at Syracuse's Inner Harbor.

Cuomo said the new project symbolizes "the shine of a new era" as the Syracuse region undergoes a "seismic transformation," moving away from a manufacturing-based economy to one that embraces economic development, education, tourism and tax-free zones for new businesses.

ESF President Quentin Wheeler said Onondaga Lake is undergoing a "fantastic environmental turnaround story," as evidenced, in part, by this past weekend's ESF-Onondaga Lake Conservation Corps bioblitz that counted some 450 species of plants and animals at the lake in 24 hours. The bioblitz was part of Wheeler's four-day inauguration celebration, marked by the formal installation ceremony Sept. 12. Cuomo joked about the busy week for Wheeler, saying, "I don't know that anybody has gotten off to a better start in a new job than you have."

The SUNY Water Research and Education Center will bring research, educational opportunity, tourism and sustainable development to the shores of a nationally recognized lake cleanup effort. Scientists from ESF, the Upstate Freshwater Institute and the Onondaga Environmental Institute will monitor changes to the lake ecosystems. In partnership with the Great Lakes Research Consortium, research funding will flow to the areas of robotic water-quality monitoring, lake restoration and water-quality sensor design. Additional opportunities exist for tourism through the center, STEM education for K-12 students, distance learning and other workforce education. Companies will be attracted to the Center in connection to the START-UP NY program and on site research allowing for future expansion and job growth. The Center will strengthen Central New York's role as a national center for water research technologies and related industries.

The project will build a 34,000-square-foot LEED gold building on the shore of Onondaga Lake at the heart of the Syracuse Inner Harbor revitalization initiative. The short-term economic impact of the Center at Onondaga Lake is projected to be $37 million; and it will create 532 temporary jobs. The long-term economic impact is estimated to be $11 million annually, and the project is expected to create and sustain 186 permanent jobs

Wheeler said, "Onondaga Lake is a textbook example of what restoration ecology is all about, an environmental success story that will be studied for generations, and a metaphor for the revitalization of Central New York. ESF deeply appreciates the support of SUNY and Governor Cuomo in this investment that will extend our reach and impact into the community. ESF has long-term studies of the lake underway that will continue to monitor advances in its water quality and diversity of life. The SUNY WREC is an exciting opportunity to work closely with COR Development and Onondaga Community College, Le Moyne College, Upstate Freshwater Institute, Onondaga Environmental Institute, Onondaga Historical Association, area schools and the public to teach principles of ecology while monitoring and celebrating the rebirth of a truly beautiful lake and contributing to a vibrant future for Syracuse's Inner Harbor."

Onondaga Community College President Casey Crabill said, "Onondaga Community College is delighted to learn that its partnership with SUNY-ESF to develop the SUNY Water Research and Education Center at Onondaga Lake is one of five projects in the state to earn a NY SUNY 2020 Round 3 grant. We extend our great appreciation to Governor Cuomo, the State Legislature and Chancellor Zimpher for their support. The $20 million grant will strengthen OCC's capacity to integrate education, research and community and economic development for the benefit of our students, employers and the community. This includes expanding opportunities for students enrolled in STEM degree programs such as hands-on fieldwork, internships and research opportunities and the development of new courses and programs focused on science, math and the environment. In addition, the college looks to the Center to serve local employers and workers by extending our reach in workforce development and non-credit certification and training programs."

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney said, "The SUNY Water Research and Education Center is an excellent example of what can be accomplished through collaboration and cooperation. Thank you to Governor Cuomo and SUNY for selecting this project for the SUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program and congratulations to SUNY-ESF and OCC."

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner said, "This project will be yet another part of the ongoing redevelopment of the Inner Harbor. I am pleased that our list of collaborators continues to grow. That is a sign of continued success for this important project."

The grant to ESF and its partners is included in a total of $55 million in funding for five innovative economic development projects as part of the third round of the competitive grant program.

Other grants announced Sept. 16 were: Engineering Innovation Hub, $10 million, SUNY New Paltz; SUNY Bridge to Entrepreneurial Excellence (SUNY BEE), $6 million, Broome Community College; The Manufacturing and Technology Resource Center for the North Country, $12.7 million, Clinton County Community College; Bretschger Building Renovation/AAS Nanotechnology Degree Program, $5.75 million, Erie County Community College.