In December 2010, Gossips reported what then mayor Rick Scalera had said about the recently acquired Kaz warehouses: "There are certainly challenges in taking the buildings down . . . it will be costly, but we have the opportunity as a city now to put in some grant applications to take those down so we can offer [the land] to a developer." Ten years later, two of the three warehouses still stand (and one missing was demolished by Redburn Development, at its own expense, to improve the view from The Wick), and HDC is still talking about offering the site to a developer--only now the site being offered could be considerably larger.
Yesterday's meeting of the Hudson Development Corporation was all about "real estate opportunities": a landlocked parcel owned by HDC on Mt. Merino and the Kaz site, now known as the Montgomery Street parcel. Bob Rasner, president of the HDC Board, defined his goal regarding the Kaz site as wanting the board "to approve the sale of the parcel in a sealed bid." The minimum bid suggested was $2 million.
Rasner opened the discussion by reminding the board, as he has before, of HDC's raison d'etre:
It is the mission of this corporation to sustain, promote and attract projects that improve economic opportunities for businesses and residents, create jobs and enhance the quality of life in the City of Hudson. Note no mention [of] real estate development, city planning, zoning, etc. Those responsibilities fall to others… public and private entities skilled and invested in those skills.
In his address to the board, Rasner revealed that the scope of the plan being contemplated goes far beyond the five-acre site, which he described as being "bounded by Montgomery Street on the north, Front Street on the west, residential properties on the east, and the City's long-term parking lot and [ADM] rail spur on the south." Rasner told the board:
It should come as no surprise that prospective purchasers, as long ago as my early days on this board, have always asked if the parcel had actual river frontage, noting that such a feature would add considerable value to the land. Of course, the land [west] of the site, is owned by the City… the Dunn Warehouse parcel. Likewise, early developers saw opportunity to repurpose valuable acreage presently used by the City as long term parking. We have received information to assist us in rethinking parking at the riverfront, suggestions that would . . . up the long term parking area for a more productive use but retain ample parking to accommodate Amtrak passengers and residents and produce a revenue stream for the city
This past summer, the Common Council authorized the mayor to include the three City-owned parcels along Water Street, between the Dunn warehouse and Ferry Street bridge, in the request for expression of interest (REI) in redeveloping the Dunn building. This change was made at the suggestion of Bonacio Construction, the only developer to respond to the original REI for the Dunn building, issued back in March. Now it seems HDC and the City of Hudson are looking to collaborate to offer a significant chunk of the city and its precious waterfront to developers. This is what Rasner proposed yesterday:
Clearly, the KAZ parcel and the Dunn parcel are extremely valuable, and if joined, the two are worth more than the sum of the parts. To that end, I am today asking the Mayor to promptly enter into discussions with this Board to strategize joint sale of these parcels.
Rasner made reference to Council president Tom DePietro's resolve to rebuild the City's depleted fund balance by selling City-owned properties and spoke frequently of a letter he had received from Planning Board chair Betsy Gramkow, which seemed to have played some role in motivating the proposed course of action. The letter, which Gossips requested and received from Gramkow, speaks only of the five-acre Kaz parcel and makes no reference to bundling it together with the Dunn warehouse and the waterfront parcels. It offers the assistance of the Planning Board and outlines a process. The following is quoted from the letter:
As members of the Hudson Planning Board, it is our hope that we can work with you to engage public and private stakeholders in a planning process that will best position Kaz for successful development.
As you know, the Kaz Warehouse site is one of Hudson's premier development opportunities. Appropriately managed, it promises to produce jobs, housing, cultural and commercial space, adding immeasurably to Hudson's future. This effort would yield a number of tangible benefits:
- Channel citizen energy at the beginning of a design and development process, define public amenities at the site, and generate public support for an urban design for the parcel.
- Create development guidelines that reduce risks for developers, while driving up the parcel's value.
- Set the stage for a dynamic new mixed-use neighborhood in Hudson. The goal would be to tap existing expertise and venues, including but not limited to the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, the Common Council-led Planning Task Force (chaired by John Rosenthal), as well as local interested groups such as Future Hudson and Historic Hudson.
Although Gramkow's letter addressed only the Kaz parcel, Rasner's vision extends beyond that. He stated that the Amtrak parking lot "should also be in play," opining that it was wasteful to have cars parked all on one level," and reiterated his conviction that the Kaz parcel "would be far more valuable if it stretched across the railroad tracks to the river."
Branda Maholtz, executive director of HDC, asked, "Is it the intent of this administration to sell Dunn or retain ownership?" There was no direct answer to her question, although shortly before she asked the question, Mayor Kamal Johnson expressed his desire to "get the City out of the landlord business."
Rasner said he wanted "to move the wheels quickly" and asked that the discussion with the City take place in the next two weeks. He also called for a bid package to be developed and ready for board review in two weeks.
When public comment was invited, John Kane, presumably referring to the Dunn warehouse and the adjacent parcels along Water Street, cautioned, "The Hudson waterfront is a valuable community resource, and there will be objection to parceling it off to a developer."
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