Friday, October 13, 2017

Counterpoint to a Counterpoint . . .

A few days ago on the Utica Phoenix site, Marques Phillips offered a "Counterpoint" to Cassandra Harris-Lockwood's earlier post "Going to the Hospital."  Mr. Phillips essentially believes that opposition to a Downtown Hospital is motivated by an anti-Utica bias (my words). Here is a full response:

Mr. Phillips' "Counterpoint" claim that opposition to placing a new hospital in Downtown Utica is based on a notion that "Utica isn't good enough" easily avoids important matters that Uticans should think about. It also avoids the possibility that hosting the facility may not be such a good deal:  that Regional decision-makers have found yet another way to dump costs associated with a regional facility onto the backs of beleaguered Utica Taxpayers. There is little dispute that we can use a new facility. The relevant questions are "Where is the best place? And for what purpose?"

No comfort is taken from the fact that a "professional firm" was hired to survey different sites. That firm is Mohawk Valley EDGE:  a regional "economic development" agency supported with our tax dollars that is also a "private" entity, shielding its activities from public scrutiny and making it difficult to know whose interests it serves.  EDGE has seemingly made an industry of using public grants for "make work" projects, often moving facilities from Point A to B with little to no sustainable increase in jobs.  Its efforts have often been to the detriment of Utica. It has induced sprawl and has frequently required massive infusions of local dollars for new infrastructure, which the public will have to maintain forever. The Downtown Hospital appears to follow the same "M.O."  When it proposed Downtown as a possible hospital site, EDGE ignored the Utica Master Plan, Zoning Ordinance, and Gateway District regulations (the will of Utica's people). It literally marketed to MVHS the properties of individuals and businesses without their knowledge, as well as blocks of city street pavement without the public's knowledge. Whose interests did these actions advance? Why did EDGE presume it could market private property? Why did it presume that it had the authority to make Utica planning decisions and change Utica traffic patterns?

Public Health Law Section 2825-b  supplies the grant for new hospital facilities. Its sole purpose is to strengthen and protect continued access to  health care services by funding projects that "consolidate multiple licensed health care facilities into an integrated system of care..."    Several things suggest that officials are using the state's money to advance a local private and/or political agenda rather than the foregoing.  Although the site determination held the greatest consequences for the public both under this law as well as for other reasons, EDGE offered Downtown to MVHS with NO PUBLIC INPUT.  Afterward, the discussion of alternate sites, particularly those that have bearing on the law's purpose, has been deemed "out-of-order" because Downtown was "a done deal." EDGE's studies, which supposedly compared alternate sites, have been kept out of public view. MVHS/EDGE/local officials have given the public no compelling health care-related reason to place the project Downtown, while at the same time claiming that doing so would somehow economically transform Downtown (which is not a consideration under the law).  Hospital officials are on record saying that they were told that they HAD to choose Downtown or there would be no state money.  Since the legislation out of Albany does NOT expressly limit sites to ones within Utica, EDGE/local officials appear to have conditioned their assistance upon MVHS placing the facility Downtown rather than its "back-up site" on the St. Luke's Campus -- and for purposes other than those in the law.

Placing the hospital Downtown will clean-up a handful of blighted buildings, giving an appearance of "success" while generating years of "progress" reports that will boost the media image of the politicians. It may also temporarily benefit some Utica-based trade unionists during the construction phase. However, belief that a Downtown Hospital would spur economic development nearby is not credible because (1) hospital complexes are largely self-contained with exhausted employees wanting to go home after their 12-hour shifts, (2) earlier urban renewal projects that concentrated employees into new office buildings failed to spur other development, and (3) no studies have been offered to demonstrate successes from this approach.  

Wherever the project is located, it will DECREASE hospital beds and jobs because those are MVHS objectives of consolidation. Placing the project Downtown, however, will additionally eliminate most of the jobs associated with the 40 businesses that will be taken.  Prior local projects show that taking businesses causes most of them to permanently close because the business owners' private wealth that is destroyed by the wrecking ball is only partially reimbursed by the "market value" received for real property. The spectacle of our government officials actually cheering the destruction of private jobs -- for whatever reason -- sends a chilling message to would-be investors in Utica. 

