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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Schenectady Set to Distribute ARPA Funds to Harbor Arena Project

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SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady City Council is set to allocate $2.5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to the proposed Mohawk Harbor arena, marking a significant step towards the realization of the Union College hockey rink.

In a previous decision in August, the City Council had withdrawn the $2.5 million ARPA funding initially set aside for the Capital Region Aquatic Center in 2022. This decision was made after the project was relocated from its original site at Mohawk Harbor to the ViaPort shopping mall in Rotterdam.

During the council’s Monday night City Development and Planning Committee meeting, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy proposed that the council approve the ARPA funding for the arena project. The project is expected to commence this year and be completed by fall 2025.

The proposed $50 million arena will be the home ground for Union College men’s and women’s hockey teams. The college has reached an agreement with the arena developer, Galesi Group, for a $20 million deal to host the Division I hockey teams at the arena for a period of 25 years.

Currently, the hockey teams play at the on-campus Frank L. Messa Rink at Achilles Center, a facility that was built in 1975.

The developer, Galesi Group, will contribute approximately $20 million to the project. An additional $10 million in state funding has already been secured by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.

David Buicko, Galesi Group CEO, informed the council that the city’s $2.5 million contribution would be used for the $4 million site preparation costs.

Council President Marion Porterfield inquired during the meeting if the project had secured all of its outside funding sources, excluding the city ARPA funds.

“We need a resolution from the county [Legislature] to work with us concurrently as you people,” Buicko told the council. “This would be the cherry on the sundae.”

The committee unanimously approved a resolution to allocate the funding, with the full council set to vote on the measure during its meeting next Monday, Feb. 12.

“This is a significant milestone,” said Ray Gillen, Schenectady County Metroplex Chair, on Tuesday. “We are grateful for the mayor and the council’s support in advancing this project.”

During the meeting, Porterfield stated that the council would require a written community benefits agreement from the arena developers. This agreement would ensure the building’s use by community groups, a condition necessary for the project to receive city funding.

“This is crucial,” Porterfield emphasized.

Buicko agreed to this condition, stating that the developers would be open to including a clause in the final contract. This clause would allow the city to reclaim funding if the terms of the community benefits agreement are not met. The council will draft the community benefits agreement at a special meeting in the near future, specifically convened to discuss the city’s outstanding ARPA projects.

Councilman Damonni Farley argued during the meeting that the arena project could offer more extensive benefits to the local community than the aquatic center would have.

“Supporting this was crucial, as it would not only attract people into the city and stimulate business, but also house a variety of youth programs and services [at the aquatic center],” Farley said. “I believe this [arena] project has a much greater potential to impact our community, particularly in terms of youth sports programs.”

Councilman Joseph Mancini asked Buicko on Monday if the arena could potentially attract semi-pro sports teams to the Mohawk Harbor site.

Buicko responded that the venue, which will accommodate up to 3,600 fans, will be too small to host an arena football team. However, he mentioned that the developers have been approached by several professional sports teams interested in using the venue, but he could not disclose their identities due to confidentiality agreements.

Councilwoman Carmel Patrick expressed her full support for using the ARPA funding for the arena project during the meeting.

“We should not miss this opportunity,” Patrick said. “Over the past 15-20 years, we have been diligently working to develop our restaurants and hotels. This will be another remarkable asset that we can use to promote our city to conferences, conventions, and provide opportunities for youth sports for our children.”

Councilman John Mootooveren, the last remaining council member who voted to approve the casino project in 2014, expressed his support for funding the arena project.

“Back then, we discussed the economic impact that the casino would bring to the city, and over the years we’ve seen that and we continue to see the impact the casino project brought to the city with the businesses that followed it and trickled down into the neighborhoods and outer part of the city,” Mootooveren said. “I believe another project like this will also trigger that same sort of outcome.”

Buicko pointed out that the city collected $2.6 million in revenue from Rivers Casino last year, more than the one-time allocation in ARPA funding that the city would make for the arena project. The developer argued that the arena would increase traffic at the neighboring casino in the coming years.

“With the revenue from the casino and hopefully revenue from the events center, we’ll continue to grow and get better,” Councilwoman Doreen Ditoro said.

In response to a question from Porterfield, the developer said any pilot program associated with the arena project would be nominal, as the site is not expected to generate a significant amount of property tax.

Councilman Carl Williams said during the meeting that the arena on the harbor could last for generations.

“Adding this type of resource to our community just bolsters the Electric City mantra that is continuing to exist day in and day out,” he said.

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Rafael Torres
Rafael Torres
Rafael Torres, a native of Schenectady, has returned to his hometown after several years of reporting in the Midwest. A graduate of Missouri School of Journalism, Alex is known for his empathetic approach to local news, covering everything from community events to local governance, always with an aim to bridge diverse perspectives.
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2 COMMENTS

  1. Good news for the Schenectady community! It’s great to see ARPA funds being allocated towards projects like the Harbor Arena. This investment will surely have a positive impact on the local economy and provide new opportunities for residents.

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