Letter to Governor Spitzer about Convention Center
Published on 6/26/2007
June 26, 2007
Hon. Eliot Spitzer
State of New York
Albany, New York 12224
Dear Governor Spitzer:
On June 25, 2007, the Times Union reported in an article entitled, “Center now a $300M project”, that the proposed Albany Convention Center is now projected to cost $300 million rather than its original cost estimate of $185 million! George Leveille, director of the Albany Convention Center Authority (ACCA), said the cost of the project is $100 million more than originally expected.
Of this $300 million, the state has committed only $75 million or 25% of the cost. Some of the other funding is to come from an increase in Albany County’s “bed” tax, and, of course, the selling of bonds. These bonds are to be secured with the backing of the section 19-A (Public Lands Law Art. 2) monies from the State. In fact, in subdivision 2 of section 19-A it states: “...that any such payment shall be reduced by any amount necessary to meet eligible obligations of the Albany convention center authority…”.
Simply put, the City of Albany can not afford to back bonds that may total more than $100 million in principal alone, against future state aid payments to the City. The City of Albany, according to the most recent census data, has experienced an increase in the number of residents living at or below the poverty level, while at the same time, suffering from a loss of population of people defined as “middle class”. If Albany is going to have to use state aid monies to pay the convention center/hotel debt service, then there will have to be an increase in the local real property tax rate to make up the difference. The backs of the taxpayers in Albany should not have to carry the load for a State authority’s (Public Authority Law Art. 8 Title 28-B entitled, “Albany convention center authority”) debt service.
How can the citizens/taxpayers in Albany be protected from having to use future state aid payments to pay a State authority’s debt? I have a few suggestions:
The State of New York fund the full cost of the Albany convention center/hotel project, after all, the ACCA is a State authority.
The State place a limit on the cost of the project, let’s say the original price tag of $185 million, and direct the ACCA to scale back the proposed project so as not to exceed the original cost estimate (with the State agreeing to fund the full cost of the project if this proposal is agreed to).
The State recommend that the ACCA investigate alternatives to building the convention center/hotel as presently formulated to find a less expensive alternative. One of the required possible alternatives would be updating the 1997 study that proposed expanding the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. The original study for this expansion projected a cost of around $20 million. Even with inflation and the ever-increasing costs for construction materials, the cost of this expansion will probably not exceed the original targeted amount of $185 million.
This proposal is the one I truly would love to see happen – the ACCA is reconstituted as the “Rebuild Albany Construction Authority (RACA)”. The RACA’s mission would be to: (a) provide funding to the City of Albany to rebuild or rehabilitate and/or demolish the almost 1,000 vacant buildings presently identified in the City; (b) provide funds for street and sidewalk reconstruction throughout the city; and (c) provide funds for the City to undertake infrastructure repair of its aging water and sewer lines. The RACA would also have a revolving loan fund to help residents purchase the rehabilitated vacant buildings for owner occupancy. This revolving loan fund would also help to ensure a continuous source of monies for future home ownership initiatives.
This last proposal would have to be implemented quickly (a change in the Public Authorities Law) before anymore money is spent on the proposed convention center/hotel project. Doesn’t it make more sense to build or rehabilitate hundreds of houses for home ownership, thus helping to reverse Albany’s present trend of population loss, than to build one or two buildings that will do nothing to bring in permanent residents to the shrinking City of Albany? Furthermore, the RACA program would have to have a lifespan of at least twenty years in duration, thus guaranteeing the construction trade workers many more years of work than the building of one large project over an eighteen to twenty-four month period.
What I am asking you to do is to review the whole convention center/hotel project, especially its funding formula, and find a way to protect the taxpayers of Albany from having the added burden of the convention center/hotel debt service payments placed squarely on their backs. The citizens of Albany should not have to pay for any part of this State project. There has already been an increase in Albany County’s hotel/motel tax to help raise money for the project. With the projected increase in the final cost to $300 million can an increase in the County’s sales and use tax be far behind? Or, will Albany County propose the imposition of a “food” tax on restaurant meals, on top of the already 8.25% sales tax? As you know, these taxes are regressive in nature and hurt those who can least afford to pay them.
Albany is a capital city, it should look like one. The RACA I am proposing would go a long way into making Albany the capital of capital cities. The City of Albany needs a major investment by the State of New York in order for this to happen. A convention center/hotel is a “sexy” idea, hundreds of vacant, dilapidated buildings made into owner-occupied homes, with attendant reconstructed streets and sidewalks, and an infrastructure that is newly rebuilt, while not as “sexy” as a convention center, will go a lot further in making Albany the capital of capitals, than one lonely convention center.
Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. I look forward to working with you on making Albany the “capital of capitals”.
Common Council Member – First Ward