Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Hiring a Project Manager

Last night, the Common Council voted to approve the resolution to authorize the Tourism Board to hire a project manager for this year's iteration of Shared Streets. The action came at the end of nearly ninety minutes of discussion and only after slashing the budget for the position from "not more than $30,000" to "approximately $15,000." All the members of the Council voted in favor except Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), who abstained because she wanted assurance "in writing" that businesses without a brick and mortar presence could participate, and Jane Trombley (First Ward), who was not present at the meeting.

Council president Tom DePietro introduced the topic to the aldermen by saying, "If the larger project is to move forward, we need this managerial position." He assured them that the money was coming from the Tourism Board, and $30,000 was a maximum amount. He advised the aldermen, "This meeting is not a referendum on last year's program. What's on the table is a significantly different program." Exactly what the "significantly different" program proposed for this year is has never been made clear publicly. All that is known is that, according to an edict from DePietro and Mayor Kamal Johnson, the streets will not be closed.

The first aldermen to comment on the proposed resolution was Rebecca Wolff (First Ward), who quoted from the Tourism Board's newly crafted "mission statement," a two-page document that can be read here. She then said she didn't support spending taxpayer money in this way, opined the expense of a project manager should be paid by businesses, and suggested that Tourism Board money should be spend on shared public spaces, mentioning in particular making up the shortfall on the Promenade Hill project. (The lowest bid on construction for the Promenade Hill project came in $500,000 over budget. Last year, the Tourism Board started out with $435,000 in revenue from the City's lodging tax.)

John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward) expressed the opinion that the major responsibility of the job was dealing with the permitting process, which he suggested at one point could be done in house. He said what is planned for this year is "nowhere near the scope of last year" and suggested the job description was "incredibly overwrought." It was Rosenthal who suggested that the budget for paying a project manager should be reduced to "$15,000, no more than $20,000." Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) opined it should be no more than $15,000. 

In her comments, Garriga insisted the resolution be tabled until the Council's April meeting. "I don't understand what's the rush," she declared, adding that she wanted time to speak to members of the Tourism Board and to business owners. She also expressed concern about minority businesses without a brick and mortar presence on Warren Street, saying the program was "supporting businesses but not necessarily local businesses." In response to her asking how Shared Streets survived last year without a project manager, DePietro told her, "Last year, department heads were very concerned with safety issues, and this addresses it." She also asked why Calvin Lewis (Third Ward), who chairs the Tourism Board, couldn't be the project manager. Lewis responded, "I appreciate volunteerism, but this needs someone who is paid."

Now that the resolution has been approved by the Council, the next step is for the Tourism Board to develop an RFP for the position which, according to the Tourism Board, will involve working a total of 620 hours over a period of six months. At $15,000, this works out to about $24 an hour.


  1. Why should Shared Streets be continued post COVid?

    1. ...so the Tourism Board can waste more of the community's money on a patronage machine?

      I will say again that I think last year's Shared Streets program was a necessary life preserver for a lot of small businesses along Warren Street.

      It was imperfect, sure. Every rollout has problems, especially when you are designing something from the ground up. Peter Spear and the folks at Hudson Hall did an admirable job of being responsive to the needs of businesses and residents throughout the program.

      Additionally, there is evidence that rethinking our relationship to cars vs. other means of transportation will help us design better cities more ready to adapt to changing technologies and provide better service to residents, but that's thinking ahead, and would require a far greater degree of expertise than the Tourism Board has shown. (They couldn't even get a survey right, and one member of the board keeps talking about himself like he's the non plus ultra of marketing insight. Which, I mean..)

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  3. Rosenthal was right that most of the job description, if we want to be kind and call it that, is administrative, and could be done by the City Clerk. As far as management and 'enforcement,' once you have the design down and you've stumbled through the first dance, you should be warmed up and ready to rumba. There should be a lot of learning and institutional memory carried over from last year...

    Except last year's team won't be this year's team, because the Tourism Board wants to step in front of this and reinvent the wheel. Tom DePietro promised that the job would be bigger and the project very different from last year, but he and the Tourism Board have been scant on details, and have thus far failed to produce anything meaningful that might give insight to their grand vision or imbue business owners with a sense of confidence that professionals are running the show.

