December 27, 2016

The Update Desk: The SU Bookstore

This one is the story that will never die, I'm afraid.

It was back in July of 2012 that I first wrote about the bookstore/fitness center/retail complex that was proposed by the Cameron Group LLC for a corner of the Syracuse University hill. The first post was on the question of offering a 30 year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT agreement. It was actually the second time that vote was being considered; the first time, it was pulled in the face of certain failure.

The second post, on the same day, was announcing the not-surprising outcome - approval of the deal by a "bitterly divided" council on a 5-4 vote. To get the approval, there were some binding attachments to the deal, including minority hiring requirements for the developer, and fitness programs for minors, to be developed by SU. If these requirements were not met, the PILOT could be revoked.

Fast forward to April 2014, when we next heard about the bookstore project - or, I should say, the lack of a bookstore project.
The Syracuse Industrial Development Agency's directors asked their lawyer last month to look into the status of the $20 million project after noticing no construction occurring at the project site at the northeast corner of University Avenue and East Adams Street.  The same agency declared the developer, Cameron Group LLC, in default of its tax deal in November because construction had not started by the August 21 deadline included in the deal.   
Say again?  The project was given only the second 30-year PILOT ever offered by the SIDA (Carousel Mall/DestinyUSA being the first) and nothing was going on at the construction sight? For the second time? Ah, but everything's OK, we were told. The developer promised to get the building completed on time, ready for opening in June of 2015, and there should be no concern, honest everything's fine.

Then, in June of 2014, SU fired Cameron Group, noting that
The developer has been unable to adequately address the University's concerns or demonstrate a credible ability to successfully complete the project as it had contractually agreed to do so.
Shortly thereafter, the university and the developer filed suits against each other; settlement negotiations began, and bike lanes remained blocked.

In August 2015, the University took steps to restore the construction site to its pre-development status, making it pretty again, opening up the bike lanes, laying sod and the like.

And now, we learn that SU is suing Bond, Shoeneck and King, their lawyers, for failing to include a clause in the contract with Cameron that would have required them to act a little more aggressively to get everything in order.  The missing clause notes that "time is of the essence" and, had it been present, SU feels they would have been able to fire the developer for lack of progress without being liable for anything.

And had time been of the essence for the developer, rather than for the Common Council who felt a special session was necessary to get this thing approved in the first place  back in 2012, we might have a thriving facility up on the Hill. Instead, we've got no development, no $64K a year in taxes, no new bookstore, no fitness programs for city kids, and so on.

We've got nothing.