Mark Baker Does Presentation To City Council On High Rock Parking Structure

Development proposals for the High Rock plot behind City Hall have generated a great deal of passion as evident from the comments on this site.   One unpleasant aspect of this conflict has been the bitter personal attacks on City Center Executive Director Mark Baker.  As I have noted in my previous blogs, I have found Mark to be open and I have found his responses to issues I have raised with him consistently accurate and thoughtful.  As the readers of this blog have seen, I approach all issues with considerable skepticism.

While I was away at the time of his recent presentation to the City Council on the City Center’s proposed parking structure, I watched the video and I found his presentation extraordinarily clear and his response to questions incisive.  I know that there will be readers of this blog who will take considerable exception to my view on this.  For those of you who are still open on this issue I would very much urge you to watch the video and decide for yourselves both about the substance of the City Center’s proposal and how you found Mark Baker in his exchanges with the City Council.  Link To Mark Baker Presentation.  Move the timer to 20:50

Mark’s presentation covered everything from the history of the City Center and the proposal for a parking structure which has been in the works for several years, to showing detailed drawings of the plans and how they have evolved, to the plans for financing their proposal. One of the more interesting components of the plans, I thought, was the inclusion of an agora or partially open plaza on the first floor of the structure which can be used as a community space for the Farmer’s Market, First Night, etc.  Unlike the other parking structures that have been built in the city, the City Center’s structure will be staffed with 24 hour security. While the Hyman and Paramount proposals would cover the entire lot, the City Center proposal would cover only one third of the High Rock plot leaving the rest of the area for future development. I have to say the amount of detail given was in sharp contrast to the much sketchier plans and financial accountings put forth by the respondents to the High Rock RFP.

City Attorney Vince deLeonardis also did, I thought, an excellent job reviewing the proposed lease between the City Center and the City Council to build the parking structure.  Two hearing dates were set with a Council vote planned for April.

John Franck engaged in a lengthy Q and A with Mark Baker about the finances of the City Center proposal.  An interesting, prolonged conversation.  One I would like to see him have with Paramount and Hyman.

Take a look for yourself at Mark Baker’s presentation, the city attorney’s explanation of the lease,  and Commissioner Franck’s questioning. Here’s the link

There will be more time for discussion and input before the Council votes.

 

 

8 thoughts on “Mark Baker Does Presentation To City Council On High Rock Parking Structure”

  1. I’m so happy to see all the major liberal players of Saratoga Springs fall in line with the Republican PAC…..no more squeaks in the wheel nice to hear!

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  2. One of my first postings, referred to my concern over PAC members being on the committee for the High Rock Parking Structure. And for God’s sake, give the monstrous thing a more simplified name.

    PAC = follow the money, count your fingers.

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  3. John, your suggestion that people would get a good indication of the facts by listening to Mr. Baker’s presentation implies that we should take everything he says at face value. But if you would talk with representatives of the 2 teams who have responded to the city’s request for proposals, or others whose interests he does not share, you might find your skepticism profitably redirected.

    He speaks of transparency and a long conversation with various groups. That’s true. He has been transparently uninterested in suggestions or comments from anyone other than those with the power to prevent his project. His only accommodation on many issues is the jaunty way he says it’s true, even though it just ain’t so. He has accommodated the Greenbelt trail. Yes, by moving it from the preferred route along Maple down to High Rock, where it passes by in the narrow space normally left between the building and the curb. The height was reduced. Yes it was – after someone picked up on the fact that the original design exceeded the maximum height allowed in the zone.

    The garage complies with the zoning ordinance. But he confuses that with approval by the planning board, which as you have pointed out, has a majority of people who often aren’t terribly concerned about what the ZO says. The zoning ordinance requires parking garages in transect zones to be placed at least 50 feet from all surrounding streets, to leave room for real buildings. But, as the former chair pronounced, evoking silent nods, “We haven’t done that for any other parking garage, why should we start now?” I’m sure glad those guys are minding the store so we don’t have to. In this case, they waived the white flag on day one, openly cheering him on, because boy O boy does the city center need parking. The ZO also requires “Retail, restaurant, office, residential, light industrial and civic uses integrated at building/lot and block level.” Well his project is mixed use because it is next to the Mouzon House and connects to Broadway. Yes, that’s what he said. Oh my goodness. But the one I love the most is on the new city center authority fact sheet. Instead of seeing a 5-story wall of parking that will stand for decades as the face of the city from High Rock Park as a bad thing, we should be thankful that “It will create a gate-way into the park area, adding more light, life and activity. Plus more parking.” Sort of takes your breath away.

