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Touch to vote: Liberty Election System’s DRE voting machine.

The Building Is Falling!

As the committee to explore a possible Troy City Hall sale busies itself with the details, Mayor Tutunjian—and his favored developer—turn up the heat

 

Troy’s City Hall Committee got treated to a tag team of high-pressure salesmanship this past week, said Councilman Ken Zalewski (D-District 5). The newly formed committee, made up of City Council appointees and members of the administration, was taking a tour of the Verizon building on 6th Avenue in downtown Troy—the building at the crux of the proposed sale of City Hall to Judge Development—when Judge principal Sam Judge told them that a potential client had expressed interest in leasing the Verizon building from his company.

In the proposed deal with Judge, Troy would sell City Hall to the developer and move its government offices into the Verizon building, which Judge owns, in a lease-to-own arrangement. Now, with Verizon announcing that it plans to vacate operations from the building sometime near the end of June, and the city’s commitment to the deal hanging in limbo, Judge said that he was starting to feel pressure to secure a tenant. Otherwise, his company will begin to lose money.

Mayor Harry Tutunjian has also chimed in, telling the committee that he “wanted to lay all his cards out on the table,” continued Zalewski. The mayor said that he plans to submit legislation in April that will call on the council to reach a decision on the Judge proposal. When a committee member countered that it has until June 5 to make its final recommendation, Tutunjian simply said that it couldn’t wait. If Judge walks, Troy will lose its best opportunity.

Zalewski disagrees.

There is just too much work left to be done, the councilman and chair of the Planning Committee said, before any recommendation could be made in good faith. There needs to be a thorough assessment of City Hall and its structural integrity; lay opinions and superficial examinations aren’t enough, he said. There needs to be an examination of the costs involved in moving operations into the Verizon building. And, critically, the city needs to finalize a “request for proposal.”

RFPs are the starting point for any project being put out to bid. It describes the project’s parameters and what a potential developer must submit in a proper bid, including financial disclosures, their plans for the site, and, in this case, how they would accommodate the city’s government offices, and so on.

“All those parameters have to be laid out clearly in the RFP, and have to be addressed by potential developers,” Zalewski said. “The issue again is, Judge Development has never responded to an RFP because an RFP was never generated. No developer other than Judge has had a chance at working on this project.”

Tutunjian has said in the past that much of the work to secure the Judge proposal was done behind the scenes, exhausting all relevant avenues to explore potential offers. The Judge proposal was, the mayor has said, the best possible deal.

“Harry’s argument is, ‘Why would we even hesitate when we have the perfect deal?’ Well,” Zalewski argued, “we are hesitating because I have heard from so many other people that this is not the perfect deal. And how do I know who is right unless we put it out to bid?” Further, Zalewski isn’t even sure if it is legal to sell a public building without going through the bidding process. That is something that still needs to be asked of the state attorney general and the office of state comptroller.

As for Tutunjian’s legislation, Zalewski said, he sees little chance that the Democratic-controlled council would pass it. “I am assuming that the council will say, ‘We voted to form this committee, and the committee hasn’t supplied its recommendation yet, so no.’ But if Judge walks away, the mayor will be able to use that, saying that the city lost the deal because of the council.”

“He is playing politics with this,” Zalewski said.

The mayor’s office did not comment by deadline.

Last month, Tutunjian posed for a photo in the Times Union, holding a chunk of concrete that he said fell from the parking structure attached to City Hall. In the article, he stated ominously, “I don’t want to be the mayor who explains to someone why their loved one was killed or injured by falling concrete.”

According to that article and subsequent reporting by the TU, the building has crumbled into a state of disrepair, the only option being to man the wrecking ball. This is a view that committee member Patrick Quinn doesn’t share. He calls much of this hype surrounding City Hall and the proposed Judge deal “misinformation.”

“Up to the time that I was asked to be on the committee, I have heard these rumors,” Quinn said, about the decrepit state of City Hall. “But many of them are untrue. Outside of the parking garage, it is holding up quite well, thank you. The roof has held up well, it just hasn’t been well maintained.”

The leaking water and crumbling concrete is confined mostly to the parking garage, according to both Quinn and Zalewski.

“The question of whether it needs to be torn down is a serious issue,” said Quinn, the former Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute dean of architecture. “A developer would have to think very profoundly before demolishing such a structure. It is well-built. It wouldn’t come down very easily. To my professional eye, it is extremely stable.”

