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Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Green Dome And The Parking Lot To Nowhere


Mayoral candidate Colin Read meets the press.

(C) 2016 Luke T. Bush

PLATTSBURGH CITY, NY -- August 1, 2016

Something was missing from the news conference.

That Smell [TM]. The olfactory attack from the sewage treatment plant.  It still could happen.

At least The Parking Lot to Nowhere didn't threaten us with a fecal bouquet.

Kicking off the news conference Colin Read, first time Democratic candidate for mayor, warned the crowd that the event would end when the Amtrak train rolled in.  With the clock counting down he shared a list of ideas that he would pursue if elected mayor.  Part of his POV was from being a downtown businessman, proprietor of the Champlain Wine Company.

Holding his conference at the lower level of the train station Colin faced the media, standing behind a white folding table.  A cluster of microphones picked up his voice.

Across the railroad tracks the hulking sewage treatment plant was easily visible and smellable.  I've always wondered who was the genius who decided to build it at the mouth of the Saranac River, prime lakefront property.

The gray plant sat beyond what Colin called The Parking Lot to Nowhere, an empty expanse of asphalt and white lines still waiting for the planned hotel/conference center to be built.

The lot was another white elephant example: city spending money on a project that never functioned as planned.   And maybe that was for the better.  Who wants to stay at a hotel with a beautiful view of Lake Champlain accompanied by an ugly miasma?

Colin observed: "People want a change."

One change he proposed would be a green dome over the sewage treatment plant to contain odor.

 He talked about the fiscal challenge faced by the city since its reserve fund -- $6 million -- was down to zero. (The reason why the city once again had a negative financial rating.) That money, he said, was reserved for emergencies such as the failing water system in the south part of the city.  (Old system = water flooding streets.)

But more money was on its way: a $10 million revitalization grant.  So how to plan and spend it?

On the topic of his qualifications Colin mentioned that he wrote a book on municipal finance and taught finance at Plattsburgh State University College.  Indeed with his black-framed  eyeglasses he looked professorial.  While he was sans tie he was snappily dressed in a medium blue blazer and light tan pants.  (I include those details because articles like this are supposed to detail the subject's appearance for sartorial-minded readers.)

Colin mentioned the city should do its homework before spending the grant money.

He gave an example of such homework: his number crunching with one proposal to tear down the farmers market building in the Durkee Street parking lot and replace it with a mixed use building.  A new parking garage would be needed to replace the 320 spots now in use.   Demolition costs alone would eat up a good share of the $10 million grant.

The cost of a new parking garage worked out to about $20,000 per spot, he said.  A private developer would expect ROI.

Colin: "The awkward thing is if we're going to use taxpayer resources taxpayers would like that fund replenished at some point.  If we use private resources we're going to have to charge for it.  Now the $20,000 per parking spot -- if you do the calculations a private developer is going to need about $300 of revenue every month [per spot] assuming that parking garage was full every day.  No private developer would be able to extract those resources."

He concluded it was quite inevitable taxpayer money would be used to build a new parking garage.


 Colin Read listens to a question from a reporter.

There was Q&A after Colin wrapped up his list of ideas.  A reporter mentioned that Plattsburgh wasn't the only New York State municipality with a downgraded financial rating.  Colin wasn't caught off guard.  He said that there were nine other cities with the same status but Plattsburgh shouldn't be one of them.

Colin offered more of his perspective during Q&A including --

The voice suffocating horn.  The Amtrak train from NYC was rolling in.

End of news conference.

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