The economy of Utica and the region depends on the viability of its small business sector.  While most small business start-ups fail, chances for long-term survival are improved if they are located in a "hub" with other businesses nearby.  Utica cannot lose 28 acres of its Central Business District to a medical campus without threatening its future as a place for small businesses to start and grow. This is a Regional loss because suburban locations would be hard pressed to match the advantages found in Utica's CBD for low costs, pre-installed infrastructure, and close proximity to other businesses. This is particularly true now in an era where investing in Downtowns has again become fashionable. It is also particularly true for the Columbia-Lafayette corridor between Baggs Square and the Brewery District because the choicest properties in the latter neighborhoods have already been snapped up for redevelopment.

Placing the hospital Downtown threatens Utica's future financial stability.  Ninety plus parcels will be permanently removed from the tax rolls, while municipal services will be extended to new, non-paying facilities.  Uticans will have their taxes raised to cover (1)  the lost property taxes and service extensions, (2) the lost sales taxes from taken businesses, (3) the City's share of a new parking garage, (4) a substantial portion of the County's share, (5) replacement of the police garage, and (6) costs for brownfield and infrastructure remediations. EDGE's balance sheet that purports to show that local taxpayers can afford the project leaves out many of these costs but includes speculative revenue from new medical office buildings -- speculative because the buildings are not currently proposed and because it is unlikely that medical providers who built new facilities in places on and near the St. Lukes' Campus, in South Utica, and in the Utica Business Park will abandon those investments just to be near the new Downtown Hospital.  

Lastly, moving the hospital from the St. Luke's Campus to Downtown will HARM local health care by increasing the distance to the medical providers in the aforementioned places. How does moving the hospital a couple miles away from its rehabilitation facility and skilled nursing home on its current campus foster "an integrated system of care?" Mr. Phillips' argument that the existing St. Luke's facility must be closed while a new hospital is built on that campus is belied by the fact that several wings were added to the existing facility over the years with no interruption in service.  

In sum, placing the new hospital facility in Downtown Utica will harm Utica, Uticans, Utica businesses, and local health care.  It is time to focus on the purposes of the legislation and build where more grant money will go toward health care. Build the new facility on the St. Luke's Campus.



Thursday, September 07, 2017

Come Together ... Right Now . . . For the Hospital . . .


St Luke's Campus vs Downtown Utica
→ Site already owned by MVHS with plenty of expansion room and is almost shovel since it is served by newer public infrastructure.
→ Conveniently located near the center of Greater Utica's population, shares a campus with a Rehab facility and Nursing Home, and is close to newly established private medical facilities on French and Burrstone Roads and in the Utica Business Park (the region's existing "medical district").
→ No property or sales tax losses.
→ No private sector job losses
→ No change in land use.
→ No street grid disruption.
→ No added burdens on the taxpayers.
Preserves the opportunity for traditional, incremental economic development Downtown which is consistent with the Utica Master Plan and is already remaking Downtown Utica.


→ Cost of Property Acquisitions, Environmental Remediation and infrastructure revisions.
→ Cost of a parking garage and new police garage (and maybe more)
→ No room for future expansion without impacting others.
→ Loss of Property Taxes 90+ parcels
→ Loss of the Sales Taxes, Private Sector Jobs, and “Sweat Equity” from 40 businesses
→ Inconvenient location, especially for nursing home patients, and is far away from existing private medical offices and facilities.
→ Incompatable land use with the surrounding neighborhoods.
→ Street closures will make Downtown Utica less friendly for businesses remaining behind.
Speculation that it will spur Downtown development by persons with a track record of failure.


When you do a side-by-side comparison of the two sites, the choice of putting the new hospital facility Downtown makes no sense and deserves the opposition it has received.

When you read the legislation which created the grant that is driving the new hospital, the St. Luke's Campus seems tailor-made to the law's description of the project's location and its objectives. Choosing the St. Luke's Campus will save money, be easier to implement, and be a better fit for health care.

