Democrat Questions Downtown Revitalization Grant Strategy

Aug 4, 2016

On July 6th, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the city of Plattsburgh was one of ten cities across the state to win a $10 million downtown revitalization grant.  At the time the Governor said the plan reflects  “…a sense of vibrancy and energy” in the city. But the Democrat challenging Plattsburgh’s incumbent Mayor says the downtown plan needs revisions.

Democrat Colin Read is a professor of Economics and Finance at SUNY Plattsburgh and a businessman in the city’s downtown.
He says these are exciting times for Plattsburgh and the revitalization grant is a part of that.  But he’s worried about how the funds will be used in the wake of the lowering of the city’s credit rating and a depleted reserve fund.   “I’d hate to see the $10 million go to patching up a weak budget, covering up for some past spending errors and not leaving the legacy that the next generation deserves.”

Read told those who gathered Monday behind the Amtrak station adjacent to a little-used parking lot near the waterfront that there are few limits as to how the city can use the funds.   “There’s very little state parameters actually.  They defined a geographical area of where it can be used. But it’s actually quite open what they can use it for. As a matter of fact it does allow for the city to use that grant to pursue projects that were already in the works.  And that’s why I’m somewhat concerned that it can simply pad a budget that is now, a budget reserve that has now gone down to zero.”

Mayor James Calnon, an independent endorsed by the Republican Party, says Read’s comments illustrate his lack of comprehension about how state grants work.  “You would think that he would understand that when a grant is given it comes with rules. It comes with audits. It comes with all kinds of supervision. And it comes with a purpose and you get the grant to spend it on that purpose and that purpose alone.”

Read, meanwhile, has issues with the plan the grant will fund including lake access, infrastructure,  parking and public input.   “Let’s fix up the existing structure and then move forward perhaps with these grander ideas. Another thing, do we need another parking garage to nowhere like we have a parking lot to nowhere? So these are the things that I’d like to include the public on in a dialog.”

Ward 3 Republican City Councilor Dale Dowdle stood to the side as Read discussed the city revitalization plans.   “The state didn’t give us $10 million. We won it. There was at least a hundred meetings or more for public input that led to that. And there’s only certain ways that that grant can be disbursed. To make up for any other financial problems it’s not gonna happen. That’s not what the grant is for. It’s a concept. That’s all it is. The whole plan is a concept.”

Mayor Calnon doesn’t think his challenger understands or has read the revitalization plan.   “The reason that we earned that award was that we proposed that a city center be established. And that it needed to have within it housing of all income levels.  It needs to have green infrastructure. It needs to have more retail space and it needs to have a lot more open and green space and it needs to access the river.  So that’s the concept. And he makes the mistake of saying that we never discussed this, we never put this out. We’ve been doing that for the last two and a half years.”

According to the mayor’s office, the state will provide assistance to refine the general vision of the project and implementation of the plan could start around the beginning of 2017.