Jenny Grey Article On Lively Hearing On City Center Parking Structure

Businesses, public speak out about City Center lot lease

By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian

Posted: 03/16/16, 4:59 PM EDT

The city council chambers are packed with businesspeople and citizens who want to speak about the City Center parking-structure lease March 15. Photo by Jennie Grey – jgrey@digitalfirstmedia.com

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> Many residents and business owners attended Tuesday’s city council meeting, and most had an opinion to share at a public hearing about a lease for the City Center’s proposed parking structure on the High Rock lot.

This showed most when Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan and Jennifer Leidig of Seward Street unexpectedly faced off during this public hearing.

Leidig had reviewed a City Center parking study, which had been presented by Michigan-based firm Carl Walker in June 2015. The study had examined parking conditions in a 19-block area bounded by High Rock Avenue and Van Dam Street to the north; Circular Street to the east; Division and Phila streets to the south; and Bolster Lane to the west.

The study found an inventory of 2,608 spaces in this 19-block area. It is based on weekday occupancy surveys conducted between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on May 7-8, 2014. The study authors increased observed occupancies by 25 percent to account for higher demand during June through September. Carl Walker determined there was a 263-spot deficit of available public parking.

When Leidig began to discuss some of the financial figures in this study, Madigan interrupted her and tried to redirect her to the issues of the lease.

“But these finances are directly tied to the lease,” Leidig protested. “You can’t talk about one without the other.”

She also said her comments were just as on-track as those of many of the other public speakers, who mentioned many different aspects of the parking project, including green space and zoning laws.

The two women spoke back and forth, interrupting one another sharply, for several heated moments before Leidig stepped down.

Madigan said, “Maybe I shouldn’t be sitting here because I’m tired of dealing with you.”

In a later email to the Saratogian, Leidig wrote, “Very clearly, Commissioner Madigan tried to shut me up when discussing paid parking and finances. I’m still kind of shaking from her attack last night; thank goodness I’m not used to being spoken to that way. It was truly a form of censorship.”

Like Leidig, other Saratoga Springs citizens said they were against leasing to a single-use building that didn’t fit their hopes for development in the heart of Spa City. Meanwhile, business owners and residents who live downtown spoke up for the parking structure and its lease.

Madigan described the City Center’s proposal as it now stands. The plan would build a four-and-one-half-story parking structure with 480 spots, meant to create good connections between the High Rock area and downtown. The facility would be built on only a part of the High Rock parcel, leaving the rest for the city to develop.

The parking structure will be paid for by the City Center via bonds. Paid parking will support the project.

The present plan is to lease the northerly portion of the High Rock lot, leaving 93 free surface spaces. The lease is proposed as a 25-year agreement. The City Center would give the city $50,000 annually as a lease payment, plus 50 percent of the net paid-parking revenues after operating costs, debt service and reserves.

“An advisory committee will act as a liaison between the City Center and the city,” Madigan said

Harvey Fox of Caroline Street, the owner of N. Fox Jeweler’s and chair of the Special Assessment District, was the first to take the microphone during the public hearing on the lease. He spoke of the Downtown Parking Task Force, which will present to the city council in early summer.

“I’m in favor of the lease,” he said. ‘The City Center brings in business to Saratoga throughout the year. We’re no longer just the August place to be, but the year-’round place to be.”

Cindy Hollowood, the general manager of the Holiday Inn, also spoke in favor of the lease and in support of the City Center. She said Saratoga’s convention center had added 10 percent occupancy to her hotel’s rates, which had permitted the Holiday Inn to add staff as well.

“Our convention-goers love everything we have to offer in Saratoga,” she said. “We have everything but adequate parking.”

Roger Goldsmith, secretary of the City Center Authority Board of Directors, said, “This parking-structure project will become a catalyst for the infill of the rest of the High Rock parcel.”

Will Pouch, owner of the downtown eatery Esperanto, said a ripple effect from more people parking at the City Center would affect everyone, business-wise.

“And I might be classless and tasteless,” he said, “But the parking-structure drawings looked pretty good to me.”