“There is no question that there are structural deficiencies,” Zalewski said, “especially on the exterior, and most specifically on the parking area. But the question is: What is the minimum that can be done to make it safe?”

There are many questions, Quinn and Zalewski said, and not nearly enough answers. And while the administration operates under the presumption that one answer satisfies all—that the Judge deal is the best and only deal—how is the committee or the Troy City Council suppose to know?

No one has put forth a detailed estimate of what it will cost to transform the building at 1776 6th Ave. from the cubicle-filled and dreary office building of a private corporation to what members of the committee believe ought to be an open, inviting building of the public’s business. The Verizon building is almost the antithesis of a city hall, Quinn said, pointing out that currently, the entrance lobby of the Verizon building is not used; employees use the back entrance, which is just a small, single door.

The question of how to transform this building dogs the proposal, and more importantly, Quinn stressed, the question of cost has not been satisfactorily answered. With just the cursory examination he was afforded Saturday, Quinn is certain that any number, including the $400,000 number that has been bandied about by the administration, is an arbitrary and meaningless estimation. No one at this point has done the due diligence to know how much it will cost to prepare the Verizon building for the city’s offices.

Quinn said that he could just as easily claim that it would cost $2 million, and be no more out of line than the administration.

“There are so many issues to be examined,” Zalewski said. There is the question of retrofitting an elevator into the building, to make it compatible with the regulations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. There will need to be a council chamber. Further, there is no plan detailing what will need to happen to move the city government, or even how much money that will cost.

“I have been told that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Zalewski said. There are companies that undertake large-scale moves such as the one that would be required, and the costs can reach $200,000 to $300,000.

“This is not a simple swap,” he said. “The administration has had months to put together a proposal that is detailed, and it hasn’t. The administration should have done far more homework. This committee can’t do all the work the administration should have done. We don’t have the resources to do that. But we have to do our job within the constraints we have been presented with. But it all takes time.”

As far as the pressure coming from Judge, Zalewski said that he wasn’t sure how the committee, or city council, will react.

“Ultimately, he is a business person, he has got to do what is best for his business. And I respect that. And we have got to do what is best for the city. And this deal on the surface sounds good, but we don’t have enough details, the administration hasn’t done its homework on this, and we have to flesh out some of these issues. And if Judge walks away, we will just continue down the road of selling City Hall.” The project still has to go out to bid, anyway, he said. “Cause even if it doesn’t have to legally, it makes sense from an economic perspective. This is a very valuable piece of property.”

—Chet Hardin

chardin@metroland.net


What a Week

Huckabrawl

Three talk shows were torn asunder this week by the question, “Who made Huckabee a viable candidate?” Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert all tangled during tapings of their shows to settle a feud started when O”Brien claimed that he had made Huckabee a legitimate candidate by showing clips of Chuck Norris in Walker Texas Ranger. Colbert insisted that he had given Huckabee the “Colbert bump,” and Stewart insisted that he created both O’Brien and Colbert by giving them their television breaks. Huckabee later appeared by satellite and declared it was the American people who had in fact made him viable.

Digging In

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton handily won the big Super Tuesday states—New York, New Jersey and California—but due to the proportional nature of the Democrats’ delegates, members of Sen. Barack Obama’s camp and a number of pundits are speculating that he will walk away with a lead of between 13 and 20 delegates. Meanwhile, Clinton has asked for more debates against the Illinois senator, and rumors have it that the cash-strapped Clinton campaign is going to have to dig into the Clintons’ personal fortune to finance the rest of the primary run. Obama is said to have a fairly full campaign chest.

Don’t Hate the Party, Hate the McCain

Conservative talk-show hosts across the country have rolled up their sleeves and gotten to work in their mission to stop Arizona Sen. John McCain from winning his party’s nomination. Rush Limbaugh and other hosts say McCain is far too liberal and have rabidly attacked the candidate. Former Sen. Bob Dole wrote Limbaugh a letter this week asserting that McCain is a Republican Party standard bearer, but conservatives have attacked Dole for writing the letter. Limbaugh said that McCain’s camp is “resorting to the same kind of politics as Hillary Clinton.” Pundits say that with Huckabee winning in Southern states, McCain may have a real problem connecting with conservatives during the general election.







Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-



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