Monday, May 08, 2006

Mission: Demolition

The city voted 5-4 to tear down the old gas station on Main Street. This was quite a surprise. They haven't heard if they've been approved for any grant funds, they were told by the state that saving the building might still be an option that could get funding, and they had a purchase offer on the table to cover some of the remediation costs.

But this group has other plans. And what might those plans be? A prediction is that we will all be hearing about some development plan that just happens to be ready for this site. But why wouldn't a potential developer just come forward and make their intentions known to help council with the decision to demolish? Two words: Tax Break.

Can you imagine how hard it would be to get council to agree to tear down the building if the decision were presented this way:

Either you vote to demolish this building and let a hole in the ground sit there for a year until you turn it over for one dollar to a developer that won't pay any taxes
or
You vote to remediate the building and sell it for thousands of dollars to a
developer that will reuse it and pay taxes on it

How would you convince a majority of the people to vote for the first option? Instead you have to tell them that it's a much different picture. Something like this:
Either you spend $100,000 today to fix the building and sell it to a group that you don't know or you spend $50,000 today to tear it down and stop thinking about it until someone you do know comes around to take it off your hands.

What they did was premature, impatient, irresponsible, and will be expensive.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

All We Need Is Just a Little Patience

Why is patience a virtue? Does it prove that you can endure seemingly mundane tasks with grace and poise? Does it help you to learn that 'the best things in life are worth waiting for'?

I think patience is a virtue because patience prevents you from making hasty, convenient, and downright bad decisions.

So how does patience relate to the current state of Geneva's affairs? Read tonight's headlining story to find out.

The basic idea is this: It will cost $295,000 to get rid of the contamination in the Main Street gas station (see "A Building of Interest" post from January). It will cost about $100,000 to tear it down. So, it looks like city council will take the lower number.

But is the lower cost option really the lowest cost in the long run? Not upon closer inspection.

The $100,000 will take down the building. Then the soil underneath will be exposed. The place used to be a gas station, so you can bet that the soil will need some serious immediate treatment. Then there's the claim that the side of that slope (remember that the building has another entire floor beneath the street level) is in need of stabilization, especially if all of the concrete that's there now as part of the building is removed. How much is that going to cost? Then we'll be left with a big drop off along the side of Main Street. Maybe they'll fill it in (an additional cost) and seed it? Still, it will be a grassy area overlooking the backs of those Seneca Street buildings. I suppose you can't put a price tag on that. And let's not forget that a big municipal hole (or maybe grassy spot) is not taxable. The lot won't even be a standard building lot size, so it won't be attractive to future developers, unless there is some larger scheme in the works to demolish the whole block, but that seems even worse.

On the other hand, $295,000 spent now would yield a gutted, asbestos-free building ready for renovation. There have been many groups interested in buying it, and you know what? A private owner would pay taxes on it. So the $295,000 is an investment. Plus, the city has applied for numerous grants to help pay the cost.

Think about it this way: If you need a new roof, would you think it wise to pay $2000 today for a roof that will last one year, or $8000 today for a roof that's guaranteed for 25 years? I think only a fool would choose the former, especially if you were going to get an Energy Star grant to pay 1/2 of the cost.

So it seems, to use a well-known cliche, "haste makes waste" and in this case, it's taxpayer money being wasted. And since wasting what you have is always looked upon as a sin, it's easy to see why patience (taking the long view on a decision) is truly a virtue.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

It Makes Interesting Television

The Geneva council meeting has been televised a lot lately. It is very interesting to watch the meeting in this way. The camera men show interesting angles and the mics pick up things that can't be heard from the audience. Of particular interest this time are the comments of Mr. Cosentino. He must have been wearing a microphone like the player of the night during football season.
He repeatedly says "I can't stand it" when other people are talking. Someone should tell the other people to tune in and hear it for themselves. As a member of the audience, the color commentary gives an interesting perspective on the issues. While it seems that he doesn't want to demolish that gas station on South Main Street, he certainly doesn't like having it pointed out the way in which the new bidders are being treated much differently from the old bidders that pulled out.
But it's as clear as day to anyone watching that there is a difference, and you have to wonder why.
Geneva taxpayers are on the hook for the clean up of that building one way or the other. It seems like they should be knocking themselves out trying to get private investors interested instead of turning them away and ignoring them.
The tape and warning signs on that gas station have certainly made it look ugly. But even at its worst, it looks a lot better than what we'd all have to look at if it gets torn down. People complain about seeing the backs of buildings along 5/20. That doesn't even compare to what will be exposed on Main Street.
The color commentary provided by one councilor on television gives an insight into the city's decision-making on this issue: They bored with the issue. Even though they've ignored the building for years, now that they're thinking about it, they want a conclusion yesterday. If they can't come up a way to save it within this month, they just want it torn down as soon as possible. I hate to be cliche, but "haste makes waste" and wasting the taxpayer's money by tearing down a building just because you're sick of hearing about it seems rather unappetizing.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

City to Erect Granite Phallus in Park

The city council is considering a proposal to erect a six foot tall phallus, carved from solid granite, in Pulteney Park. It will be placed in front of the existing World War I monument which is, ironically enough, a statue of a partially-clad woman.

