February 28, 2014

Hell Hath No Fury...(Part 3)

...like an economic development project scorned.

In the first two parts, I discussed the reactions of Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and former Syracuse City Auditor Minch Lewis to a column by SU professor David Rubin, who had a few words to say about how it appears Syracuse is being treated by our Sonova Governor Andrew Cuomo when it comes to economic development cash.  Compared to Buffalo, and to Albany, it seems we're getting a different kind of attention. Rubin feels we're getting short shrift, and wasn't shy about saying so.

Assemblyman William Magnarelli (who happens to be my guy in Albany) represents Syracuse's Northside, Valley, West Side and Eastwood, as well as the towns of Geddes and VanBuren.  He's been in Albany for over a dozen years; he was also on the Syracuse Common Council.  Basically, he's a hometown guy who's devoted much of his life to public service.

He too took exception to Rubin's column, noting that he
was startled to read the column...which painted a misleading, inaccurate and distorted picture of Syracuse and Central New York's economy.
We have cranes in the sky, Magnarelli noted, and shovels in the ground.  He also specifically called out the CNY Biotech Accelerator at Loguen's Crossing, which opened early last year.  So far, that's the only development that's happened at the Loguen's Crossing site, although, according to Magnarelli
In addition to the accelerator, the Kennedy Square neighborhood now has new life, supported by state funds, as it is to be redeveloped with office buildings, residential and retail space...
Some of that remains to be seen -- we still don't know what COR Development and Upstate have planned for the site; we now know that at least for the near term, there won't be a stadium there.

Magnarelli pointed out that under the Cuomo administration, Central New York has received over $264 million, through the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council (REDC):
  • In 2011, our region received $103.7 million, including $3M for the Inner Harbor, $3M for the Syracuse Center of Excellence, $1.95M for the Biotech Center, and smaller amounts for 71 other projects across the region.
  • In 2012, we got $93.8 million; big winners were an expansion of the Syracuse Community Health Center ($3.1M), development of the Sibley's building, a key property connecting Armory Square and Salina Street ($2.5M); LeMoyne College medical product development labs ($2M), the Inner Harbor (another $1.5M), and Kennedy Square/Loguen's Crossing (another $1M).
  • In 2013, the award was $66.9 million. Among the larger projects are new facilities for Inficon ($3M), renovations of the vacant NYNEX building across from City Hall ($2.5M), the Inner Harbor ($1.3M), an expansion for GA Braun ($1.5M), the Inland Port project ($1M), a warehouse on the Near West Side ($1M), expanded facilities for Hanford Manufacturing ($1M). There were also a number of smaller awards. 
In the overall scheme of things, 264 million bucks is a lot of money to get in a short period of time, and it's a good thing that we're getting it.  Being a top performer two years out of three, some key opportunities for local businesses, and additional funding for some of our better known project like the Inner Harbor and, again, Loguen's Crossing, the proposed home for our no-longer-likely stadium project -- these are all good things. 

But Rubin's point was about the apparent disparity between what we're getting here and what the other areas are getting.  In that regard, here's how Buffalo and Albany did over the past three years:
  • In 2011, $100.3M to Buffalo, and $62.7M went to Albany
  • In 2012, $52.8M to Buffalo, $50.3M to Albany
  • In 2013, $60.8M to Buffalo, $82.8M to Albany

So, $213.9M to Buffalo, and $195.8M to Albany -- looks like were the big winner right?  Well, no.  The REDC money is in addition to to the Buffalo Billion and the Albany nanotech investments which are in the same billion-dollar neighborhood. Doesn't that look like a disparity?

Magnarelli went on to talk about the Lakefront plan, calling it "visionary" when it's really not. It's not completely without benefit -- there's a lot of money for infrastructure to help attract new businesses to the area -- but it does allocate about half of the money on a seasonal concert arena (think OnPAC, like CMAC or SPAC).  That, too was one of Rubin's points. Is a new concert venue (and a fair-weather one at that) going to help drive our economy forward, given the current state of our cultural affairs? It's a valid question.

We are making some progress, to Magnarelli's point - but like Minch Lewis before him, and Joanie Mahoney before him, he faults Rubin for not being a joyous go-along.
There are cranes in the Syracuse skyline, shovels in the ground in the Inner Harbor and a new energy. And for much of this, we can thank the state for its focus on this region. Instead of complaining and distorting the facts, we should be working together to build on the progress and continue to bring vital investments to Syracuse and Central New York. 
It's good to celebrate opportunities that are coming our way, but it's also good to maintain a healthy skepticism when politicians start throwing around tax dollars. It's good to get the dollars, but it's also good to challenge our leaders to make sure we're getting the most bang for those bucks.

The underlying theme that ran through all three parts of this series was the criticism that Rubin took for offering an opposing and, admittedly somewhat sarcastic, view on economic development in our area. He brought no shame or harm to our community by saying what he said, but instead got people talking, the dissenters and champions alike. I'd hazard a guess that more people heard of Loguen's Crossing in the past two months than at any time other than the first couple of days after the project was announced a few years back.

But in the final analysis, doesn't if feel a little like our politicians are afraid that Rubin's column may have had the potential to shut off the tap for Syracuse and Central New York, to damage our chances for future projects funded by Albany's largess?

I hope that's not the case -- because if it is, we are in much worse shape than Rubin ever imagined.

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