Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Watching a glacier move

Breaking news from Lake Avenue: Saratoga Springs City Center officials claim the aging convention facility needs to expand, or face the possibility of turning away future bookings.

“There's a growing understanding that unless we make the convention center larger, we won't be able to accommodate the groups that have been coming here,” City Center Authority member Gordon Boyd told The Saratogian recently.

Keep in mind, in the aloof realm of Barbara Lombardo’s newsroom, the term “breaking news” is often synonymous with “old news” or in this case, news that was reported more than five years ago. In fact, without looking at dates and bylines, it’s often difficult to differentiate between the various new reports on the glacial pace at which the city center expansion project is moving forward. Putting this in perspective, The Saratogian has plowed through no less than six business reporters and countless other novice journalists who have tried in vain to trump the expansion effort.

City center expansion was first brought to the forefront of the news in 1998, following some creative refinancing by the city and a $3.9 million budget windfall. One year later, the convention center was given a nice tax break after officials from the city council and the authority convinced administrators from the school district’s board of education to accept a stupendous payment in lieu of taxes.

City center officials argued they needed the PILOT to get their budgets in the black. So rather than fork over an annual sum of $266,000, the center was allowed to a lump sum of $325,000 in school taxes between 2003 and 2007. Doing some fairly rudimentary math, that’s as pretty darn big tax break they’ve received for almost a decade.

But since this tax break was granted, the city center authority has done a fairly good job in ratcheting up business on Broadway. In 2004, they attracted the U.S. Submarine Veterans Association convention, which drew nearly 2,000 veterans to the area. Many officials lauded as a sign of that facility’s robust ability to attract heavy-hitting conventions. For this heads-up work, the authority received another nice gift in 2006 at the behest of Hollywood Joe and his merry band of senate Republicans, which pledging $12 million in state funds to offset some of the expansion costs.

Of course, the architectural study alone will run the city roughly $17 million, which is just shy of four times the original $4.9 million it took to build the structure in 1984. HNTB Architecture Inc. of Kansas City, Mo., the design firm selected last fall to design the expansion, was also the group that conducted a $79,000 study exploring different expansion possibilities, which is more than twice the $30,000 the authority allocated for a study three years earlier.

What is the lesson to be garnered from all this? The longer the city center expansion project drags out, the more expensive it gets and the more it’s going to burden both state and city tax payers. Had the authority, the city and state leaders hashed out a plan for expansion in 1999, when the center’s limitations first brought to light, perhaps they wouldn’t be facing a project that is bound to cost a pretty penny.

And with the district’s tax agreement set to expire in less than nine months, the time for expansion may have come and gone, unless the authority has squirreled away a nice nest egg. Keep in mind; the district wanted $266,000 per year before the PILOT was extended eight years ago. There’s a good chance they’ll want more this time around, now that property assessments have gone through the roof.

Once the final count for the expansion comes in, there’s a good chance the authority will again seek out a PILOT, using many of the same arguments they made in 1999 while pointing an aging facility that’s approaching its silver jubilee. The question they should be asking is if the city’s property owning populace will again be able to overlook a massive tax cut for the booming center's expansion while they watch their own rates soar through the roof.


Blogger Don and Sher said...

Maybe Glens Falls can sell Saratoga the Civic Center cheap.

2:01 PM  

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