Archive for July 4th, 2009

For months, the Chalmers project has ignited a storm of discussion across the City, some of it thoughtful, more often politically charged and personal. The politics and slander are uncalled for and disappointing; it is more of the same bad behavior that Amsterdam has suffered from for far too long. That said, I will state my case one more time as to my reasons for wanting to see this project succeed.

1. We had contractually entered into a signed option agreement with a development firm, outlining benchmarks that had to be substantially met over the course of the agreement. The development firm has complied. It is quite simply wrong to renege on a contract because political winds shift or bounce the boat around. The time to have questioned the terms of this agreement was before the Council voted four-to-one to enter into the agreement. We must live up to our commitment, by law and in the name of honor.

2. In keeping with that thought, our reputation has suffered for years due to political infighting, personal agendas and poor performance. We finally have a shot at real change in this community as outlined in our Comprehensive Plan, a vision that hundreds of people in our City scripted. As is past practice, opponents to this project have taken every opportunity to undercut, paralyze or torpedo the effort, sinking to telling repugnant lies and casting aspersions, disregarding that the results of their actions will negatively affect this City for years, if not decades, to come. My fear in this regard has been born out by fact: Port City Preservation has pulled back from the Esquire project because of the actions of our Common Council and incredulous mayors from across the state had recently approached me on this topic because they had heard of these antics. Again, how frightening!

3. At the same time, members of the Council are in denial of these effects. They steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that they are putting our City at risk for being sued, that our reputation is being sullied, or that we will lose future opportunities to entice developers to the shores of our river. It is sad that they will push forward with the resolution to tank this project, beyond the question of legality, when it has such drastic and long-lasting consequence. It is my hope that they will yet reconsider, because

4. there are no other developers offering up $40M to rehab this site. There are whisperings and innuendo, but no flesh on those ghosts. It is miraculous that we have a developer that is not only still interested in seeing this project to fruition, but optimistic. We should be extraordinarily grateful that this firm holds its ground after being treated with distrust and derision. The use of historic tax credits and other incentives has been decried as suspect, inspiring outrage from the naysayers. For some reason, we reserve this insult for an outside entity; Mr. Tesiro has been inspired to rehab a vacant building downtown because of public money meant to incentivise the same kind of private investment, yet there is not a peep to be heard from the angry hoard.

5. Our community needs, and is ripe for, this kind of project. The economic impact will be striking ($890K property taxes, $102K water/sewer fees, $180K sales tax, $4.5M in spending annually.) In tandem with the Pedestrian Bridge, traffic re-patterning, Bridge Street reconstruction, Riverlink Park Phase II, relocation of the train station and efforts to revitalize downtown, we will make great strides towards bringing back an urban core to this city.

6. Re-purposing of factory buildings is a proven solution to the post-industrial decline experienced by cities across the country – successful projects are numerous on the web. The many benefits are ample:

“Historic Preservation is one of the most inherently “green” professions in addition to providing a multitude of benefits to communities. It can be an effective economic tool for redevelopment, foster business development, create jobs and strengthen communities. Yet many see efforts at historic preservation merely as exercises in nostalgia and as an infringement on property rights. The following are some reasons other than wanting to retain beautiful buildings for being a proponent of historic preservation:

When you choose to repair and restore an existing home or building, you are performing the ultimate recycling project. Sustainable practice recommendations include considering the embodied energy of products in addition to the long-term energy savings. When a historic building is demolished, all the energy used to produce and assemble the structure is wasted. Since the energy is already expended, preserving the building has much less impact on the environment.

Historic Preservation reduces landfill wastes. Estimates vary, but it is commonly accepted that between 15% and 20% of municipal solid waste comes from construction and demolition projects. Obviously, landfill debris would be reduced if more people choose to preserve an existing building rather than demolish and build new. When true preservation practices are followed during historic renovations (“repair rather than replace”), waste is reduced even more.

According to noted economist and historic preservation advocate, Donovan Rypkema, “Sustainable Development requires environmental responsibility, economic responsibility, and social/cultural responsibility.” Preservation and renovation of existing building stock is the one type of development that merges these three elements, helping maintain vibrant, livable communities in addition to being environmentally and economically responsible. In addition, historic buildings are often constructed of more durable materials than are readily available today.

We agree completely with the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s policy statement on community revitalization: “Revitalizing our historic hometowns and Main Streets is not about nostalgia. It is about reinvesting in our older and historic neighborhoods. Preservation-based community development not only protects our heritage, but also is a viable alternative to sprawl that creates affordable housing, generates jobs, supports independent businesses, increases civic participation, and bolsters a community’s sense of place.”

Historic preservation makes economic sense. Studies have shown that investment in historic neighborhoods and commercial centers stabilize property values, encourage redevelopment, stimulate business development, and generate tourist dollars.”

As Mayor, it is neither my wish nor intention to cause division in this community, but it is my responsibility act in the best interest of our residents. I am protecting us from a potential lawsuit and pointing toward a realistically bright future. This is the change people overwhelmingly elected me for. They want lower taxes, better services, improved infrastructure and new opportunity. This project will help get us there. I cannot and will not veer off of the course because the road’s gotten bumpy. This is too important for all of us.

Check out the successes others have experienced across the country:

Historic Landmarks
Warehouse spaces
Hat Factory
Gorman & Company

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