    His most troubling assertions relate to the attempts by the 2 development teams to meet with him and obtain the information they needed to assemble their proposals. He refused to meet with the Hyman team. That’s just the fact. When called on the carpet he tried to spin it by saying he was planning to meet with one member, but didn’t follow through after he got a FOIL request from another member of the team. Ask yourself. Does it make sense that someone would FOIL the city center for information if they knew they could just get the information they needed with a meeting? And why would you not follow through with a meeting just because you got a FOIL request? And why on earth would a developer, knowing that the success of his proposal depended on the information, see it in his interest not to try to meet, but to say he did? By the way, Mr. Baker said he dealt with the FOIL request “in an appropriate manner.” He did so by providing none of the information requested.

    He did meet once with the Paramount team. At that meeting, instead of providing the information they needed, he suggested that he would be happy to work with them to totally redesign their project around his garage, with no variation, contrary to the whole purpose of the RFP. During his recent presentation, with a flourish Mr. Baker presented his parking study to Commissioner Madigan. During his meeting with Paramount, they asked if he had a parking study, and he said yes, but they couldn’t see it.

    Soon after the city council sent us in a new, better direction by issuing an RFP for a mixed-use project for the whole lot, Mr. Baker and Mr. Dalton approached the council at a regular council meeting to say that they intended to work with those who wanted to respond to the RFP. Very strange, in light of their refusal to do so, which appears to be part of a deliberate strategy to sabotage the effort.

    John, it’s interesting that you close by suggesting that Commissioner Franck have a conversation about finances with the developers, similar to the one he had with Mr. Baker. That’s ironic. From the beginning, we have heard repeatedly that the developers aren’t providing enough financial information. On the other hand, all Mr. Baker says is the CCA project will be done “at no cost to the City,” and no one has asked any questions. We are happy finally to see some interest in doing so because we believe there is another way to see things.

    First, the City Center Authority’s financing plan is unknown. However, it appears that it will involve a down payment from accumulated hotel occupancy tax, and bonding at least $5 million. The debt service plus operation and maintenance costs could run $50,000 per month. They intend to pay that off solely through parking revenue. At $5 per day for paid parking in a sea of free parking, we’re wondering how likely it will be that they will earn enough to break even, let alone have more left over to pay the proposed lease payment to the city. And if they don’t, what happens? Will the city have to ask for an increase in the tax, now set at 6%?

    Second, the CCA garage will pay no taxes. Even should the CCA be able to pay the proposed $50,000 per year lease payment to the city, that may be far less than the projected tax revenue from either of the mixed-use proposals. Not sure how the city would assess parking in a private development, but it is definitely a taxable asset. Here’s a simplistic calculation. Multiplying the fraction of the entire lot occupied by the garage building (0.29) by a conservative projection of total tax revenue for a mixed-use development at full buildout ($2 million), approval of the City Center project would amount to an annual subsidy by the City of a half-million dollars. ($588,000 less lease payments, generously estimated at $88,000). Definitely a cost to the city.

    During his presentation, Mr. Baker put up a slide showing the Hyman proposal, pointing out that the garage was right near where his would go, and asked, why couldn’t they just put their development right next to his garage?

    We wonder why, if a private developer could provide the parking the CCA needs in a structure attached to the City Center, would build, maintain, operate and own it in perpetuity, would free the CCA from all the heartache of oversight and stretched finances, would generate tax revenue for the city and never drop a tired expensive old garage in the city’s lap, why O why wouldn’t they want that instead?

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    1. The PAC a while ago needed a eager beaver on the City Council and they found one in Madigan (Fact,like it or not John)….stand alone parking structures are like a covered wagon ….obsolete!….enters the eager beaver,out all the three plans for the 2.6 arces the city center proposal returns the least amount to the taxpayers……corruption right in front of your eyes John……and NOW,your are blind? Rik Fenton is as honest as they come………and he has hit it!

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  4. I could sell hot dogs near the city center and generate more revenue than the $50 large that the city gets from the city center.

    John, I love your blog and your informative reporting, but I think you missed the mark on this one. Mark Baker has been at it too long. He has too much power……time to get some new blood.

    He has a closed mind on this one. Something is up, not quite sure what it is yet.

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  5. John, i think you’ve been sold the proverbial bill of goods. Nobody is saying mark baker is a bad guy and I’m glad you’ve had a good experience with him but I would contend that the most important thing is that he is and was forthcoming and cooperative with the developers who responded to the city’s rfp. Ask the developers yourself, cuz that’s what I did and I was shocked by how rude and obfuscating they claimed mark baker to be. Remember, the rfp required them to procure info from and work with the city center. If the city center refuses, they fail in their duty. The city thus appears to have set them up for failure while also appearing to be disingenuous with regard to the rfp.

    I get the city center is in a weird position, they are being asked to cooperate with what they see as competition. However, cooperate they must and the city council so far has failed to force them. Remember they are an authority not a privately owned entity…I think they forget that sometimes.

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  6. Madigan’s epistle to the local rag a joke,right?…First 2/3 of the ,lot will not be available for development as she has stated, Ms Madigan should release the E-mails between her and Mr. Baker,that’s the clarity and honesty the PUBLIC is looking for!

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