A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old
and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and
disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel
Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add
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The Mayor’s Iraq
There are better ways to spend $300 million
dollars than to
it on a convention center
Here’s the opportunity we’ve all been waiting for.
Last Monday, the corporate media announced that the cost for Albany
Mayor Jerry Jenning’s Ridiculous Convention Center, which
is to be planted in downtown Albany next to Jim Coyne’s Ridiculous
Arena, is going to cost one third more than originally touted.
It’s not much. Only another one hundred million dollars
of taxpayer money than we were originally told.
“I don’t think anyone should be alarmed by the price,” said
Jerry. George Levielle, the director of the Albany
Convention Center Authority, which is the money funneling agency created by the State
at The Mayor’s request, said “There is nothing we can
do about that. That’s the reality.” Jack McEneny, who
is a participant in these shenanigans, opined that the increase
was “primarily because of the Iraqi war.”
Whatever. Elected officials and City appointees who are loyal
to Mayor Jennings talk about the Convention Center in downtown
Albany as if it has already happened. Everybody is on board, they
say. Everybody wants it, they tell us. And of course, the corporate
media is in total agreement with the politicos. No one but malcontents
are opposed to it, they tell us.
Bull crap. I don’t know anyone with a lick of sense who
wants this stupid Convention Center. Hell, even people with no
brains consider it a dumb idea. I mean, everyone except the City
officials seems to have figured out that it’s a financial
and planning disaster from which the City may never recover.
But strange to say, everyone treats it like a done deal. People
mutter against it, but no one does anything. No one has tried to
organize to stop it, and almost
no authority with a public voice has spoken against it. Apparently the initial propaganda blitz
was very effective. The opposition was defeated before it was imagined.
To put it simply, this stupid thing is a stupid financial decision.
Convention centers, in general, are proven failures. There’s
too many of them and not enough conventions looking for a home. All of
this was clearly laid out by a now classic Metroland article from
Like Jim Coyne’s arena, currently named the Hearst Rag Center,
it will never pay for itself. During some years Coyne’s Box,
which is owned by Albany County, can meet operating costs with
the revenue it brings in. Most years it does not. But no year does
it pay for the debt service on the bonds floated to build it. That’s
purely a taxpayer subsidy that never ends.
Now, supposedly there are mysterious economic benefits
conferred upon the City by the Coyne Box. I can’t say that
noticed these benefits. What I have seen is a long line of automobiles
from the suburbs pulling off the Madison Avenue exit of 787 to
attend big name shows at the arena. And when the shows are over,
there’s a long line of autos heading back to the suburbs.
All that’s left behind for us are their exhaust fumes.
But at least the cost of debt service on the Coyne Box is spread
out over the entire county. Sheep farmers in Berne are helping
to finance this squat, ugly arena. In contrast, three quarters of Jerry Jenning’s
boondoggle will be
hoisted upon the backs of City taxpayers as bonds and new taxes. The other quarter, we are told, will befinanced
by our State taxes.
What $300 Million Will Get Us (click to see full size)
Basically, the convention center will be another downtown playground
reserved primarily for suburbanites. It’s a prime example
of the “rotting carcass politics” that dominates our
City government. That is, the attitude among our elected officials
that the City of Albany is a stinking dead animal, and all the
fat maggots better eat their piece of decaying City now so that
tomorrow they can all buzz away well fed to the suburbs.
The Convention Center will provide little or no employment for
the inhabitants of this City. As evidence for this assertion, I
present the Coalition for Economic, Environmental and Educational
Justice (CEEEJ.) This worthy group, a coalition of community activists
and organizations, is trying to get the City interested in hiring
people who live in the City of Albany to build and run the Convention Center.
Um, hello? Hold the phone, forward the email please? Why should
this even be necessary? It shouldn’t be the job of the City
of Albany to think up expensive ways to provide employment for
people who don’t live here. Jobs in Albany should go to Albanians.
Is that an unreasonable attitude?
So far, the City and the Convention Authority are not too interested
in a community benefits agreement, which would guarantee a certain
number of construction jobs would go to the actual people who are
paying for it with their taxes. I’m sure the worthies would
all sputter and beg to differ. But I don’t see any of the
top authorities involved giving more than lip service on this vital
There’s a “benefits agreement” on the Convention
Authority web site. It rattles on about hiring “minorities,” a
word which they take pains to define. This is done purely to comply
with State regulations. Nowhere does it guarantee employment to
those of us who live here. Rather, the document repeatedly states
that employment opportunities should be spread as widely as possible
beyond the City.
The Current Site
And finally, this project will take out a wide swath
of downtown. This is potentially valuable land, the transition
area between the business district and the South End. It’s
mostly a wasteland of asphalt parking lots, although there are
a few scattered architectural treasures there. And it looks like
they intend to tear down some existing buildings.
But mostly it’s parking lots bordered by parking
lots. Any landscape dominated by asphalt is unfit for human beings.
That includes highways, strip malls and Clifton Park. Much of the
site resembles an abandoned airport runway in a third world country.
This location is a great place to build... something.
But what? We have to ask ourselves, is a Convention Center the
best use for this space?
