Two Rotterdam City Council members drop support for office move to ViaPort – The Daily Gazette

ROTTERDAM — A pair of lawmakers who voted last year to spend $1 million in coronavirus relief funds to move city operations to the former Kmart space at ViaPort admitted Wednesday they didn’t know all the facts before making their decision, and that they no longer support the move, which is expected to cost taxpayers millions in years to come.

At a special meeting, City Council members Evan Christou and Samantha Miller-Herrera said they no longer support the current plan to relocate City Hall, police and court facilities in the mall after learning new details about the cost of the mall’s renovation. space.

The change comes eight months after the couple voted to pay a $1 million security deposit for the space using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. The city council had approved a 10-year deal to lease the 50,000-square-foot facility for $33,000 a month — a move that was widely criticized by residents for a lack of transparency and a perceived waste of spending.

Christou, who was assistant supervisor when the city council approved the lease last November, said he did not fully read the contract before his vote and instead relied on the information on the contract which he had gleaned from former town attorney Kate McGuirl, who he accused of misleading him.

He said he believed the contract included an option to purchase the retail space, which was the only reason he voted in favor of it. He apologized for not knowing all the details and assured residents that previous decisions had been made in the best interests of residents.

The contract gives the city the first right of refusal to buy the Kmart center if the owners of ViaPort decide to sell the space during the 10-year agreement. A purchase option would have included a negotiated price to buy the space at the end of the lease.

“A challenge as a part-time public servant is that you rely on your six-figure full-time employees to do the right thing for you,” Christou said. “There was no purchase option in this lease. This completely changes my position.

Christou’s admission is the latest development in an effort that began under the former City Council to consolidate facilities in a bid to save overhead and modernize the current City Hall and City Hall buildings. police and justice center along Princetown Road.

A majority of the board, including supervisor Mollie Collins, Jack Dodson and Joseph Mastroianni, were elected last year and seated in January and had nothing to do with the city’s decision to lease the space .

Collins, who declined to comment on Christou’s remarks, said the current city council was deciding how to move forward with the tenancy agreement and was trying to get as much information and feedback from residents before to make a final decision. Collins has criticized this decision in the past.

But on Wednesday, Collins said she had no position on the move, noting it was her responsibility to gather as many facts about how the move would affect ratepayers and residents’ opinions.

Collins added that the city’s legal department is currently reviewing the lease agreement and any decisions on how to move forward, including modifying or terminating the agreement, will be made in the interests of residents. The hope, she said, is to have a decision by September.

“I have to make sure I don’t do anything that harms the city,” Collins said.

Talks to move the city’s facilities began last July, when the city council hired Barton & Loguidice, an Albany-based engineering firm, to begin developing designs to modernize the former Kmart space.

In August, council members approved a resolution allowing former supervisor Steven Tommasone to start negotiating a lease for the space after preliminary estimates showed consolidating city services could help cut costs . Tommasone signed the lease in November and the $1 million security deposit was paid a month later.

In January, the city council engaged Barton & Loguidice to conduct a cost analysis to determine the price for the modernization of the ViaPort space.

The results of the analysis, presented Wednesday, put the cost at around $9.2 million, nearly double the original estimate of $5 million.

Donald Fletcher, senior vice president of Barton & Loguidice, said soaring inflation had played a part in the price increase, but noted that the plans included items that had not been discussed before, as a secure car shelter that would be used by the police department when transferring prisoners.

The added features were included following interviews with police, court and municipal officials.

“We obviously dug deeper working a lot on the details of departmental needs, expectations and we finalized a plan that we really thought the city would want and need for the next 30 years,” Fletcher said.

The company also determined that the cost of upgrading existing facilities would be estimated at $14.4 million, including $5.4 million to upgrade City Hall and $9 million to upgrade City Headquarters. police and court, which includes plans to double the 15,000 square feet. space and bring the facility into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Additionally, the company estimated that the operating cost of the renovated buildings over 30 years would be approximately $34.8 million, which is $20 million less than the $54.7 million price to lease. the ViaPort space over the same period. The city would pay $37.1 million over 30 years to maintain the Kmart space if the city purchased the facility. It is also unclear whether the city would be able to purchase the facility.

Miller-Herrera said she could no longer support the move due to rising costs and said the city should consider reducing the scope of the project.

A full cost analysis was not done before the city entered into the lease agreement.

“My concern going forward is that this has gone from a $5 million project to a $9.2 million project in the space of six months,” Miller-Herrera said. “That’s not what was envisioned under the previous administration and that’s not what we were looking to do. I don’t know if I can support a move almost double the price.

Meanwhile, residents lambasted board members, calling the move a waste of federal funds that could have been used to upgrade aging water and sewer infrastructure across the city. Others pointed to rising taxes and wondered how the city would pay the monthly rental payments.

“We can’t afford this move,” said Brenda Torosian, who collected dozens of signatures from residents opposed to the move. “You are not fair to the people of Rotterdam.”

Others called on the city to hold a referendum on the move and questioned why the city would move into ViaPort, which they say should be used to attract business and not burden taxpayers more.

“I hope the Rotterdam Mall can be used to make money, not just to take money,” said Rhonda Becker.

Contact journalist Chad Arnold at: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.

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