Friday, 09 September 2016 09:54
Lose 200 Jobs or Gain 1k?
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Faced with the possibility of losing a downtown business and the 200 people it employs, the City Council proactively adopted a resolution that aims to preserve those existing jobs as well as add approximately 800 more, and may result in the development of a multi-level parking structure that could house up to 1,250 vehicles. Ayco, a financial services company, whose local offices are housed in approximately 90,000 square feet of space at the Congress Park Centre, is seeking to consolidate operations. The move could result in the company leaving Saratoga Springs and setting up shop elsewhere. Conversely, the location selected for consolidation will see an influx of new employees. “The stakes are this: we can lose 200 jobs, or gain 1,000,” said Carrie Woerner, who represents the 113th Assembly District. “This is a transformational opportunity for the city.” City Finance Commissioner Michele Madigan this week introduced a non-binding resolution offering the the City Council’s assistance to investigate the options of constructing and maintaining a shared parking structure at Congress Park Centre. The City Council unanimously approved the resolution. “It’s a significant economic development,” Madigan said. “Saratoga Springs, I believe, is one of the areas they are considering. We want to help put forward the best possible proposal to have them consolidate their offices in Saratoga Springs.” While the specific details regarding the city’s financial investment in such a public-private partnership will need to be explored further, the location has already been approved to site a parking garage that holds up to 1,250 vehicles, as well as new construction that could significantly increase available office space. The plan was approved more than a decade ago as part of a Planned Unit Development, and doesn’t expire until 2020. “This is probably the next quadrant of the city that could benefit from a good public parking model,” Madigan said. Ayco currently operates in 90,000 square feet of space in Congress Park Centre, said the building’s owner, David Brause, and the PUD comfortably allows an increase to 250,000 square feet to accommodate new Ayco employees, should the company seek to consolidate its offices in Saratoga Springs. While any relocation is expected to take several years to reach fruition, Brause said he anticipates the company may make its decision about where to relocate by the end of 2016. “Losing those 200 jobs would be a blow, because we would end up with a building that would basically be empty. Would we be able to get other employers to relocate here? Possibly, but that’s a lot of work and it’s hard to do,” said city Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen. “Can we accommodate more people downtown? It’s a lot of people, but I think we can. I do think it’s the kind of investment that makes sense, but it would have to be paid parking.” Saratoga County IDA Chairman Rod Sutton and Saratoga County Chamber President Todd Shimkus are in favor of the increased job base and positive economic potential an Ayco consolidation would have in Saratoga Springs, and Teddy Foster, president of the nearby Universal Preservation Hall, is in favor of much-needed parking solutions for the immediate area. “It’s a win-win-win,” said city Mayor Joanne Yepsen. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because Ayco is going to make a decision about where to consolidate and they want one campus. We want to be sure we're doing everything to make this as attractive as possible. I think parking is a big piece of that. The property is there and the design has already been approved, essentially. We’re already one step ahead and the timing and process will be abbreviated here versus any other location.” As a non-binding resolution, Commissioners Anthony “Skip” Scirocco and John Franck also voted to approve the resolution in the hope of exploring the details more fully, but each expressed reservations about what the financial costs would be for the city and the risk involved in building a structure for a company with no guarantee they would maintain their local footprint. Ayco issued a statement on the matter, which reads: “Ayco continues to grow, we are constantly exploring ways to improve our client service, realize greater operational and cost efficiencies and allow our employees to better collaborate and connect. Any decision will be considered carefully in consultation with numerous stakeholders, including our employees and local government officials.” In other news, the City Council by a 3-2 vote approved the Capital Budget for 2017. The budget consists of 25 projects at a total cost of $9.017 million, of which $7.34 million will be bonded. The balance will be funded by other sources, such as grants and reserves. The top Public Safety department project for 2017 is a $1.56 million upgrade of outdated communications infrastructure, including the correction of existing communication “dead zones” in the downtown area and at City Hall. Other high-ticket items include the $2.27 million Saratoga Greenbelt Trial Downtown Connector - incorporating bicyclist, pedestrian and transit improvements within the primary corridor and connecting the downtown area with residential neighborhoods; a complete renovation of the Finance Office at a cost of about $750,000, and plaster repair and painting of the historic Canfield Casino at a cost of $600,000. The council is hopeful the Greenbelt Trial Downtown Connector project will be awarded a $1.5 million grant. The awarding process is anticipated to take place in November. The City Council voted unanimously to accept a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. The previous plan, which Assistant City Police Chief John Catone in January said was grossly outdated, has been largely re-written during the past year. The 220-page plan includes an additional 300 pages of accompanying documents and lists potential hazards and vulnerable areas, methods to mitigate risk and the process for dealing with a variety of situations, catastrophic and otherwise. Catone recommended future plans be reviewed annually instead of every three years, as is presently done, and that all city departments play a larger role in developing the document, which currently is solely tasked to the Public Safety Department to construct. A summary of the major issues to be addressed in the future drafting of the city’s new Unified Development Ordinance has been publicly released. The UDO, once drafted, will replace the existing city zoning code, subdivision regulations and related development standards. The zoning diagnostic report was delivered to the City Council on Tuesday. A public meeting to discuss the recommendations will be staged 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the Saratoga Music Hall. The report may be viewed at: https://saratogaspringsudo.files.wordpress.com/2016/09/16_0829-zoning_diagnostic_final-draft.pdf.