Absolutely not. There is one thing that downtown Albany needs
more than anything else. A product that will be snapped up as soon
as it is produced. A product that will attract outside investors
like pheremones attract butterflies.
A product that will sell to the highest bidder for outrageous
prices and make loads of money for those who manufacture it and
for those who own it. That will generate enough tax revenue to
balance the City budget with ease. Not to mention generate loads
of graft for our elected officials and their political dependents.
I know what I’m talking about. The demand is there, and
it is intense.
Okay, Tear This Down
Admittedly, most of my opinions about most subjects are of less
value than dog droppings left on the sidewalk in violation of the
scooper law. But you see, this is what I do for a living, rent
out apartments in downtown Albany, specifically the South End.
You can bring my opinion on this subject to the bank and take out
Twelve years ago, former Governor George Pataki kept one of his
campaign promises and fired ten thousand State workers. The effect
on downtown Albany was devastating. The Wife and I had just bought
two run-down buildings on upper Morton Avenue and I was renovating
them on credit and a song. To our horror, thanks to Pataki, we
almost couldn’t rent our apartments. At all.
Those days are gone, probably forever. We rent our newly renovated
apartments on Morton Avenue overlooking the park almost immediately.
Ask any downtown landlord with decent apartments, they’ll
tell you the same thing. And demand for urban housing will continue
to go up with the price of gas.
Morton Avenue, In Demand
We almost never use the classified ads in the newspaper anymore
because we get too many calls, as many as one hundred per day.
We’ve been using Craigslist online, which attracts young
college graduates looking for our mostly one bedrooms. Our apartments
rent immediately to the first few applicants.
High placed City officials have no clue about this subject. Last
fall I listened with dropping jaw to Nick DiLello, head of the
Albany Division of Buildings and Codes. “Nobody wants to
live here,” said DiLello. “That’s why there are
so many vacant buildings.” He said that several times. He
was dead serious.
As far as I’ve seen, Mr. DiLello’s bizarre conviction
is widespread in Albany city government. I would guess that’s
because most City officials don’t want to live in the City
of Albany, so they assume no one else does. Their attitude explains
Maybe that’s why, when considering development options for
the City, the bozos who run this place in our name can only think
up a ridiculous boondoggle like the Convention Center. “No
one wants to live here,” they think, “so let’s
give suburbanites a reason to visit. No matter how much it costs
the taxpayers. It won’t cost us a dime. And we’ll be
gone soon, anyway.”
What an opportunity about to be flushed down the commode and into
the river! Imagine the urban complex that three hundred million
dollars could create. High end apartments, affordable middle class
flats, low income housing andone bedrooms for the young person
on the go. There’s demand for all of it.
Our Public Transit Link To The World
This swath of land could be packed with new taxpayers. They would
roam across downtown, searching for places to dispose of their
income. Both new and relocating businesses of all descriptions
would fight for storefronts so they could collect some of this
swag. It would be an instant renaissance, an economic success story.
So of course, there should be more than housing on the site. Room
to place service and retail businesses must be provided, preferably
on the first floors of multistory buildings, facing the sidewalks.
This is called “mixed use,” and it is also called “urban.” Unlike
Clifton Park, it’s a desirable place to live.
It would be a suburbanite’s worst nightmare, a livable city.
Since an automobile is not very useful in such an environment,
there has to be plenty of public transit. The area also has to
be walkable and bikable so that people can get to their newly generated
So here’s my point. Jerry Jennings has staked his reputation
and his legacy upon this Convention Center. It is safe to assume
that He considers that dropping the project would demonstrate weakness
and amount to political suicide. He said this Convention Center
would happen and by golly, He’s gonna make it happen. It’s
gonna be His monument to Himself for future generations.
But surely, by now, Tthe Mayor is beginning to suspect that He
made a mistake with His choice of legacy. It’s sort of like
His Iraq War... or is the Rapp Road Landfill His Iraq? Maybe the
Convention Center is His Iran, the war He always wanted but could
never quite justify.
No matter. It’s time for The Mayor to pull His troops out
of His Middle East. Does Jennings really want people to remember Him in that way every
time the City pays debt service on this thing? For the next thirty
years, at least?
Don't Destroy These Buildings
This “sudden” one third cost hike, this extra one
hundred million dollars, is a political opportunity for The Mayor.
He can announce that increased costs no longer justify the project.
Of course, the project never was justified, but that’s close
enough to the truth to sound plausible. And then He can announce
the Big Change Of Plan.
A model new urban community, laid out and jump started with a
three hundred million dollar investment. Or less. Such a shovel
ready concept would pull in the investors. As long as people want
to live downtown, a planned urban community could not be built
fast enough to accommodate them.
We can call it “Jerry Town.”
What a dream, eh? We all know nothing sensible like that will
ever happen with this administration. The best we can talk about
is the lesser of two evils that have been laid before us, an asphalt
wasteland or an unnecessary boondoggle.
I vote for keeping the wasteland the way it is, for now. That
way, if someday we are smart enough to elect a forward thinking
progressive candidate for Mayor who has respect for the City of
Albany, we can see something good and beautiful arise on this spot.
Someday, it will happen. We gotta keep hoping.
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