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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Schenectady Council Details Community Benefits Agreement for Mohawk Harbor Arena


SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady City Council has approved a ‌$2.5 million allocation from the‍ American ⁤Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)⁢ to the forthcoming‍ Mohawk Harbor arena. As part of the agreement, ⁣the project developers have committed to⁣ incorporating ⁤provisions that will ensure community groups and ‌local residents reap benefits from the project.

The council initiated ​the process of drafting a community‌ benefits agreement during a special City Development & Planning Committee ⁢meeting on Thursday night. The board deliberated on ‌potential items​ to be included in the agreement ‌with the arena developer, ⁤Galesi Group.

City Councilman Carl ​Williams expressed ‌his desire for the benefits agreement to⁣ include representation for⁤ various community organizations that‌ could make‌ use of the planned arena.

Williams identified the‌ Schenectady Inner City‌ Ministry, ⁣Safe Inc. of Schenectady, SUNY ​Schenectady, and ⁣the​ Schenectady City ⁣School District as potential‍ stakeholders. These organizations could serve as validating ‍agents for future events at the arena.

“I‍ believe that involving them in these​ discussions could empower them and increase their investment in future events,” Williams stated during‌ Thursday’s ⁢meeting.

The $50 million arena project, which is expected to break ground⁣ this spring or summer,​ will be the⁢ home of‌ Union⁣ College’s men’s‌ and women’s Division I hockey teams.

Williams suggested that the agreement‌ should include provisions that would ​enable ‍community organizations to⁤ rent the arena at a ‌discounted rate.

“I envision⁣ there will ⁣be ‍days throughout‌ the month​ when the arena‌ is less busy.​ I‌ propose ​a monthly or ⁢quarterly listing of available time ⁤slots that could be offered ⁤to ​the⁣ community at a⁤ reduced rate. I ⁤understand that the Galesi​ Group, being a‌ for-profit organization, may⁤ want to set a limit on‌ this, but I believe this would allow community residents to make use of the space that their ARPA dollars are ⁣helping to fund,” he said.

As part of the $5 million in ARPA funding allocated to the arena project by the Schenectady County Legislature⁤ on Feb. 13, the developers agreed to use the arena ⁣as‍ a backup venue for the​ annual SummerNight event and⁢ SUNY Schenectady graduation in case of ⁣bad weather.

City Council President Marion Porterfield shared that she had gathered ⁤community feedback ⁤about what residents would like⁣ to see from⁤ the ‍arena. She proposed that the⁤ site maintains Union College’s public⁢ skate times and sessions for children to⁤ learn ice skating.

Porterfield also expressed her desire‌ for an art gallery in the arena that would showcase work from local⁤ artists​ on a rotating basis, as well as a ‍bike rack outside the arena.

The ⁢ARPA funding resolution passed by the council ⁤during its⁣ Feb. 12 meeting stipulates that a community benefits ⁣agreement will be included in​ the city’s⁢ contract with ​the ⁣arena developers.

The ​city will also have the right to claw back funding if the developers do not meet the terms ​of the eventual community benefits⁣ agreement.

During the council discussion on the benefits agreement, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy⁤ asked the board if other venues ⁢in the city like Proctors that⁢ receive city funding would also be asked to agree to similar agreements.

“Is it just this sole ‍ [arena] project or⁣ is this something‍ that we’re looking to apply across the board?” McCarthy asked.

Porterfield responded that a community benefit agreement was particularly suitable for the arena project since the city is awarding $2.5 million in funding and the ⁣site is not expected to ⁣generate ⁢significant ⁣property taxes.

Williams also proposed ​that the arena offer two annual internships to Schenectady high ​students, a ⁢proposal that City⁣ Councilwoman Carmel Patrick noted that ‍she was in favor‌ of.

Patrick expressed during the meeting that she would like to see local⁣ youth sports groups​ factored into the forthcoming agreement.

“I think they need a collaboration with the school district and that⁣ might be the way,” she⁢ said of including youth sports.

City Councilwoman Doreen ⁣Ditoro stated ‍during Thursday’s meeting that she did not​ want to place restrictions on the arena developers.

“Who‍ are‍ we to say ‌that they should give discounts?”​ Ditoro asked. The councilwoman added that​ she would like to see open skating hours offered to ⁢the community at the hockey arena.

During⁣ Bucco’s presentations to the council earlier in February, the developer⁤ said that the arena was ‌being built as a⁤ community hub.

“It was clear that wanting to make sure‌ that the community benefited was‍ at the crux of this project,” ​Williams said ⁣during‍ the meeting.

Porterfield ‍said‌ that she would reach ‌out to Galesi Group CEO David Bucco to discuss the items that the council discussed on ⁣Thursday for‌ the community benefit agreement, with ‍the council‍ to negotiate with the framework of the document before it ⁢is​ brought back for a council vote on the ⁤final agreement.

“I think‌ that all of⁣ the ideas that were floated tonight were good ideas,” ⁣Porterfield said after the‌ meeting. “I think we have to flesh them out a little⁣ bit more, but I thought that the council⁢ members brought forward ‌good ideas.”

Kiara Thomas
Kiara Thomas
I uncover quirky and compelling stories. Always on the lookout for the 'why' behind the 'what'.
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