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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

McCarthy Inks Community Benefits Deal for Arena Without City Council’s Awareness


SCHENECTADY — In a surprising turn of events, Schenectady’s Mayor Gary‍ McCarthy inked a community benefits agreement with the developers of ​Mohawk Harbor arena last Thursday. This move was unbeknownst to the city council, who⁣ were in ⁢the midst of debating the agreement that ⁣very night,‌ unaware that the mayor had already ‌sealed the deal.

On Feb. 12, the council passed a resolution that allocated $2.5 million in ⁣American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to the arena. This resolution authorized McCarthy​ to enter into an ‍agreement‍ with the developers, West Yard Properties. The mayor​ took this action last Thursday, finalizing a deal that will enable the Schenectady City School District and youth sports groups to host events at the Union College hockey arena free of charge on a predetermined basis.

That same evening, the ⁤council convened for a special City Development & Planning​ Committee meeting to discuss the city’s overall ARPA status and the community benefits agreement. The council ​members‌ outlined the items they hoped to see⁢ in ⁣a potential community benefits​ agreement with the arena developers.

Despite being present at the council’s⁣ special meeting,⁤ McCarthy did not disclose that he had already signed the benefits agreement‌ earlier that day.

At the end of⁢ the council’s Tuesday’s City Development and Planning Committee meeting, ‌City Council President Marion Porterfield revealed that the⁤ community benefits agreement, which ‍was discussed at the council’s previous meeting, had already been signed by the mayor.

“They didn’t ask,” McCarthy said on Wednesday. “The council ‍president really didn’t want this to happen. She was trying to slow it down‍ and didn’t want it to go⁤ forward and didn’t want the money appropriated. She’s done that on other things ‌and I’m not going to get into ⁢this prolonged thing. ‌Even when they​ had ⁣the [Thursday] meeting, they couldn’t come to an agreement on what they wanted and‌ they’re still trying to think about it. It’s‍ just not‍ productive.”

The mayor⁣ sent the signed deal to​ the ⁢city council on Friday. Porterfield expressed surprise​ upon learning that McCarthy had already reached a deal with the developers without the⁤ council’s knowledge.

“I was⁣ really actually​ insulted that he would sit ⁣there knowing this and not ⁢share that‌ information with the​ council,” ‌Porterfield said on Wednesday. “That lack of communication is just one of the⁢ reasons that we⁣ have difficulties as we move things forward. So that level of lack of communication, I can ⁤just really not put into words why‌ he would do that. I’m perplexed as to why he would do that.”

Despite her concerns, Porterfield voted for the $2.5 million​ in arena APRA funding on Feb. 12 in a unanimous council vote.

“I ‌want the community to benefit from the fact that we’re giving $2.5 million,” she said on Wednesday. “I ⁤want​ the community ​to benefit⁣ from local⁤ people⁣ being employed and I want the community to benefit from MWBEs [Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises] and the revenue⁣ that’s going​ to be generated to stay within the ⁤city.”

The contract includes ​a community‌ benefits agreement that features stipulations ⁤that allows the school district and youth sports programs such‌ as learn​ to ⁤skate and hockey and basketball⁤ clinics to ⁤gain free access to hold events at the arena, with ⁣the city and arena to develop an ⁣annual schedule to lay out the specific dates ​for each‍ group. The agreement​ also allows the city ‌to utilize the arena as a deployment location in the case of emergency and also as a backup location for Harbor Jam Nights, SummerNight and the SUNY Schenectady⁣ graduation in the event of ⁤inclement weather. ​A prior​ community benefits agreement between the developers and the county for the $5 million in county ARPA funding provided to the project also includes language stating that SummerNight and the SUNY Schenectady graduation would be held at the arena in case of bad weather.

“The developer, Union College, the city and the county‍ are all approaching it by saying, ‘How do you get the maximum benefit‌ out of this building ‍and that site?’” McCarthy said on Wednesday.

“They do the summer concert series there and they’ve ​done fireworks, so⁢ I’m happy with it [the agreement] and at⁤ the same time ‍I want people to just keep an open mind going⁣ forward, ⁣because for 50 years that just sat there as vacant, ‍abandoned and underutilized. Now it’s the number one tourist destination in the Capital Region.”

The agreement includes many of ‌the suggestions raised by the council during last Thursday’s meeting, minus a proposal by City Councilman Carl Williams ⁤that called for two annual arena internships for Schenectady school district ⁣students and a suggestion from Williams​ that local community⁣ organizations get ​a seat at the table regarding ⁤events⁤ held at the arena.

During the council’s Tuesday night meeting, McCarthy said that he went ahead with the community benefits agreement in part due to the council’s recent track record, including the council passing a 2024 budget ⁣on ‍Dec. 21 last year, weeks after the city’s Nov. ‍1 budget deadline. McCarthy said he would move forward with matters such as the arena deal expeditiously when presented with the opportunity.

“I look forward to working with you, but I’m going to move some ⁣things ahead ⁣maybe in a manner in which you find less than desirable,” McCarthy told the board on Tuesday. “But I’ve got to manage the city and keep moving projects so that they’re actually happening and⁢ we’re getting results.”

Porterfield said that if the mayor wanted to move ‌swiftly on the arena contract ⁤that he should⁣ have informed the council before he signed the agreement.

“I think it would⁤ have been the ⁣right thing to do, ‌not a courtesy, to reach out to ⁢the council and ‌say,‍ ‘Hey, I feel like I need ⁤to move this forward ⁢quickly and I really need your input rather than‍ sign the contract and send it to us after it’s done,” Porterfield said on Wednesday.

McCarthy told the⁤ board on Tuesday that he considers the⁢ community benefits agreement as part of a dynamic process that will allow for changes⁤ to the deal. The⁣ council will compile its suggestions for the agreement moving forward, with the city to⁤ reach out to developer Galesi Group ⁤CEO David Buicko for ​additional⁤ negotiations on the ⁣agreement.

“This is almost a good problem to have,” City Councilman ⁤Damonni Farley said during Tuesday’s meeting. “This ⁢is a result⁢ of us moving‌ forward with a project that’s going​ to benefit our city. I see this as more ​of a starting ‌point and‌ I think that if all parties involved seem ⁤to be open to getting feedback from the community and ⁣more voices, I think that will benefit this process.”

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