Mohawk Valley EDGE made a serious miscalculation when it steered the MVHS board to the Downtown Utica site with NO opportunity for public input. Objections would have been obvious years ago. EDGE appears to have been thinking of its own interests (or the interests of certain local politicians) rather than regional health care needs.  

MVHS needs to focus on its mission to provide the best possible health care for the region and should not be distracted by the myriad issues attached to a Downtown Utica site. MV EDGE, Oneida County, and the City of Utica need to stop trying to force the new facility into Downtown Utica and instead focus on how they can help MVHS best meet the grant's criteria at the St. Luke's Campus.

Choosing to put the new hospital Downtown is dividing the community.  Putting it at the St. Luke's Campus is something everyone can get behind.

Let's come together to support the New Hospital on the St. Luke's Campus. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Downtown Hospital Deja Vu . . .

For those on Facebook, Robin Raabe had a thought provoking post a couple days ago detailing her experiences running a business during the Arterial project as indicating what Downtown businesses will face during a hospital construction project.
"We have been stunted in our growth, we have lost 20-30% of our customer base & sales . . . For the betterment of the City with the Arterial Project, we had become on the verge of collateral damage in the face of progress. As a stand-alone business surrounded by road work, noise, dirt, road closures, re-directs, & general lack of accessibility, we have been at the brink of non-existence. We know that additionally, there are no less than 3 other small businesses directly affected by the road work. Think of that.. this is "just road work". What will 8 plus years of building a hospital/ parking garage/ traffic pattern routing, and more do to the businesses surrounding the proposed work area, let alone the 40 plus businesses that will be sacrificed for the job."
It was deja vu listening to the Common Council the other night claim they "had not made up their minds" on the hospital and offered to meet with representatives of the No Hospital Downtown and Better Utica Downtown groups to understand their concerns. We heard the same things when the Arterial was under consideration.

A number of us fought the Arterial project because of the permanent erosion of the tax base (70+ parcels off the tax rolls), closure of businesses, permanent closure of Sunset Ave and Warren St. as cross streets, and the construction of a wall across the neighborhood. No one wanted to listen, especially the City Council. Their fear of losing a $60M project proved greater than their fear of dividing a neighborhood, making the local street grid more difficult to navigate, losing businesses and jobs, and decreasing the tax base. 

The same Dynamics appear to be in play now with the Downtown Hospital -- magnified five fold.

Fear of losing the project is going to drive the decision-making.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

A Pig in a Poke . . .

The City of Utica is being threatened: "Warning to city: No garage, no new hospital"
“If there’s no garage, there’s no downtown hospital,” Steve DiMeo, president of Mohawk Valley EDGE, told Utica Common Council members at a meeting of the Economic Development Committee Monday.
As yet no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Downtown Hospital has been produced.

The Downtown Hospital is not only in material conflict with the Utica Master Plan and various pieces of legislation over the years that established the community's character, it will open a whole Pandora's box of impacts that may make the Downtown site for the new hospital unpalatable.  Will sanitary sewers and water lines designed to handle loads from a grid of small customers be able to handle the load from one or two large users?  Will existing storm sewers be able to handle the quick runoff from acres of new parking lots? Will hazards to human health be created by the destruction of many old buildings? Will the blockage of streets create traffic congestion, air pollution, and inconvenience for people not going to the hospital -- and possibly lead to business decline and blight elsewhere? Will the change in land use from tax-paying small businesses to tax-exempt large institution make city services financially unsustainable? What will happen to the two hospital sites that will be left behind? Will they become blighted like the Psych Center did? Who will pay to mitigate the various adverse impacts? City taxpayers? Water users? Sewer users?  An EIS now will help to answer these questions.

Asking the City to make a decision on the garage now without an EIS is asking it to make a decision blind.

MVHS' "back up" site at St. Lukes has plenty of room for the new hospital in spite of a small federally-regulated wetland.  Numerous large construction projects have occurred over the years there with no disruption in hospital services. No change in community character will occur by constructing the new hospital there, and no businesses will be booted out. There will be no loss in tax base. No streets will be blocked. Considering that there has been a decline in beds at St. Luke's, adding the activity currently at St. Elizabeth's would appear to be only an incremental increase in use over what had previously been at St. Luke's.  Simply put: the St. Luke's site is practically "shovel ready."  It makes no sense to put the new hospital elsewhere.