    Which brings us to Garriga's correct observation that this half-baked (and luckily only half-approved) project could have been brought before the Council next month. The Tourism Board did not require approval of the Council to write and circulate an RFP, which might have invited participation and generated ideas from people who actually had them. 

    I would point out that brick and mortar stores are paying rent and often, whether as owners or commercial tenants, property taxes. Moreover, sales taxes can be more reliably collected from existing businesses. I do think Garriga is correct that there is some opportunity to help microbusinesses (non brick-and-mortar) participate without interfering with that primary goal. After all, no restaurant that has to bake in fixed cost overhead to its menu wants a food truck parked outside selling similar food at a substantial discount.

    Ultimately, hiring a city contractor makes less sense than approaching the Hudson Business Coalition, who has the expertise, existing relationships with local businesses, and insight to manage a project like this correctly, with the additional benefit that some HBC members may be interested in helping smaller ventures find their sea legs and get up and running. 

    HBC has said they don't have the bandwidth now, but they are hiring an administrator and the stipend could easily help HBC attract better staff who could work full-time on behalf of businesses and liaise with the City. If any sensible members of the Tourism Board want to turn this tanker around, they'll find a way to hand this initiative off to someone who knows what they're doing.

  4. Last year, the board paid about $10,000 to Hudson Hall. If the salary for the program manager is $15,000, that means an additional $5,000 will be spent on the program this year. I haven't heard a compelling reason to spend so much more money on the program. I'd rather see the $5,000 spent on promoting Hudson as a destination for bicycle tourism.

  5. Maybe the money would be better spent elsewhere, and maybe they can divide the work by having the city clerks cover permitting and volunteers for outreach and safety. I do think that they won’t find a qualified PM to work for 6 months for $15K. Especially when a large part of the job will be dealing with balancing the needs of local businesses with the complaints of car loving locals who think these type of pedestrians forward ideas are the end of the world. Just look at the comments on the community Facebook group. It will take someone with diplomacy skills above minimum wage with no benefits.

  6. I encourage the Tourism Board to invest resources fostering bicycle tourism, which could have a significant economic impact on Hudson. Here's a link to concrete steps recommended by the Adventure Cycling Association to welcome and accommodate bicycle travelers visiting Hudson: https://www.adventurecycling.org/advocacy/building-bike-tourism/bike-travel-friendly/

    1. I concur. Bicycle tourism is a real thing.

  7. The Tourism Board could provide funds for a local publisher / graphic designer to create a brochure of loop bicycle tours from Hudson to local attractions. There would be rides to Olana and the orchards in Livingston, to Art Omi, to Kinderhook on the Albany Hudson Electric Trail, and to Lake Taghkanic State Park. Here’s a link to an example of a brochure produced by Lake Champlain Bikeways that could serve as a template for Hudson’s guide: http://www.champlainbikeways.org/documents/Heart%20of%20Vermont%20Bikeways%20FINAL.pdf

  8. On Saturday afternoon, I was riding the bike path on Harry Howard Avenue where I met two cyclists who said they were from Albany. They asked where they could get a cup of coffee, and I gave them directions to Warren Street.
    These were the first bicycle tourists I’ve met on the trail in Hudson, and my encounter is evidence that the Albany Hudson Electric Trail can serve as a magnet for bicycle tourism in Hudson.
    The Tourism Board should roll out the welcome mat for cyclists. Do you hear me Kristan Keck, Tamar Adler, Chris McManus, Filiz Soyak, Hannah Black, Selya Graham, Sidney Long, Kate Treacy, and Calvin Lewis?

  9. I'm not commenting on Shared Streets, and whether or not it's good idea, but as someone who produces events, I do want to say the amount of work that goes into managing the logistics of a project like this is grossly underestimated, that would be true of a privately managed project, but one subject to so much input, and so many voices from the various Hudson interests with be all the more challenging.
    I also want to say that the council's response as a whole (There were individual exceptions, of some alder people, like Tiffany Garriga who responded deeply and quickly to support and advocate for her constituents) to covid was really lacking, and there was no support whatsoever for the small businesses who lost so much, and regardless of appearances are nowhere near to recovery. Given that the tourism dollars are largely driven by the small business community, and the lack of support and response from the council, I find it appalling the Rebecca suggests none of this money should go to support this endeavor.