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ACCA Under Comptroller's Scrutiny

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The new downtown Albany convention center is expected to have an estimated economic impact of $36 million a year. But ahead of the facility's planned spring opening,  the Albany Convention Center Authority's finances are coming under scrutiny.

The new Albany Capital Center is changing the city skyline and already has generated new interest in the downtown area. Recently, Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners has raised questions surrounding the Albany Convention Center Authority's financial record-keeping.     "The Albany Convention Center Authority wants to take about $2.4 million of additional funding from the taxpayers of Albany County. Of course, the original agreement, back, probably, I wanna say, 12 years ago, was for a much larger facility, and it was going to be a transformational facility that would stretch from Broadway all the way up to Pearl Street. The facility that I call 'Joe Nicolla's addition,' the very small center that they are building on Eagle Street, was supposed to be $63 million, but through the miracle of spin-mastery it is now considered a $78 million facility."

Joe Nicolla is the Albany developer recently caught up in an alleged bid-rigging scheme involving ousted SUNY Poly President & CEO Alain Kaloyeros.

Albany Convention Center Authority Chairman Gavin Donohue downplays the county's beef as "not much of an issue."    "It's an accounting disagreement. We're on basically an accrual basis for accounting, they're on a cash basis for accounting. There's a sequence of timing that we see as a difference. What's frustrating is, the comptroller, who is supposed to operate fairly, went to the media before he came to us to talk about the issues."

Conners says it comes down to estimates versus actual numbers.    "I did contact the authority's budget office in the state of New York. The authority's been operating for over nine years. There has been no audit done of this authority in that period of time. There was also in the Times Union information that the Authority was unable to account for about $360,000 of state funding."

The newspaper questioned revenue discrepancies. Amounts the ACCA deposited into its account didn't match money it had received. Days later Conners notified Donohue his office would be auditing the authority to look at internal controls and accounting practices in an effort to reconcile the numbers.   "... so now I'm put in the position of having to respond to this, when, in fact, we're talking about over a total of $7 million hotel tax that we got in seven years, $1,100 that we have an accounting disagreement over. So, in my mind, it is something that's easily resolvable, once we can get into a room and, you know, work through the numbers. So it's much ado about nothing at this point."

Conners says the financial review is being handled by outside independent auditors.   "The costs from this small facility really have to be looked at. They're gonna need a total of $3.6 million plus roughly $700,000 in revenue that they're gonna get through the operation of the facility. Seems a bit excessive, particularly in view of what it costs to run the Knickerbocker Arena, which is a much larger facility and has more activities in it, and actually has a lower operating cost than would have the Albany Convention Center Authority's building."

Conners is hopeful that, in the interest of county taxpayers, the audit process will find everything to be in order.  He hopes the new facility will be "wildly successful," but would like to see the state eventually take over the Times Union Center and the convention center.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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