The Downtown Hospital is a "Pig in a Poke" -- and the taxpayers and water/sewer rate payers will be left holding the bag.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Aud: Still Using Your Money . . .

Saturday's OD celebrated "Multimillion dollar Aud renovations adding suites, boxes, restrooms." It is good to see the Aud brought up to current standards. We can be excited by its modern design and amenities and take pride in having a facility that competes with the best of them in the American Hockey League (AHL).  But there are still some troubling aspects to this deal that we need to think about.

First, it was disappointing that the construction started with no renderings in the media (until now), no public outreach, and little opportunity for public engagement and involvement over the 3+ years the project was being considered (see Aud Authority Minutes).  The Aud is, after all, (1) a building paid for by the Utica taxpayers, (2) an engineering landmark with its cable-suspended roof, and (3) involuntarily subsidized by the customers of the Mohawk Valley Water Authority (MVWA) to the tune of $732,000 annually as a matter of state law with mandated increases into the 2030s.  Reports by Aud Authority accountants make clear that the Aud cannot survive without this subsidy.

Second, luxury suites may be a staple of the AHL, but they seem out of touch for an area that has been in decline, bears some of the highest levels of taxation in the country, and where water-users have no choice but to pay for this.   Like the County's luxurious terminal at Griffiss for the owners of private planes that taxpayers are paying for, it seems that average Joes and Janes are expected to pay for the accouterments of our local elite.

Third, when we were lucky enough to get information on the financing of the project, we were not given the full story.  The OD reported the project as being "helped" by a $5.5M County bond plus a state grant. The Sentinel reported that
The county executive explained it is cheaper for the county to borrow the money than if the Aud obtains the funding on its own. Payments to the county by the Aud will cover the debt service, he said.
We are left with the impression that the County got involved to save the Aud money. We are not told that the Aud Authority has a limitation on bonded indebtedness of no more than $2,000,000 which this project will easily exceed.  So the County is assisting the Aud in exceeding its debt limit! To make matters worse, official documents on the subject seem to be written to conceal this fact.

Read the Board of Legislators' resolution authorizing the bond and County Executive's cover letter (at left). The letter makes one believe that the project is needed to meet building codes and that the suites, etc. are just thrown in as extras. The debt limitation isn't mentioned. The resolution does not mention payments from the Aud Authority at all, but instead speaks of an annual assessment on "lots and parcels of land within said District" without ever identifying the lots, parcels or "District."  Is this just poor draftsmanship, or concealment?

Fourth, the Aud Authority's contracting day-to-day management functions to people who also USE the facility may have allowed a conflict-of-interest. 

It seems that we have created a local government structure which responds more to special interests than to the average person.


Sunday, July 02, 2017

NYSDOT-Utica FAIL!

No doubt NYSDOT will claim that we experienced an "unprecedented" storm event to excuse the flood-FAIL near the newly opened Court St. interchange yesterday where cars were literally abandoned in 4' of water and people had to be rescued with ladders. Maybe the storm event WAS unprecedented. . .

But FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION when you are talking about THE main N-S traffic artery in Utica. 

Those poor people in cars on the Arterial entered a flood zone and were TRAPPED there. They could not turn around against oncoming traffic, access to the lanes going in the opposite direction was blocked by a Jersey Barrier, and cross-streets had been cut off.

The City of Utica and its Common Council is as much to blame as the State. Only worried about securing the $63M project, they allowed the State to further disrupt Utica's street grid -- a grid with built-in redundancies so that when one street is blocked for whatever reason you can simply go over a block to use the next one.

Luckily no one died this time.

Time for the State to stop ignoring the negative impacts its projects have on City Streets. (Your proposed 5-S remake is a bunch of the same garbage, NYSDOT!)

Time for the City to stop worrying about losing the $$$ value of State projects, and to start defending its street system, and the interests of its residents and businesses. (Allowing the cut-off of streets crossing 5-S further damages the grid and makes businesses that much harder to get to).