Steve Sullivan, the owner of the Olde Bryan Inn and Longfellow’s, said the city council needed to be sure to do the right thing.

“Build it, and they will come; but with no parking, they might not come back,” he said.

On the other side of the question, Julie Cuneo, chair of Citizens for High Rock, reminded the council that the High Rock parcel was the last large piece of public property downtown. She urged the council to consider the two designs for it that had come in from requests for proposals (RFP).

“If I sound intent, it’s just passion,” she said. “It’s not disrespect.”

Mark Loughton of Nelson Avenue said the process had been too rushed and too opaque for most people.

Rick Fenton of Leffert Street, a member of Citizens for High Rock and Sustainable Saratoga, said the High Rock RFP Technical Review Committee, which reviewed the two designs, had done an incomplete analysis of the parking situation and the two plans.

Resident Colin Klepetar advised prudence in the parking approach. He wanted the council to consider public transportation and walking as well as vehicular traffic.

“This lease isn’t the best we can do,” he said.

Later in the evening, City Center President Mark Baker presented on the parking structure five-year pro forma. He said the study finances were being misinterpreted.

“We are in a position to do this financially,” he said. “Our finances are available online.”

Bonds would be issued to the City Center Authority, not the city; and the authority would then take on liability, he said.

“Our project has already gone through the land-use boards,” he said. “The business community wants it. The lease is flexible, and part of the parcel is still open for the city to develop as it wishes.”

Yepsen noted that the city council still needed to conclude business with the two developers who responded to the RFP. Madigan said that the High Rock RFP Technical Review Committee had been unable to recommend either of the two designs.

“If people have concerns about the City Center, they can look at our past history and see how well we’ve run their convention center,” Baker said.

The public hearing on the lease will remain open until the next city council meeting.

10 thoughts on “Jenny Grey Article On Lively Hearing On City Center Parking Structure”

  1. The Saratogian has updated this article and it now tincludes a comment / paragraph from me. I had wished they would have spoken to me before simply quoting an email referring to me as a censor. Public Hearings are not the same as Publuc Comment. Public Hearings are topic specific and are legally noticed, Public Comment is for any topic. I suggested that if she wanted to discuss the finances of the City Center she could do so at the Public Comment. Hopefully, the next Public Hearing on this topic will be managed better. I specifically stated that this was a Public Hearing I set to discuss the lease and not the state of the City Center’s finances, which quite frankly are strong and can support this structure, contrary to the misinformation being peddled by Ms. Liedig. The City Center Authority is run by local business professionals with decades worth of experience. The City Center also has a line of credit and an option for their bonding. This wouldn’t / couldn’t happen without strong financials so I’m not sure what she’s peddling. But for some reason it’s being peddled. Thank you, Commissioner Michele Madigan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The tone and tenor of Commissioner Madigan’s comments here is indicative of her general attitude towards the constituents that she is supposed to serve. Remember she works for the people, the people that have taken the time to come to the meeting to communicate an idea to her. She is supposed to hear all public comments no matter what the topic without bias or preconceived ideas. To characterize a public commenter as peddling something is disrespectful, condescending and out of line, especially in a public forum like this blog.

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      1. Actually Paula is incorrect. Public hearings are specific to the topic for which they are held. The public comment period of a city council meeting is where the public can talk about whatever they want. Ms Leidig was out of line, period, and the Mayor should have told her to stay on topic.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Had Ms. Leidig payed attention to the rules on the hearing, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Had she stopped when Commissioner Madigan asked her to because she was out of order, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Had the mayor interjected as she was supposed to do, there wouldn’t have been a problem. Yet you blame Commissioner Madigan for simply doing the the job she was elected to do. Did it ever occur to you that SHE was being disrespected too?

