At Monday's informal Common Council meeting, the corner of Fourth and Columbia was suggested by Fourth Ward Alderman Ohrine Stewart and members of the audience as an alternative site for the Lantern Organization's Starboard project. Let's review the recent history of this site.
Eric Galloway purchased the property from Phil Gellert in 2003. There were buildings on the site then, partially destroyed by fire. The scandal at the time was that the City (read Mayor Scalera) had been in negotiation with Gellert to buy the property when Galloway swept in and bought it for $250,000, outbidding the City by a substantial amount, it can be inferred, since the assessed value at the time was $60,000. The Register-Star reported that Scalera was "a little upset," and followed up with an editorial in which they called Galloway a "flimflam man" and quoted Scalera as calling him a liar. This was on May 8 and 9, 2003, but by May 15, all was forgiven, and the Register-Star was reporting that the City had "joined hands" with Galloway.
The first project Scalera proposed for the site was a new police and city court building. This was in 2005, when the county health building was going up down the block and the hospital was building its medical office building cum parking garage up at the top end of Columbia Street. Scalera got BBL--the company that was building the county health building and had built the central firehouse--to submit designs: one modern, one "traditional," both undistinguished. Mike Vertetis, then Common Council President, got the company working at CMH (Pike, if memory serves) to submit a design: a big box with some imitative (of the library's Federal design) pediments over the entrances. The idea was that Galloway would give the land to the City in exchange for the current police station and the building that houses the city court and the code enforcement office in the 400 block of Warren Street. The rush to build ceased during the Tracy administration (2006-2007), and now the plan on the table seems to be to buy the building, tucked away on Railroad Avenue, that now houses the Department of Social Services for the police department and city court when the lease is up in June 2011 and DSS moves out.
But back to Fourth and Columbia. . . . Scalera is now promoting his "Plan B" for DSS, which involves constructing a new building for the department on Galloway's property and a parking garage across Fourth Street on the northeast corner, on land already owned by the county and a piece owned by TSL. Scalera reportedly had a closed door meeting with BBL on Tuesday. I went to a meeting of the Columbia County Space Utilization Subcommittee on Thursday, hoping Scalera, who is a non-voting member of the subcommittee, might report on his meeting with BBL, but that didn't happen. The subcommittee is going back to square one in its search for the perfect location for DSS, repeating essentially the same process they went through in 2008, which resulted in the acquisition of the old Ockawamick School in Claverack. The subcommittee--chaired by Fifth Ward Supervisor Bart Delaney and including among its seven members two other Hudson supervisors, Bill Hughes and Bill Hallenbeck--is tasked with finding, in a "structured, transparent process," a location for DSS that they can recommend to the Public Works/Facilities Committee and to the full Board of Supervisors.
A new presence at the table at Thursday's meeting was CEDC (Columbia Economic Development Corporation), in the person of Bill Better. Stressing that CEDC was "your economic development arm," Better offered the help of CEDC to bring an "economic development component to locating a county building" and suggested that a CEDC subcommittee merge with the existing subcommittee. He said that "CEDC has a contractor who wants to build a building" and offered the services of the county's CRC (Capital Resource Corporation) to investigate "how funding can take place," noting that CRC had helped Columbia Memorial Hospital refinance its debt. He revealed that CEDC supports the proposal to locate a parking garage at the corner of Fourth and Columbia, citing its usefulness for Club Helsinki Hudson (just across Columbia Street) and people coming to other entertainment venues in Hudson.
The subcommittee set July 15 as its outside target for selecting a location for DSS and plans to meet again on Thursday, April 29.