City and State need to stop operating as if they are in separate silos. 


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Don't Be Misled!

It has been a burning contention of  some "Downtown Hospital" proponents that the proposed new hospital MUST be in Utica or even in Downtown Utica or the area would lose the $300M grant from the State.

Don't be misled!

Here is the relevant portion of the actual legislation with the operative words put in red-bold:

  S  2825-B.  ONEIDA COUNTY HEALTH CARE FACILITY TRANSFORMATION PROGRAM:
ONEIDA COUNTY PROJECT. 1. AN ONEIDA COUNTY HEALTH CARE  FACILITY  TRANS-
FORMATION  PROGRAM  IS HEREBY ESTABLISHED ... 
...                   FOR  THE  PURPOSE  OF STRENGTHENING AND PROTECTING
CONTINUED ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE SERVICES  IN  COMMUNITIES.  THE  PROGRAM
SHALL  PROVIDE  CAPITAL  FUNDING  IN  SUPPORT OF PROJECTS LOCATED IN THE
LARGEST POPULATION CENTER IN ONEIDA  COUNTY  THAT  CONSOLIDATE  MULTIPLE
LICENSED  HEALTH  CARE FACILITIES INTO AN INTEGRATED SYSTEM OF CARE. . . 

Don't be confused by the words "located in the largest population center in Oneida County."  Apply a little common sense  (and maybe a common rule of statutory construction).

"Expressio unius est exclusio alterius" or "expression of one thing is the exclusion of another." Every word of a law is presumed to have been used for a purpose and every word excluded from a law is presumed to have been excluded for a purpose.

The legislature was geographically specific when it referred to "Oneida County," so if it wanted to limit sites to "Downtown Utica" or the "City of Utica," it would have said so. Since it did not, the legislature clearly intended to NOT limit sites to Downtown Utica or Utica. The legislature did, however, intend to limit sites to "the largest population center in Oneida County" as opposed to all other population centers.

Imagine that you have a large map of Oneida County and a bunch of push-pins.  You stick a pin in the map where each person in the county lives (about 230,000 pins!).  You would notice several groupings of pins -- population centers -- and that the largest grouping would be over southeastern Oneida County.  THAT GROUPING represents the "largest population center of the county."   With about 60,000 pins in Utica; 20,000 in New Hartford; 20,000 in Whitestown; 10,000 each in Marcy and Deerfield; and none to the east of Utica (because that would be off the map), if you were to pick out the middle of that grouping it would probably fall somewhere just west of Utica . . . perhaps near the St. Luke's Hospital Campus!

If anyone wants to actually do this map exercise to determine the middle of the largest population center, be my guest and send me a picture of it!  The simple point I want to make is that the location specified in the law includes the St. Luke's Campus and that the Campus is convenient to everyone in the area. 

So, if a public or hospital official or anyone else tries to tell you that the grant will be lost if the hospital is not located in Downtown Utica, you now know better.  They are either deliberately trying to mislead you to achieve purposes outside the scope of the legislation or they themselves have been mislead.   The purpose is neither "economic development," nor "blight removal," nor "Downtown revival," nor "infrastructure repair," nor any other "purpose" that could be remotely claimed to justify tapping into the tempting big pot of money, but, rather, "strengthening and protecting continued access to health care services in communities."  

One group that appears NOT to have been misled is the MVHS Board.  They had the presence of mind to designate the St. Luke's Campus as their "backup" should the Downtown site prove infeasible -- an acknowledgment, as the applicant for the funds, that the St. Luke's Campus both qualifies under the law and meets their needs.

Once the true costs of the Downtown site become known (site acquisition; condemnation/legal proceedings; historical/environmental/archeological studies; asbestos removal and other remediation; water/sewer line replacement; designing and constructing a facility within the architectural/historical context of Utica; etc.) and are compared with the practically shovel-ready St. Luke's site, it should be concluded that choosing the St. Luke's site would produce more healthcare "bang for the buck" and best promote the purposes of the state's legislation.

MVHS is urged to obtain an estimate of the true costs of the Downtown site ASAP before proceeding further, and to obtain it from a contractor having no connection with EDGE, the project, or anyone else from the region who may have something to gain from placing the project downtown.   

