At the Saturday meeting, members of the City Council worried publically that if the Bonacio proposal for Moore Hall were not approved, the cost of demolishing it could mean that the building would stand indefinitely as a rotting hulk. This prompted me to wonder just how much has Norstar been asking for the Pink Palace?
The result of my attempt to find out is in the email below that I have sent to the members of the City Council and to the Zoning Board of Appeals:
We know that Norstar Development paid Skidmore College $1,250,000.00 for Moore Hall. What we do not know is what price they have been offering to sell it for during the last ten years. We also are in the dark as to how much Bonacio Construction has offered for the property.
At Saturday’s neighborhood meeting with the City Council a number of commissioners expressed concern that the costs associated with the demolition of Moore Hall might make an alternative to the plan Bonacio was offering prohibitive. The fear of course, encouraged by Norstar and Bonacio Construction, is that if they are not allowed their variances, Moore Hall will sit idle and deteriorating forever. Given the fact that nothing has been done to the building in ten years, this narrative has an easy appeal. Unfortunately, this scenario has never been soberly scrutinized. As public figures who manage complex offices, the members of the City Council should know better than most the risks of drawing conclusions based on assumptions.
Following Saturday’s meeting I began making inquiries about how much Norstar Development is asking for the Moore Hall parcel. I was amazed to find that there are no available records stating an asking price. An internet search produced a resolution by the State University of New York to authorization the purchase the property for about two and a half million dollars back in 2011. Subsequent searches, however, failed to reveal why the sale did not go through.
I spoke to several local realtors and asked if the property had ever been listed locally. The answer was that neither of them had ever seen an offering for it. Both noted that they follow the local market closely and neither could recall any offering of the property let alone a price.
I then spoke to a friend who is a major developer. He told me that it would not be offered under a local listing for a variety of reasons. He told me that the closest thing to a listing for a parcel like Moore Hall would be by one of the national real estate firms that specialize in large, multi-family buildings. He also had never seen any offering of the property.
He explained that with a building like Moore Hall a developer would use his contacts and his knowledge of the industry to periodically check for interest when the developer felt the market conditions were favorable.
So the reality is that we really do not know what Norstar has been asking for the property. My friend noted that Moore Hall sits in one of the prime locations in Saratoga Springs making it a very desirable piece of land. It is not at all unusual in the real estate industry, he told me, for an owner of such a parcel to hold the property for years in light of its potential. Much depends on what the carrying cost and taxes are.
It is also very important to note that we have no idea what Bonacio Construction has offered Norstar as part of their agreement.
My friend offered the obvious: If Norstar is holding the property and paying the carrying costs and paying the taxes it is because they believe that at some point they can sell it or develop it. The only way to get an honest sense of if viable alternatives might exist for the property would be to press Norstar on how much they have been asking for the land and to document how rigorously they have marketed it. Lacking that information any assumptions about the potential for plans other than what Bonacio is offering to do with the parcel are simply blind guesses.
While it is to the developer’s advantage to promote the narrative that Bonacio Constructions proposal is the last hope for development of the property, the process would be better served if the members of the Council refrained from offering credibility to what can only be conjecture.