When word leaked out on Monday night and Tuesday morning that the Columbia County Capital Resource Corporation was proposing to buy the abandoned Walmart building in Greenport and lease it to the county as the new location for the Department of Social Services, it seemed like a terrific idea. Katy Cashen had suggested it back in July 2008 in a letter to the editor. So had Ben Veronis in a letter to the editor a few months later. The building is accessible to Hudson. There is already bus service in place. It's right next to Price Chopper. People could combine visits to DSS with buying groceries. And there is plenty of room in the building to create a transitional housing facility. Homeless people could be sheltered in the same building where the services they need are provided, and they would be near supermarkets and businesses that might offer employment. It seemed too good to be true that the county was finally considering this idea. As it turns out, it was too good to be true.
This afternoon, Ken Flood, the CEO of CRC, presented the proposal to the Board of Supervisors Space Utilization Subcommittee, and what's being proposed is that all county offices--300 county employees--be consolidated in the old Walmart building. Only the agencies and offices that are required by law to be located in the county seat would remain in Hudson, and those offices would be moved to 325 Columbia Street, putting 401 State, 610 State, as well as 25 Railroad Avenue "out of commission." The proposal also involves leasing the leftover space in the vast old Walmart building to not-for-profits and start-up companies that cannot afford to lease commercial space, to create a business incubator or, as Flood called it, a "job growth center."
Flood talked about the "synergies" created by having all county offices under one roof. Responding to this talk of synergy, Fourth Ward Supervisor Bill Hughes asked "Why not put DSS with a homeless shelter?" and made the point that this seemed to be an obvious synergy.
When the meeting had been adjourned, Mayor Rick Scalera reiterated the idea that combining DSS with a homeless shelter in the building seemed obvious and would solve a lot of problems. Social Services Commissioner Paul Mossman responded, "You expect the county to own and operate that?" Why not? It makes more sense than the way the concept of "congregate housing" is now being implemented.
A meeting to solicit public comments about the proposal will be held next Wednesday, December 8, at 5 p.m. at the Elks Club. More details of the proposal are provided in the Register-Star article: "County mulls new home for DSS."