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Million-Dollar Bye-Bye

The promise of a state handout seemed to seal the future of Troy’s City Hall, but the state budget gap has thrown that into question

Last week we met with Con gressman Paul Tonko to discuss a number of different options we may have under the stimulus package. We have decided that we will apply for funding a new City Hall on this site,” Mayor Harry Tutunjian told the Troy City Council, reading from his sixth State of the City. “As we prepare to move our offices to the former Verizon building on Sixth Avenue, we will also begin the process of creating a mixed-use development here that transcends urban redevelopment, reinvents public space uses, and opens up our waterfront.”

This was news to the assembled councilmen, said council President Clem Campana, but nothing to get very excited about. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said. The mayor’s pledge was just the latest installment in the messy political saga surrounding Troy’s much-maligned, and slowly crumbling City Hall.

What the mayor didn’t mention in his speech was that on Feb. 3, the state Senate and Assembly agreed to a Deficit Reduction Plan, cutting back state aid to municipalities, including Troy, to address the $1.6 billion budget gap facing New Yorkers. Tutunjian’s dream of this transcendent City Hall rests heavily on the promise of state money made by former Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

Last year, as part of Bruno’s farewell tour of the Capital Region, the now-indicted legislator announced millions of dollars in state aid to municipalities and organizations, with Troy the big winner, having been promised $6 million to “revitalize” its downtown riverfront. The Deficit Reduction Plan stripped $1 million of this money from the Senate line: Half of the money was earmarked to move the rock salt pile sitting just north of the canal, and half was from the $4.7 million earmarked for the City Hall project.

Troy’s director of Public Information, Jeff Buell, said that the city has not received official notice that the money has been stricken from the budget, and that he couldn’t comment further.

The reduction plan is currently at the Division of Budget awaiting approval.

The current political battle to raze the brutalist structure began during the election cycle of 2007, and for many observers, was the key issue that swayed voters and swept a Democratic majority into the council. Tutunjian, who was also facing a reelection that November, announced that his administration had brokered a deal to sell the riverfront property to Judge Development Corp., with the agreement that the city would then move into office space owned by the developer for up to five years.

The Democrats painted the deal as a bald political move and campaign stunt. The sale of the property wasn’t put out to bid, complained Councilman Bill Dunne (District 4), raising a series of questions: Was razing City Hall the best approach? Was there an independent estimate for the cost of repairing the ill-kept building instead? Was there an estimate to move the City Hall offices to the Judge building? Was there an independent estimate of the value of the riverfront property? Was there more than just a vague proposal for the building that Judge would build in its place?

Council President Clem Campana told Metroland that these questions were central to the concerns he encountered when campaigning in the weeks building up to the election.

The administration battled the Democrats throughout the following spring over the proposed Judge deal, until the former senator from Brunswick stepped in to offer what seemed like the perfect settlement to the stalemate: money.

Even Dunne, the mayor’s most vocal critic, stated then: “We can’t say no to $6 million.”

But the next month, Bruno was gone and Gov. David Paterson was warning New Yorkers to brace themselves for economic collapse.

“My concern is, is this just a paper cut?” Dunne asked about the possible loss of $1 million in state aid, “or is this a bleed-out? Is this just the beginning of more cuts? I am not sure how long it is going to take until we know, but if it keeps moving in this direction then it will become a problem.”

“I have a sinking feeling about this,” he added.

Dunne and Campana cast the only dissenting votes when the council agreed to authorize the mayor to negotiate the contract that would move the city’s offices into the former Verizon building. He said that he has no idea about the terms of that contract or, even now, if the city can risk moving. Now, he said, he worries that the city might have to back out of that deal.

“If the money is not there,” he said, “we cannot move City Hall.”

—Chet Hardin

What a Week


These Dollars Stayed Home

Winners announced in Buy Local Holiday Pledge campaign

Metroland is pleased to announce the prize-winners from the Buy Local Holiday Pledge campaign that the newspaper launched, in conjunction with Capital District Local First, during the recent holiday shopping season. The campaign encouraged Metroland readers, as well as shoppers who saw the Buy Local Pledge cards in area stores, to spend at least $100 of their holiday budgets on local, independent businesses. Those who filled out pledge cards detailing their purchases became eligible for a drawing for gift certificates provided by a number of local businesses. We are pleased to report that the response overall was very enthusiastic, and that we received many dozens of pledge cards in our office.

The grand-prize winner, who will receive a $100 gift certificate from the Jay Street Business Association, is Lisa Seemann of Niskayuna. The additional winners, each of whom will receive a $25 gift certificate donated by one of 13 local, independent businesses, are: Trisha Churchill, Paul Cronin, Cindy Fascia, Frederick Pfeiffer, Melanie Pores, Scott Reul, Colleen Ryan and Pamela Strassberg of Albany; Joan Harrington of Loudonville; Anne Dillenbeck of Rexford; Sara Bach of Schenectady; Paula Carosella of Scotia; and Drea Leanza of Troy. The prizes are being mailed out this week.

Among the retailers selected by pledge shoppers, the Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady took highest honors, having been cited on 12 different pledge cards. Next were the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Honest Weight Food Co-op, and Two Spruce Pottery (8 citations each); Elissa Halloran Designs, and the Good Leaf Tea Company (6); Market Block Books (5); Lodge’s, Peaceful Inspirations, and Romeo’s Gifts (4); and the Chocolate Gecko, the Little Book House, and Spirits of Troy (3).

The pledge campaign was conceived and promoted based on the fact that money spent on locally owned businesses recirculates throughout the region at a much higher rate than money spent on chain retailers. An example we cited is that if all of Metroland’s 150,000-plus readers were to shift $100 each in their spending from chain to local businesses, the net positive impact on the local economy could be as high as $5 million.

Look for both Metroland and Capital District Local First to announce more initiatives to support the local, independent economy in the coming year.

Almost All Together

Photo: Chet Hardin

Albany Common Councilman Willard Timmons (Ward 5), center, didn’t originally support his fellow council members’ push to investigate the “ghost tickets” scandal. He said that he figured it wasn’t that big of a deal. What brought him out for the press conference Monday, though, was Brendon Lyons’ recent article in the Times Union, he said, which reported on a list of 270 VIPs—many of them private citizens—who were exempt from parking fines. “That kicked it up a notch,” Timmons said. But he fell short of joining his fellow council members in front of Albany City Hall in their call for the use of subpoena power. Instead, he said that he would like to see the state comptroller’s office lead on the investigation, and leave the subpoenas for further discussion.

Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3), right, called for the press conference to continue his efforts to persuade the rest of the council to vote to exercise subpoena power, and he was joined Monday in that crusade by council members Barbara Smith (Ward 4), left, and Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1), background. Councilwoman Carolyn McLaughlin (Ward 2), Ellis said, supports his call for subpoena power, but was unable to attend.

—Chet Hardin

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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