Review Of DRI Controversies As Opposition Group Plans Meeting Tonight

Oct 16, 2019

The Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition will hold an information session tonight on the city’s Downtown Redevelopment Initiative project.  As WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports, the group formed this summer when opposition to the current redevelopment plan boiled over.

In July 2016, Governor Andrew Cuomo was in Plattsburgh to announce that the city was among the first to be awarded $10 million in the first round of New York’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative grants.  “You put in a plan to develop the city center which is the next step in your downtown revitalization. You have the Saranac River. You have Lake Champlain. You have all sorts of cute stores that have opened up on their own. You have young people. You have a sense of vibrancy and energy that is in the air that you can feel. And you say you want to expand that and grow it and keep that economy growing.”

Then-Mayor James Calnon accepted the funds and a local committee began honing the redevelopment plan.  The key area is the Durkee Street parking lot, a 3.4-acre site adjacent to the Saranac River and the business district.  The original concept called for an expanded Farmers Market and greenspace leading to the riverfront.

In 2017, Colin Read replaced Calnon as mayor.  Adjusted DRI development plans moved forward.  A contract was approved with Prime Companies of Cohoes to construct a mixed use retail and apartment complex on most of the Durkee Street lot.  Company officials have made numerous presentations  including one in which Vice President Todd Curley outlined modifications to their design.  “We’ve been trying to address the comments to the best of our ability and we’ve been able to really substantially increase parking both on-site and off the site for both private and public use. We’ve been able to increase the connectability between the new developments in the Arts Park going down to Saranac River as well as also increase green space.”

Parking has been a point of contention because the development will disrupt more than 200 spaces. The city is also transitioning from free to paid parking in the downtown core.  Several opposition groups formed and one called Save The Durkee Street Lot planned weekly protests outside City Hall.  After one meeting two councilors were confronted by downtown business owner Saverio Minardi about the parking plans. “I pay $2600 a year extra for that parking lot.  You give it away for a dollar to somebody from out of town. I’ve got tenants. Where they gonna park on top of my building?  We pay taxes.  You should listen to us.”
McFarlin:  “We do listen to you.”
Minardi:  “Well apparently not because you guys are going to go and do it anyway.”
McFarlin:  “There is going to be more than enough parking for your…”
Minardi:  “No there isn’t! We went through the numbers. There is not enough parking.”

This summer, the city held an open house at the Durkee Street Farmers Market pavilion to present updated renderings  that Community Development Director Matt Miller said offered a full picture of the plans to the public.  “A lot of people are excited about what we’re trying to do. They recognize that it could be a game changer for the city of Plattsburgh to have a development of this size right in downtown and all of the associated streetscapes.”

In July the Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition formed to combine the opposition groups. AES Northeast  Managing Partner Scott Allen, president of the coalition, said they’re not opposed to redevelopment and in the past had encouraged it.  “Neither nor anyone I’ve talked with envisioned that the city council would go against earlier recommendations and promote a wholesale sellout of one of the city’s most important assets: the Durkee lot.  Our stakeholders are very concerned with the process and how it’s been handled and about how the permitting process is currently being handled.”

The coalition retained Lake George attorney Matthew Fuller, who in September told the Plattsburgh Common Council the agreement with the developer is illegal.  “The city of Plattsburgh has a bit of an issue in that the project as proposed currently does not comply with the City Law.”

Former Mayor Calnon, who for the most part had distanced himself from the controversies, has started to actively criticize the administration of Mayor Read and the changes in the DRI plan.   He wrote on Facebook September 23rd:  “Let’s be very clear. The concepts that won Ten Million Dollars of DRI money and the current plans for Durkee Street are nowhere near the same.”

The Plattsburgh Citizens Coalition will hold an information session tonight beginning at 6 o’clock in the second floor meeting room of the Old Courthouse Building on Margaret Street.