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Economic Nonsense and Keeping Up Appearances

On Monday "No Hospital Downtown" and "Better Utica Downtown" sponsored a symposium called "Battle for Our City" which featured the presentations of two planners from Strong Towns and Urban3 [video links will be posted if they become available].  Too bad only one elected official (Mike Galime) out of dozens of our area officials saw fit to attend. 

From the County Executive, Mayor, Assemblyman and Senator on down, they passed on a golden opportunity to learn something about economic development and economic reality from nationally renowned experts.  

Per WKTV, Mr. Picente wasn't interested, stating:
"Mohawk Valley Health System made a decision on the location of a new hospital in conjunction with the state, county and city, and I have always supported that decision. While I respect the opinion of others and their right to oppose that decision, the point of debating its location has passed. All of this energy would be better spent working together so that we can see a new hospital and new development in downtown Utica."
The fact there was never a point when the public was allowed to debate the hospital's location (even though the public will have to live with that decision for the next 60 years) is concerning enough. However,  after seeing the presentations, it became abundantly clear that to proceed on this and other "silver bullet" projects (like the "U-District" and Harbor Point) in ignorance of strategic pieces of information would recklessly expose the City of  Utica and its taxpayers to a risk of financial harm. Simultaneously, the lack of this information denies Utica, its taxpayers, and entrepreneurs opportunities of significant returns for modest investments.

Through a series of examples using actual data from cities across the continent, including Syracuse and Rome, the planners demonstrated that large-scale economic development projects often leave their communities in worse shape financially because the revenues from the new projects may not cover the costs of the projects or their maintenance. They also demonstrated through calculating taxable value and jobs on a per-acre basis that "poor" or even "blighted" areas of communities often have more value than areas of booming new development because they produce more revenue than they consume. This hidden value can be multiplied many fold by encouraging more private investment with things as cheap as new sidewalks, lighting, and street trees. For example, on a per acre basis, Armory Square is much more valuable than Destiny USA, which has extensive non-productive parking lots.  

Regarding the Downtown Hospital (but applicable to other projects, too) the planners urged decision-makers to ask "Where is the model?" and to "do the math."

So far Downtown Hospital proponents from MVHS, to political officials, to EDGE and various consultants have shown the public NO model with real numbers to demonstrate that placing a hospital downtown will generate a positive economic return for the City of Utica.  Like the now decaying "urban renewal" projects that traded hundreds of  old revenue-generating going businesses for new revenue-consuming public buildings and subsidized housing, the public is given only the appearance of a positive outcome while actually suffering negative economic consequences.

What we do know about the Downtown Hospital is that about 40 going businesses will be taken. These are not just any businesses but Proven Winners because they beat the 1-in-5 odds of surviving 5 years to actually last decades -- businesses who pay their taxes and provide jobs -- businesses which should be cherished, not pushed aside, in spite of their modest appearance,  because they produce a positive economic return for the city. Based upon the numbers of what happened in Rome when land was taken for the "Fort" and "Living Bridge" projects, Utica would be lucky if even 4 of these businesses remain in town following the project. Their property taxes, sales taxes, jobs and income will be forever lost to the local economy and replaced with a decrease in hospital jobs (because hospitals are consolidating) and virtually ZERO taxable value and revenue (because the hospital is tax exempt). Utica will give up in perpetuity the chance of ever generating revenue over the entire 34 acres to be taken. Utica taxpayers will be particularly hard hit because Utica will be responsible for police and fire protection of an additional hospital campus (because the others aren't going to disappear overnight). With no plans for the two campuses to be left behind, the potential for long-term blight (like that experienced at the CNY Psychiatric site on York St. after most of its facilities were closed) will be visited on two good neighborhoods. There is already talk about saddling taxpayers with a $41 Million parking garage. You can be sure that when ancient water lines, sanitary and storm sewers prove to be inadequate, the costs of improvements will be passed on to the local rate-payers in the form of higher water bills.

