Friday, February 19, 2016

Talking of Economic Development

Since the beginning of the year, meetings of the full Common Council have typically lasted about twenty minutes. By contrast, the Economic Development Committee meeting last night went on for an hour and a half--twice the amount of time scheduled for committee meetings. Many things of significance were discussed.

The first topic was a question that also came up in the Legal Committee meeting: What is the status of Hudson's proposed lodging tax? An act of the state legislature is required before the City can collect a lodging tax, and with the change of administration, no one seems to know what has been done or is being done to bring this matter before the state senate and the assembly.
Sheena Salvino, executive director of Hudson Development Corporation, then explained a pilot on-the-job training program in the hospitality and service industries to be offered by Workforce NY at Columbia-Greene Community College. Ten interns will be employed at ten Hudson businesses for two months--April and May--during which time they will receive on-the-job training while being paid minimum wage by C-GCC. The expectation is that after the two months the interns will continue working at the businesses where they were trained.

At this point in the meeting, Alderman John Friedman (Third), who is a member of the Economic Development Committee, asked Salvino about HDC's plans for the next two years. In response to the question, the first thing Salvino mentioned was the redevelopment of the Kaz buildings at Cross Street and Tanners Lane--the abandoned warehouses that surround the building being proposed for adaptive reuse as a hotel. The City of Hudson acquired these buildings at the end of 2010. The plan at the time was that the City would raze them and either expand the Amtrak parking lot or offer the land for development. That never happened. The buildings still stand, and they have been turned over to HDC to market. Last September, the HDC board was working on a request for proposals for the property. The RFP has been completed and issued, but there is no word on whether any proposals have been received.

Friedman also wanted to know if HDC had conceptualized any kind of comprehensive redevelopment plan for the waterfront. "The history of the last four years," Friedman said, "has been one of squandered opportunities." He went on to say that he wanted the HDC board to get to work and city government to give them as much support as possible. He asked Salvino, in the next thirty days, to come up with a  "blueprint for waterfront development."

The discussion then turned to specific waterfront projects: the Ferry Street bridge, the Furgary Boat Club, the LWRP, and the Dunn warehouse.

Regarding the Ferry Street bridge, Salvino advised that to achieve the goal of replacing the Ferry Street bridge the City must make a concerted and sustained effort to demonstrate that the bridge is critical to the City's economic development and vital for the health and well-being of its citizens. A press conference calling for help from county and state officials was not enough. Alderman Rick Rector (First Ward), who chairs the Economic Development Committee, and Friedman agreed to work with the mayor, who promised during her campaign to have the Ferry Street bridge reopened in her first year in office, to structure a plan to bring attention to the Ferry Street bridge and lobby state and federal officials for assistance in its reconstruction.

The future of the Furgary Boat Club was discussed briefly. Members of the committee were uncertain about the status of the asbestos and lead-based paint testing being done on the structures. It has been more than six months since the Common Council passed a resolution authorizing the mayor to enter into an agreement with Ambient Environmental, Inc., to complete the testing, and no one seems to know if the project has been completed and if the report has been received. Members of the committee also determined that they needed to study the Resource Evaluation done by the State Historic Preservation Office, which determined that the Furgary site was eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The status of the City's Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, which has been in limbo since November 2011, was also discussed. It will be remembered that a condition for approval of the LWRP by the NYS Department of State was Holcim transferring ownership of ten acres of land south of the "deep water" dock to the City of Hudson. That was back in May 2013. In October 2013, The Valley Alliance revealed that 4.4 of those ten acres already belonged to the City because they had been illegally sold to Holcim (then St. Lawrence Cement) in 1981.

Map: TVA website

Since this revelation, all of Holcim's property in Hudson has been sold to A. Colarusso & Son, but there has been no apparent effort to acquire the remainder of the requisite property or to get the Department of State to move on approving the LWRP. Salvino reported last night that Bonnie Devine, the DOS staffer who worked on our LWRP, no longer has the same position at the Department of State, and consequently our LWRP is "in the gray area"--an orphan for which no one at the state level seems to have responsibility. No one at the local level seems to be assuming responsibility for it either.

On the topic of the Dunn warehouse, Salvino reported, "The [adaptive resuse] study is done. Now the City has to decide what we're going to do with it." After an audience member suggested that the City needed to make a request of proposals, Rector and Friedman agreed to work with Salvino to draft an RFP for the Dunn building, to be completed by April.

The final topic taken up by the Economic Development Committee was broadband. Alex Petraglia, who has been involved with the county broadband initiative, made a presentation about municipal broadband and the benefits of the City investing in IT infrastructure. The idea is for the City to pursue an open access model, installing the fiber and having providers compete to provide the service. The project is now in the exploratory phase. Salvino suggested that in order to move forward, "Everyone needs to be confident about why we are doing this," noting that at least 50 percent buy-in by Internet users in Hudson is necessary for it to make sense to pursue the project.

Friedman asserted that broadband, making high-speed Internet service available throughout the city, was even more critical to Hudson's economic success going forward than the Ferry Street bridge. The Economic Development Committee will continue to discuss the possibility of a municipal broadband initiative at its next meeting on March 17.


  1. As to the LWRP, the Findings Statement for the waterfront program's Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the State Environmental Quality Review allows no gray areas. The document itself is short and to the point, and no one needs a Bonnie Devine to interpret it. (She left that position ages ago.)

    Notice how a bureaucrat will first establish an ambiguity, a "gray area," with the implication that such gordian knots require the insight of trained experts. The supposed high degree of complexity of the issue is then used to infer the culpability of some higher-up authority or expert.

    Smoke and mirrors.

    The Findings Statement, which is all that matters, is perfectly straightforward. For those who endured that era, the way the Findings ended up is easily recalled. It was a crap job from start to finish, conducted by exactly that sort of expensive expert who tends to hold the public in contempt.

    The failed LWRP is a testament to the anti-democratic instinct of people who always think they know better than the people they're meant to serve. These are the same individuals, present throughout human history, who tend to reverse the categories of who serves whom. (Is there really any mystery in that?)

    The public will defend the sanctity of the Findings Statement, because the LWRP, as written, belongs at a dead end.

    Don't believe it? Try us.

  2. Carole, thank you for the coverage. To clarify, I had no direct involvement with the county-wide assessment other than to attend the presentation held by the county EDC in December. I have been working with the HDC on a Hudson-specific initiative since December.

    If you or your readers would like to learn more about the open access model and municipally-lead network investment, the following website provides an excellent overview in easily understood terms:

  3. The picture of Furgary above was taken from a deck that was paid for and erected by volunteers and cost the city nothing to operate. Hundreds of people made use of it without a fee.

    Where's the city's plan to make better use?

    1. To answer your self-answering question, it was never really about that, a "better use."

      If it was, then feasibility issues pertaining to water safety would have been a priority, and discussed by someone other than members of the public.

      To date, not a single City official has said a word about the dangers for small craft found beneath the trestle, despite our many warnings.

      The story was always about getting rid of something, more than it was gaining something else.