The monument, donated by a group calling itself "Geneva's Patriarchs" is not without its opponents. A large number of citizens spoke out at the city council meeting, asking leaders not to accept the gift. Their concerns were drowned out, however, by a man who read random passages from the municipal code while others were speaking. When asked to please be respectful of others' opinions, the man shouted, "Do not deny the phallus!" and began to chant "Respect the rights of man."

Council adjourned to a closed door session to deliberate before returning to the floor for a public vote. The measure passed 6-3. One councilor pointed out that the statue was distasteful. She was taunted by a colleague who said, "she's just one of those preservationists. They don't want anything new and exciting to happen in the city. What do they want? For us to turn away this gift?"

So, despite the protests, the statue will be dedicated next week. The ceremony will include comments from community leaders and will be finished off with the launching of confetti from the base of the statue. "It's a great day for the city of Geneva" said one of the group's spokesmen.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

An Agreement With Cajones

The city awarded Massa Construction the development agreement for the South Exchange Street property. This was a suprise because the newspaper reported in two different articles that the mayor said no decision would be made at the March meeting. But, in a surprising twist, council passed an agreement and it actually came with restrictions. First, it was required that the first floor of the building be residential. There was an allowance for a limited commercial venture that would support the general operation of the building, but any retail space or office space was taken out. That's good because there is a lot of vacant store frontage downtown and we don't need to add to that. Also, it can't be good financially for the developer to keep possibly-empty storefront space instead of sure-t0-sell residential.

The other stipulation is that the units be called 'townhouses' and not 'condos.' That doesn't effect the design, but it does effect the taxes. If a unit is a townhouse, then the purchaser owns it and pays taxes for their individual unit. If it is a condo, then the building is taxed as a whole and the owners share the cost through their management agreement. Since a building's assessment is a lot less than the sum of its individual unit assessments, that's a lot more money for the city and a big relief on the tax rate for homeowners.

The council unanimously approved an agreement that benefits the city instead of just the developer, and that's a nice change! Did I mention that there's no tax abatement either? It's a great day for Geneva!

Monday, February 27, 2006

What does Albany know?

One of the developer's partners for the South Exchange Street site is from Albany. A quick query of the NY Times and the Albany Business Journal reveals some interesting information. Our local reporter obtained a copy of an e-mail that Iversen sent to the city manager regarding a bankruptcy issue with the downstate partner, Victor Gush. Here's the quote that appeared in the paper:

“I’m told everyone got their money. I call that valuable experience,” Iversen wrote. “Critics will call it something else. Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone else in the development business who is willing to take risks, who hasn’t had at least one project that didn’t follow the desired script.”

It's true that it's important for everyone, including the city, to get their money. Which brings to mind the article from May 20, 2005 about South Main Manor:

The building’s former owner, South Main Manor Associates — led by managing partner Chris Iversen, president of Chrisanntha Inc. of Gorham — still owes all of a $300,000 low-interest loan awarded by the city’s Revolving Loan Fund in 1993.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Developers Meet City in Closed Door Session

Massa and Iversen, who want to develop the Exchange S. property are meeting with city council on Wednesday to iron out the details.

Will the council select a developer Wednesday? The proposals were just released to the public and there's been no opportunity for comment yet. The process used with the other sites had three steps. First, they collected the proposals, then they talked about them to determine if any of them should be allowed to submit more information. At the last meeting, they decided not to go forward with the residential development off High Street. This coming meeting should not be a negotiation for a sale. The comments in the paper about keeping up the momentum makes me nervous. Around here that seems to be code for "let's get this done quick and without public input."

I hope that doesn't happen here. The paper gives bits and pieces of the proposals. The latest bit of information is that Iverson wants docks built for his building's tenants. That's another attempt to privatize the lakefront.

Massa's plan has been reported as being reasonable. We haven't seen any mention of a tax giveaway yet. But if we like his plan we should still talk about it at a public meeting and get comments on it before council sells the land. This is, afterall, one of our best pieces of buildable property in downtown. The public shouldn't be shut out of the discussion when council goes over the details of the design and the economics.