JCC tech project looks to downsize

A student talks with an admissions office staffer on the first day of school in 2017 at Jefferson Community College, which is looking at ways to proceed with a downtown entrepreneurial center. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — When first announced in 2018, the JCC Downtown TechSpace Center project was one of the key components of the city’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative program.

The entrepreneurial and training center was billed as a catalyst for economic growth and strengthening ties between Jefferson Community College and downtown.

But the project has been languishing ever since, while JCC officials continue to have difficulties finding a suitable downtown location and while they figured out how to pay for its operating costs once it opened.

They are now looking at downsizing the project from 30,000 square feet of space for the center to down to 10,0000 to 15,000 square feet.

“We’re looking at smaller space to see what might work,” JCC President Ty A. Stone said Friday.

The community college has $2.5 million in DRI money and another $4 million in State University of New York funding for the project.

But Ms. Stone said all of that funding can only go toward capital costs of building the center, renovating space for it and for purchasing equipment. None of it can pay for operational expenses for staff, heat and other expenses.

College officials need to figure how to make the center sustainable after it opens, she said.

“We’re taking some time to think about that,” Ms. Stone, adding the community college doesn’t have a time frame to proceed with the project.

Plans call for the center to support entrepreneurs and offer workforce training and applied learning opportunities.

Ms. Stone stressed the community college is committed to the project but wants to do it right, so it doesn’t fail after it opens.

She would like to find a partner in the project, as it did when BOCES helped with JCC’s Lewis County Education Center before that facility opened.

“I want it to be a success,” she said.

For months, city officials and the Watertown Local Development Corp. were kept in the dark about the progress of the project. But they were told this week that college officials would like them to suggest potential sites for a 10,000-square-foot center.

Noting that the facility’s importance for downtown, Michael A. Lumbis, the city’s planning and community development director, promised he’ll do what he can to find a location.

“Ten thousand feet is still pretty big,” he said.

Despite the delay, Mr. Lumbis hopes that the college can overcome the complications and will be able to move forward with the project.

Donald W. Rutherford, CEO of the local development corporation, also known as the Watertown Trust, said he didn’t know why he hadn’t heard from JCC officials for about a year until he was contacted last week.

“It was kind of, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you,’ and that’s how it was left,” he said.

About a year ago, Mr. Rutherford showed JCC officials available space in the Woolworth Building, the Masonic Temple and the Marcy Building. College officials liked the renovated space on the lower floors of Brighton/Empsall building on Court Street, but the Children’s Home of Jefferson County gobbled up that space for a primary care and behavioral health clinic, as well as administrative offices.

The state Department of State, which oversaw the DRI process, and the Empire State Development Corp. were excited about the prospects of the project when it was first proposed.

In a recent statement, Adam Ostrowski, a spokesman with the Empire State Department, said the state continues to work on the project with JCC.

“The state remains in regular contact with Jefferson Community College, providing guidance and support as needed, while the school pursues a location and develops an operations plan,” he said.

The JCC project was initially awarded $1,212,332 in DRI funding. But it then obtained another $1.25 million from the program after the state Department of State transferred money earmarked for a separate project that local developer Brian H. Murray had received and no longer wanted to pursue.

JCC also was awarded a nearly $4 million grant through the state’s SUNY2020 program for the tech center.

Ten other DRI projects are in varying stages of completion. A small grocery store on Court Street and improvements to an alleyway on Public Square were cut from the city’s DRI program.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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