Empire State Games get $500K boost from bank

First Niagara Financial Group, which has offices in the Capital Region, has donated $500,000 to unde

First Niagara Financial Group, which has offices in the Capital Region, has donated $500,000 to underwrite the summer 2010 Empire State Games.

The award represents half of the amount the state said is needed to put the games on sound financial footing.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which operates the summer and winter games as well as games for mature competitors and physically challenged athletes, is seeking $1 million over two years, said spokesman Dan Keefe.

“We are hopeful this donation will build momentum and that we have other sponsors joining the effort to keep the games program strong,” Keefe said.

The state is seeking private sponsors in order to “create a more self-sustaining program and make sure the games continue,” Keefe said.

John R. Koelmel, First Niagara president and chief executive officer, said the bank “is focused on helping families and businesses across New York state achieve their hopes, dreams and personal aspirations. The games are vital to the fabric of our state and an excellent outlet for local and regional competitors to showcase their skills.”

The summer games were not held in 2009 because of state budget problems. This year’s summer games, however, will proceed. They will be held in July in Buffalo.

The games cost the state approximately $2.5 million annually to put on. This year, the state is contributing $1.7 million over two years and is trying to close the funding gap through donations and by charging new fees, including a $285 registration fee.

“We have to reduce some of the costs, and we are relying more on donations,” Keefe said.

The state parks office will continue to cover the $600,000 annual cost to staff and administer the games. It also plans to reduce expenses by $500,000 by eliminating some competitions and scaling back special events, reducing clothing for athletes and curtailing equipment and venue rentals.

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