SUNY Canton has taken a big step toward transforming a long-neglected piece of downtown real estate.

The town, the village and the college have collaborated to develop economic and educational initiatives in the former Jubilee grocery store. On Wednesday, it was announced that Roo Riverwoods LLC, an affiliate of the SUNY Canton College Foundation, had secured a purchase option on the vacant midtown plaza properties owned by Garry L. Cohen.

“This project will bring new economic vitality and entrepreneurial activity to the heart of downtown,” said SUNY Canton President Zvi Szafran in a news release from the university. “We all worked hard to make this a winning situation for everyone in Canton. We look forward to working with the developers and their teams to make this vision a reality.”

The facility would house the college’s Small Business Development Center and would include co-working spaces, private offices for rent, state-of-the-art conference facilities and event space. The Entrepreneurship Center also would include a makerspace with 3D printers and other high-tech tools available for public use.

“The project was a major component in a Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant proposal submitted [May 31] by the village of Canton. If Canton lands the $10 million grant, this project could proceed quickly,” according to a story published Thursday by the Watertown Daily Times. “Project partners are exploring further funding opportunities that will enable the development of a mixed-use facility at the site, which will include both commercial spaces and housing units.”

The Entrepreneurship Center has an ultimate goal of spawning new businesses and creating jobs while inviting students. Organizers hope the students will stay in Canton after graduation to implement what they learned at SUNY Canton.

Mr. Szafran also pointed out that the center would be accessible to community members who could possibly interact with the students.

“It would serve as a motivation hub for the whole area,” he said.

While there are many details to work out, the plan is gaining momentum and looks to be a big win not just for the university but for the Canton community as well. Bright, enterprising people come to SUNY Canton each year. But at graduation time, too many of them take the valuable skills they have learned and leave the area.

In the future, right in the middle of downtown Canton, young entrepreneurs can get their ideas off the ground without the investment in infrastructure usually associated with a new business. Add to that the support of the Small Business Development Center, and the recipe for success is complete.

Clarkson University’s business incubator has proven that the formula works. It combines entrepreneurial enthusiasm with academic resources to spark innovation and produce useable items.

We know that small businesses can thrive in the north country. Along with the universities and business incubators, entrepreneurs can take advantage of a fiber optic broadband network thanks to the Development Authority of the North Country and Slic Network Solutions as well as low-cost energy.

No one knows better than SUNY Canton that its students are brimming with potential. Anything the community can do to foster their enterprises is an investment we know will pay off.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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