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  2. Ms. Johnson, I was re-elected by one of the largest margins in Saratoga springs history and was the largest vote getters in contested elections locally. We are not required to hear comments on any topic at a public hearing – not at all. We are required to do so at public comment. They are different. I’m sorry you don’t understand this important difference even though I tried to explain it. I will explain it again at the next public hearing I set on the LEASE for the city center and will insist the mayor keep people on topic. I did not have to set these public hearings, I did so for public benefit, but they are not hearings in the budget of the city center or an external study provided by Carl Walker. This USA hearing on the LEASE and lease only. This next hearing will be run with more guidance as to avoid these unpleasant situations. And not everyone can like me, but I have many supporters and people who do like me. I work for those who show me respect. Period. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I watched the video of Commissioner Madigan and the public hearing. I also watched the video of Commissioner Madigan yelling at Commissioner Frank saying she wishes he would just shut-up. In both instances she is way out of line in the tone, tenor, in her comments censuring the offing individual. The real fault here to maintain decorum at the meetings lies with the mayor/chair of the meeting, as Saratoga voter indicated. In the instance when Madigan was yelling at the John Frank the Mayor simply ended the meeting but Madigan continued to yell.
    If a resident/citizen behaves this way, the police are called and the individual removed. The next time Commissioner Madigan acts in this way the speaker or the mayor should ask that the commissioner be removed for disturbing the meeting. Call the police and have Commissioner Madigan removed.
    I, for one, am afraid to go and speak before the council, or the planning boards, on any subject. Commissioner Madigan’s attacks and Mayors Yepsen’s unwillingness to stop them have certainly placed a chill on the public discourse that should be taking place, before the council and the planning board’s. Maybe that is the point to silence the mass through intimidation and threats of public shaming. Perhaps this blog will turn the tables around and the commissioner Madigan will remember it is the people that she serves. I for one would never speak to my boss the way Madigan spoke at the meeting, if I did I would be out of a job.

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    1. I would simply ask that you follow the city politics a bit more closely. Perhaps then you might understand just what is REALLY going on in City Hall. Let me state this clearly for you: Commissioner Madigan is NOT the problem. There is a reason she gets angry. That is what you are missing completely here.

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  4. It would appear that Ms Madigan has a personal agenda with Ms Leidig. The body language said it all. She almost jumped out of her chair, which is very unprofessional. Why did Madigan allow other speakers to drone on and on about parking and shopping, yet she became livid at the mention of the word finances?
    Decorum?

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    1. No. It was because it was made PERFECTLY clear BEFORE the hearing started what could and could NOT be discussed, and there are specific reasons for that. Ms. Leidig was also told this AGAIN as she started in on the finances, and yet she persisted. The Mayor SHOULD HAVE STEPPED in at that point, and did not. Did you – or anyone else – mention here that Ms. Leidig is a close personal friend of the mayor’s?? Hmmm…. No. But had she brought this topic up at public comment, there wouldn’t have been any problems because it was allowable then. NOT at the hearing, which was on a specific topic: the LEASE.

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  5. Wow, Ms. Johnson, you certainly have no compunction writing about incorrect information, though you’re scared to go to a meeting. You watched a spliced up video of interaction with Commissioner Franck and Madigan. He’s the one who has told her to shut up, has interrupted her and told her she doesn’t know what she’s talking about at several meetings, so yes things have been heated between them in the past. You seem to fall prey to only having partial information and think because someone is elected they owe respect to all citizens even those who disrespect them – including yourself. Feel free to run for office Ms Johnson if you don’t like the job Madigan is doing, I for one do, and she’ll have my vote every time.

    As to Mr. Patrick’s post, Madigan is not responsible for running the meeting or public hearings and no one else discussed the finances or Carl Walker study which Madigan specifically stated at the start of the public hearing was off limits. However you are correct, many ppl were off topic, but no one else discussed what she asked them not to discuss and stated to her it could be discussed at public comment. People don’t seem to understand this interaction happened at a public hearing that happened before the council meeting even started. She was asked to stop and then argued. She should have been asked to leave. Elected officials work for the peoole, but the people have guidelines as well.

    If the Mayor can’t run the meeting, and a member of the public starts arguing with a Commissioner who is on point, I hope that person is asked to stop, or leave, or be removed by the police so this type of interaction does not happen in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

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