Thursday, January 31, 2019

HDC: Regrouping and Starting Over

On Tuesday night, despite the steadily falling snow, the board of the Hudson Development Corporation held its monthly meeting at 6:00 p.m. All but one of the members of the board were present, and three members of the public showed up, among them Gossips.

Predictably, the topic of greatest interest on the agenda was the Kaz site. The discussion began with concern over the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) money--$487,160--awarded to the redevelopment project, progress on which was suspended last spring. The major concern seemed to be the possibility of losing the money. Board member Don Moore reported, based on his conversation with Mike Yevoli, regional director at Empire State Development, that no DRI funds would be released until HDC had a developer and a plan for the site. Mayor Rick Rector reiterated that Empire State Development wanted a developer and a plan in place and noted that the City had offered to take over the project.

Moore spoke of the need to "engage the public sufficiently." Board member Walter Chatham, who also chairs the Planning Board, told the board, "We need to the process over again" and "come up with an agenda that meets the city's needs." He suggested they should approach the planning process "in a way that brings people along." He recommended doing an urban design study to determine "how this site plugs into the rest of the city." He went on to suggest that instead of issuing an RFP (request for proposal) to which anyone could respond, they identify "positive projects that we like" and "invite the developers responsible to come and talk." Acting chair Bob Rasner suggested the board might "invite developers in to have a round table discussion." Moore cautioned, "If you ask developers in, they cannot then apply for the grant." Board member John Gilstrap questioned why a developer would "come in and talk with the board for free." Walter continued to urge the board to "focus your wishes on a developer whose work you admire."   

Board member Nick Haddad asserted that the first thing they needed to do was fill the board, which currently has three vacancies. An appeal for people interested in joining the board made earlier this month on the HDC website and on Gossips has so far gotten no responses, but the nominating committee, made up of Christine Jones, Carolyn Lawrence, Nick Haddad, and Gregg Carey, has come up with a list of twenty-five potential candidates they intend to approach about joining the HDC board. Jones, who chairs the committee, called it "the widest net we've ever cast."

Another topic of interest discussed at the meeting was The Wick and its desire to park cars on the concrete slab behind the hotel which is what remains of the part of the Kaz warehouse building that was demolished, at the expense of the owners of the hotel, late in 2017.

The Wick had been leasing 26 spaces, at the rate of $1,200 a month, behind these buildings on South Front Street, but the buildings have been sold, and the new owners do not want to continue the lease. 

The Wick wants to park 26 cars on the concrete slab that was the floor of the warehouse and pay HDC $1,200 a month. At its meeting in November, after some discussion about whether a proposed lease contract could be discussed in executive session, a subcommittee made up of Rasner, Haddad, and Steve Dunn was tasked with analyzing the proposed lease agreement and making recommendations to the board. At Tuesday's meeting, it was revealed that Haddad had calculated that the slab could accommodate 54 cars, and HDC offered to lease it to The Wick for $6,750 a month. Rasner reported that, when presented with the lease agreement HDC was proposing, Tom Rossi, a principal in Redburn Development Partners, which owns the hotel, said he couldn't afford that.

Rasner argued that "the value [of the parking spaces] cannot be driven by what [Rossi] can afford," but it is not clear how the value was calculated. Haddad mentioned The Barlow and how it purchases six parking permits from the City for their guests at a cost of $250 a year, remarking that The Barlow had never sought a PILOT. (The Wick has a ten-year PILOT agreement in which they paid $20,000 in the first year, $25,000 in the second, and payment increases $9,375 every year until it reaches $100,000 in the tenth year.) The monthly fee HDC is seeking for using the pad--$6,750--adds up to $81,000 a year, or an annual fee per car of $1,500. Rector reminded the board that Rossi "paid out of his own pocket to demolish the building," the remnant of which is now at issue, and said Rossi had told him, "I want the space; I just want a fair price." Returning to the theme of the PILOT, Haddad commented, "These guys are the beneficiaries of our largesse."

The board's next meeting, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, February 26, will be a workshop to define what the board wants to accomplish in 2019. The board's annual meeting, at which new members will be presented and a slate of officer candidates will be presented, is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 26.    

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