AUBURN — Auburn Public Theater was packed to capacity Friday afternoon as the crowd anxiously awaited an announcement they had been wanting to hear for three years: Auburn was the winner of the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant contest. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Auburn is the winner of the 2018 DRI contest and the $10 million grand prize, which will be used to fund a variety of projects with the goal of continuing Auburn's downtown renaissance. Cuomo delivered the good news at the theater, which was included in the city's winning application. The theater is seeking $300,000 to expand its current space and build a cafe

Cayuga Community College has a project in the works to build a culinary education center on State Street. College President Brian Durant said the project "aligns well with our college initiatives of engaging the agricultural community and providing educational opportunities in the area of hospitality and tourism." 

"We want to provide rich and robust continuing education options for individuals who want to gain skills in the area of culinary arts as well as be able to take a number of other experiences that match regional opportunities" Durant said. "Having a facility, having it downtown will allow us to grow even more." 

Nick's Ride 4 Friends, a peer-based clubhouse that provides support and assistance to individuals struggling with addiction, has outgrown its current space and is looking to expand into a vacant building at 13 Chapel St. Founder Joel Campagnola is hoping to get a loan from the city, funded through the DRI, to continue to help those in recovery. 

"We're losing a lot of young men and women each day," he said. "We need to offer the people in recovery something and help them get back to being a viable part of this community. I don't think there's enough programs out there or enough people that do help them."

Other projects listed in the DRI application include include $1.5 million for improving the East Hill Family Medical Center, $1.2 million for a city and county public safety facility, $1.1 million for an arts campus on the city's west end and $1.1 million for neighborhood redevelopment on John Street. 

The city applied for the DRI the past two years. In 2016, the top prize went to Oswego and last year, Cortland won the $10 million. Director of Capital Projects Christina Selvek said what set the city's application apart this year is it embraced Auburn's history using the theme "This place matters." 

"We embraced our community history this time and we weren't shy about it," Selvek said. "We're very proud of our heritage and what better thing to base your downtown planning on?" 

Auburn Downtown Business Improvement District Executive Director said she "absolutely thrilled, overwhelmed and excited" when she heard Cuomo announce Auburn was the big winner. 

"It's going to have a huge impact on our community," DeVito said of the grant. "Tourism is thriving and booming and we already have so many things that are in our wonderful city to bring people to Auburn. We want to continue to be a destination and this is just going to enhance the many more things we're able to do to bring people into our community." 

Not only the city will benefit from the $10 million prize, though. Cayuga County Administrator J. Justin Woods and Cayuga Economic Development Agency Executive Director Tracy Verrier said the whole county will be positively impacted. 

Verrier said having a strong downtown is a key for the whole county to grow. 

"Having downtown Auburn grown and be successful and sustainable means there's a hub for visitors, there's a hub for residents, there's a business center where people can get services and goods and all those good things," Verrier said. "Having that downtown core is a big quality of life issue, it's a big tourism issue."

Woods said the county is "absolutely thrilled about this investment."

"As the city grows, the county grows," he said. "The city is the hub of much of the economic and social life. We have our vibrant farm economy and agrarian economy in the north and south but a lot of that cultural and social offerings that attract people to a region are in the center."

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Staff writer Natalie Brophy can be reached at (315)282-2239 or natalie.brophy@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @brophy_natalie