Jenny Grey Story On Vote On City Center Lease

I know that I already posted my report on the City Council meeting that adopted a lease for the City Center but in a number of ways I think Jenny Grey’s story is better than mine so I am posting it here.

Council approves High Rock lease to Saratoga Springs City Center

By Jennie Grey, The Saratogian

Posted: 04/06/16

SARATOGA SPRINGS >> After a public hearing that lasted nearly two hours, the Saratoga Springs City Council voted 3-2 to lease the High Rock lot to the City Center, which plans to build a parking facility on one-third of the parcel. The two dissenting votes were Mayor Joanne Yepsen and Accounts Commissioner John Franck.

“A mixed-use approach is best for the city,” Yepsen said. “So a standalone parking garage is not the best solution.”

Franck objected to what he saw as the low lease rate of $50,000 annually.

Before opening the public hearing, Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan presented the lease issue. The City Center will lease the northerly portion of the High Rock lot, leaving 93 free surface spaces. The City Center will 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.

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The 25-year lease will permit the City Center to build a four-and-one-half-story parking structure with 480 spots, connecting the facility to the convention center with a covered walkway. Since the facility will be built on only a part of the High Rock parcel, the rest of the land is left for the city to develop.

The City Center will pay for the construction with bonds, and paid parking will support the project thereafter.

Madigan called City Center President Mark Baker to also speak on the lease, being sure to explain the financial aspects to the public.

“This is not the Mark Baker Proposal,” he said. “But I’m excited about it as well.”

He described the parking study commissioned by the City Center and undertaken by Michigan-based firm Carl Walker in 2014, from whose numbers the City Center Authority extrapolated figures for weekends, evenings and track season. The authority also adjusted revenues, which the city council and the authority both found too conservative in the Walker survey.

“This project creates no tax burden on the city,” Baker said. “The parking structure will be built, maintained and operated by the City Center. The city won’t be left holding the bag or get a monstrosity. The City Center Authority will maintain your asset to the community, just as we maintain the City Center.”

Before people took the microphone, Yepsen announced a new guideline for public hearings of allowing everyone just three minutes to speak during any one hearing. She wants to keep council meetings from going past 11 p.m. She didn’t quite succeed in this new 11 p.m. goal that Tuesday, but then the agenda was packed.

Many voices for and against the lease were heard during the public hearing and during the council’s following discussion.

John Baker, owner of Gaffney’s Restaurant, called the City Center one of the most important entities the city has. But because of convention competition and lack of parking, Saratoga Springs loses revenue.

“I have lost several catering jobs because of the lack of parking,” he said.

Cindy Hollowood, general manager of the Holiday Inn, said the increased parking would be beneficial to the entire community. She said downtown businesses, which depended on the parking, sponsored residents’ sports teams and donated gift certificates to local clubs’ fundraisers.

“Our city’s quality of life would go down without these businesses,” she said.

Charles Holub, president of Saratoga Farmers’ Market Association, said he was speaking for the market, which badly lacked parking. He supported the parking facility and the agora, or public space, on its first floor, which the market will use year ’round.

Michael Lenz, the supervising pharmacist and a partner in Fallon Wellness Pharmacy of Saratoga, and a former Saratoga Springs mayor, praised the city’s vital community and incredibly vibrant downtown.

“I have the utmost respect for the leadership and decision-making process of the City Center,” he said. “I think this is the right thing to do.”

However, Charlie Samuels of Marion Place said he was against what he called Mark Baker’s plan.

“The city deserves better than this design from the last century,” he said. “This garage is unworthy of a progressive city like ours.”

Julie Cuneo, chair of Citizens for High Rock, was among the residents who encouraged a multiuse solution to the parking issue, wanting businesses, retail, affordable housing and green space blent with parking.

“Our solution was palatable to the city at large,” she said. “So I hope to keep working with Mark Baker and the two development teams.”

Dianne Pedinotti, one of the owners of the Mouzon House Restaurant on the edge of High Rock Park, came to the microphone with a catch in her voice. She said she feared having the parking structure built right next to her restaurant would bankrupt her.

“Please remember the Mouzon House’s plight in all of this,” she told the council.

Pedinotti and her husband, David, have filed a lawsuit against the city, accusing the City Council of voting to change Saratoga Springs’ solar access law to benefit the City Center’s parking structure. Their solar panels would be blocked by the facility. The matter is still pending.

With a touch of humor, Rick Fenton of Leffert Street, a member of Sustainable Saratoga and Citizens for High Rock, and a longtime opponent of the single-use parking garage, said, “We’re getting to the end of a long, rough road, but when we get there, at least there’ll be parking.”

He expressed confusion and disappointment that the city had not worked further with the development teams that had designed mixed-use proposals for the High Rock lot.

Later in the meeting, Madigan made a motion to add an item to her agenda: voting on how to reply to those development teams. The request-for-proposal process, spurred on by the public, had run contiguously with the City Center’s application to build its parking facility on that same land. Yepsen said she wanted to wait until the next council meeting to vote on this item, which she had originally placed on her own agenda for discussion only. The matter carried, however, with 4-1 voting to reject both of the proposals. Yepsen dissented.

 

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