|By Jude Seymour, Watertown Daily Times,
N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 06, 2010--Jody L. Pettit remembered Tuesday the first time she laid eyes on the "huge swamp" across the interstate from the Salmon Run Mall.
"It was the home of frogs, snakes and mosquitoes," the Holiday Inn Express general manager recalled.
What a difference a decade makes.
Politicians didn't need hip waders Tuesday to turn over dirt at the future home of the Hilton Garden Inn, 1290 Arsenal St. - although they could have used a more forgiving surface for their photo op.
"Good thing we're not doing this work!" said Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, as his gold shovel dislodged the tiniest of mudcakes.
The congressman was content to cede the job to the estimated 400 construction workers who will build the $12 million, four-story hotel north of the Holiday Inn. When completed, the 88,044-square-foot facility will feature 132 rooms, three restaurants and a conference room large enough to accommodate a large wedding reception. With an anticipated June 1 opening, it is expected to employ 80 people.
The hotel is the second step in a three-phase project at Watertown City Center plaza, which also includes the already completed Holiday Inn Express and can accommodate up to seven more buildings, including a bigbox retailer.
Patrick M. Donegan, the Alexandria Bay developer responsible for the buildup of the new section of the plaza, said he's proud of a team that "went from a scrub brush field to a project that's going to create over 1,000 permanent jobs" when fully realized.
Mr. Donegan credited state Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, and Mr. Owens for ensuring that the 17.8 acres of his property received Empire Development Zone certification, which made it eligible for tax breaks.
Mr. Aubertine, he added, has helped the developer "understand and navigate the complex web of government programs," such as job training opportunities.
"Darrel is committed to bringing jobs - as is Congressman Owens - to the region and protecting jobs we currently have," Mr. Donegan told a crowd of about two dozen, which also included Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and Jefferson County Legislature Chairman Kenneth D. Blankenbush.
Mr. Owens said the project should further entice companies to locate in the north country, while Mr. Aubertine said the development offers optimism in a sagging economy.
"You've got people looking at the hole of a doughnut, telling you how bad things are and (saying), 'Have we hit the bottom yet?'" the senator said. "But when we have people and organizations step to the fore and make an investment in the community, we show it's not all bad."
Mr. Donegan said he has one "almost definite" company about to agree to build there, with two other "solid" discussions ongoing. He declined to reveal names. The developer said he's also talked to a couple of bigbox retailers, but has no firm commitments.
Mrs. Pettit said she couldn't wait for the new hotel to open.
"(It's) a place that this city really needed, a place that will hold more people for gatherings, more people for weddings, more people for funerals and more people for making more babies," she said.
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