Meanwhile, MVHS' 64-acre St. Luke's Campus has plenty of room for the New Hospital and is served by major 4-lane traffic arteries, a new co-generation facility, and relatively new water and sewer lines. Parking is already on site and would only have to be incrementally augmented. No businesses would be taken, no revenue would be lost to local government, no private jobs would be lost, and one less site would be abandoned to potential blight. Since the site is already owned by MVHS and nearly shovel-ready for expansion, more money from the state's $300M gift can go toward a better hospital and equipment. The need for taxpayers or rate-payers to kick in extra money to improve public infrastructure will be virtually eliminated.  Furthermore, the St. Luke's site has already been approved by the MVHS board as its "backup," eliminating the argument that the site does not meet MVHS' needs.

Simply put, placing the New Hospital Downtown as opposed to St. Luke's campus makes no economic sense.  It buys less healthcare, while putting Utica at risk.  

Where are the economic models for the "U-District" and Harbor Point? Uticans are presented with pictures of dazzling buildings and promises of attracting tourists, but what will Uticans pay? Pay to build, pay to maintain, pay to protect? And what will they receive in return? Will revenues cover costs?   Where is the math?  The fact that these projects do not happen without the public risking substantial funds suggests that maybe the math does not work. If private ventures have only a one in five chance of  financial success, why should we expect that government officials can do better? Maybe it would be better to leave the "U-District" and Harbor Point as is, undeveloped, and wait for development to come the old-fashioned way -- the way Utica was originally built -- the way Utica became wealthy at one time: through trial-and-error efforts by entrepreneurs risking their own money. They are already doing it in Baggs Square, and are prepared to do it within the Downtown Hospital footprint.

The Downtown Hospital, U-District, and Harbor Point -- like the old Urban Renewal Project #1 -- are more about keeping up appearances than real economic development.    

Monday, June 19, 2017

vs. Downtown Hospital: Grassroots Mobilization!

Per WIBX: "No Hospital Downtown Group To Hold Event On June 26th"
The group opposed to putting a hospital in downtown Utica will be holding a day-long event next Monday, June 26th. It’s being called “Battle For Our City” and will include public two sessions at the Radisson Hotel from 9:00 to 11:00 and 2:00 to 4:00. Two internationally acclaimed urban planners from Urban 3 and Strong Towns will share their knowledge of city and neighborhood development.
In addition, the Landmarks Society will be conducting "Walks and Talks" in the Columbia-Lafayette Neighborhood (the site of the proposed hospital) at 6PM.

There is also another group that holds regular open meetings on the topic of improving the Columbia-Lafayette Neighborhood, BUD: Better Utica Downtown.

These developments are really something new for Utica.  Instead of complacently swallowing what politicians and our regional "elite" want to shove down the public's throat, the public is organizing itself and fighting what it knows is a bad idea.  And it is arming itself with professional help.

Welcome to the New Utica: being rebuilt by its people, one step at a time.

For the latest on this event and more, check out No Hospital Downtown, and BUD.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bread and Circuses . . .

Or in Utica's case, beer and hockey.  Such thoughts went through my mind when I read about the County Executive's plans for the "U District."

The County Executive wants to turn Downtown Utica into a combination Theme Park and Hospital District -- a strange combination. Neither is compatible with the nacient private development currently transforming the Baggs Sq. W. and Varick St. neighborhoods nearby; and this proposal seems to provide government-sponsored competition for the latter. The proposal also creates lots of parking lots and more public spaces (and maybe even buildings) for the taxpayers to maintain. The CE offers no study to demonstrate that this project will be self sustaining. We the taxpayers have had millions of our dollars risked on crazy ideas from our politicians.

If these are such good ideas then the private sector would be taking on the risk. . . .

But the private sector won't take on risks when government taxes the heck out of it, seizes its property, and/or goes into competition with it.

Beer and hockey . . . or  "bread and circuses."  According to Wikipedia:
"Bread and circuses" (or bread and games; from Latin: panem et circenses) is metonymic for a superficial means of appeasement. In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the generation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace,[1] as an offered "palliative". . .
Isn't this the perfect description of what is going on here? Local elected officials seek public approval not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion, distraction, or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace.