Erie Canal communities get $131 million to develop tourism Plans include shops, housing, marinas, restaurants, trails


NORTH TONOWANDA, N.Y. - The federal government will provide $131 million to 57 communities along the Erie Canal and connecting waterways in the most sweeping economic development initiative in upstate New York in decades, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced last week.

The HUD loans and grants, coupled with $102 million in private funds and $57 million from local governments, will be used to build shops, housing, marinas, restaurants, recreational trails and other tourist attractions along the state's 524-mile canal system in an effort to revive the economies of towns that once relied on manufacturing. Officials said they expected the development to create 5,000 jobs.

"Once they move out of manufacturing, what do they do?" Cuomo said. "The answer for the nation has been tourism. San Antonio did it with the Riverwalk, Washington state did it with the Puget Sound and Baltimore did it with the Inner Harbor. Frankly, the Erie Canal has nicer geography and a richer history."

One of the most ambitious projects in the initiative involves a British boat company, Crown Blue Lines, which operates canal boats in Europe. The company hopes to draw European tourists to the Erie Canal. It plans to buy 26 European-style boats from Penn Yan Marine Manufacturing of Penn Yan, N.Y., a community in the Finger Lakes region. Its boats would ply the canal starting from Frankfort.

The mule-drawn barges of the Erie Canal, which extends from Buffalo to just north of Albany, opened the Midwest to commerce from the Northeast and the Atlantic Ocean 170 years ago. The canal waned as railroads were built and was eventually rendered obsolete by superhighways.

Thursday in North Tonawanda and Rochester, Cuomo announced some of the 200 projects to be financed by the loans and grants.

HUD will provide $74.2 million in low-interest loans and $56.8 million in grants to the communities, which competed for the money by filing development proposals. The development is expected to rejuvenate the fading downtowns of upstate New York.

Perhaps no community did as well per capita as Holley, a village of 2,000 residents 20 miles west of Rochester. Holley was given $1.24 million in grants and $666,000 in low-interest loans. It plans to build shops, bed and breakfast inns, parks and restrooms along the banks of the canal.

"We're a good grant writer," said Holley Mayor Lewis R. Passarell. "We're trying to revitalize the whole area. We want to bring new businesses into Holley big time."

David Albanese, the mayor of Albion, a village of 6,200 midway between Buffalo and Rochester, wants to erect a canal museum, restore an old building, renovate a waterfront park, build a gazebo, pave a parking lot, build a pump station and erect more tie-ups along the canal. Albion received $2.2 million in loans and grants. "We got a lot more than I expected," Albanese said. "This is hopefully going to be unbelievable. Everybody is enthused about it."

The Erie Canal initiative has received broad-based bipartisan support. The plan by Cuomo, the son of former Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo, was endorsed by Alfonse D'Amato, the Republican U.S. senator who helped engineer Gov. Cuomo's defeat, and by Democratic U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Pub Date: 8/17/97

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