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April 7, 2013

City selects first of student loan payback recipients

(Continued)

Tonawanda News — “We’ve always said that this was going to help us leverage other investments downtown,” Piccirillo said. “We feel like it’s doing that 10 months in.”

The panel performs normal due diligence tasks while vetting candidates — criminal background check, credit scores — but candidates who receive the awards need to be motivated and civic minded as well. Community Development, in cooperation with ReNU Niagara, will work to promote interactions between awardees and to offer opportunities to be engaged in the community, Piccirillo said.

“The NU space (on Park Place) is going to be like an incubator space for them to gather,” Piccirillo said. “We want to offer them options of ways to get involved.”

Critics of the plan have expressed fears that the participants in the program are only in it for the money and that most will leave after their two-year obligation is complete.

One of the goals of the program is to curb population loss by getting young people to buy into Niagara Falls. The city’s population stood at 50,106 at the 2010 census. Niagara Falls would risk losing federal funds if the population were to dip below 50,000 by the 2020 census.

Piccirillo argues that not only will the program make the Falls a more attractive place for all young people to live, but it will also continuously remind people of the issue of population loss — one of the most serious problems that the city has and continues to deal with.

“We hope that this program gets people thinking about population loss every day,” Piccirillo said. “Because we know that we think about it every day.”

Bobbie Thoman has yet to find an apartment, but plans to move to the Falls this summer. She has heard some of the criticisms of the project.

“You’ll always have naysayers,” she said. “But, I have yet to hear someone say that they want things to stay exactly as they are.”

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