At the Common Council Legal Committee meeting on Wednesday, City Attorney Jack Connor reported that ownership of the Washington Hose firehouse is definitely a requirement if HDC (Hudson Development Corporation) is to carry out its plan to rehabilitate and reuse the building as a visitor information center, office space, and a conference room/training center. (See New Plan for Washington Hose below.) Connor also reported he was having difficulty finding the deed that transferred the land on which the firehouse stands from the Proprietors to the City of Hudson. He speculated that, since the incorporation of Hudson in 1785 preceded the establishment of Columbia County by one year, the deed might be in the archives of Albany County, of which Hudson was part until Columbia County was established in 1786.
While Connor seems to be busy trying to enable the transfer of ownership, it remains that any sale--or, in this case, gift--of city-owned real property must be approved by a three-quarters majority of the Common Council. Back in 2008, a coalition of First and Third Ward aldermen--called by some the "Gang of Four"--blocked the sale of Washington Hose to Charles Davi on the conviction that the building, because of its strategic location at the entrance to historic Promenade Hill, was far too important to the City's vital connection to its waterfront to allow it to pass into private hands. Transferring ownership to HDC would not be significantly different.
HDC, as Third Ward Alderman Ellen Thurston observed at a recent meeting of the new Economic Development Committee, is what the British call a quango--a quasi-autonomous nongovernmental organization. Although four city officials--the mayor, the Common Council president, the majority leader, and the minority leader--sit on the HDC board, HDC does not answer to the City. Were HDC to own Washington Hose, the City would not have significantly greater control over its future than if it had been sold to Davi.
The question is: Will there be enough votes on the Common Council to block the transfer to HDC? With two new aldermen--Sarah Sterling and Geeta Cheddie--representing the First Ward, it cannot be assumed that the "Gang of Four" will again stand fast to prevent the deaccession. However, there is some sense that the City is not happy with Markou's expectation. Treasurer Eileen Halloran, who supported the sale to Davi because the City had made a commitment to sell the firehouses to pay down the debt on the Central Firehouse (curiously, no one talks about that anymore), has expressed opposition to the transfer of ownership to HDC. At the Legal Committee meeting, Cheddie questioned the reasonableness of the City contributing $50,000 from its fund balance to rehabilitate the firehouse and then giving it away.
A better solution would be for the City to give HDC a long-term lease on the firehouse, similar to the leases that the State of New York has with various historic preservation groups on state-owned historic properties, among them the Plumb-Bronson House. Under the terms of such a lease, any rent paid by HDC to the City could be nominal, but the lease would give HDC an ownership interest in the building and could, if so agreed, allow them to recoup some of their investment by, for example, charging rent to the Chamber of Commerce, who, according to the plan, would occupy part of the building. The important thing is that the City would continue to own the firehouse and to control what happens to the building and the site.