The Schenectady County Legislature put the community college’s $20 million dormitory project on the fast track Tuesday night by forming a new economic development agency to fund the construction.
Local officials called the student housing project central to Schenectady County Community College’s fiscal and academic future, prompting the quick action.
The new agency will be called the 117 Washington Avenue Local Development Corp. and its sole function will be to issue tax-exempt bonds to developers of the five-story, 313-bed dormitory. The LDC could also develop a payment in lieu of taxes agreement and offer developers sales tax exemptions on construction material.
The Schenectady County Community College Foundation is sponsoring the project, as the college itself is prohibited from building or owning student housing.
The LDC will contain three members: Bernard Mericle, Christine Mallozzi-Chiaravalle and Philip Morris. Mericle and Mallozzi-Chiaravelle are current members of the Schenectady County Industrial Development Agency. Morris is the CEO of Proctors. The length of their terms were not specified.
Columbia Development Companies and BBL Construction Services will build the 105,000-square-foot structure at 117 Washington Ave., on a parking lot across from the SCCC campus. The county owns the lot.
Developers hope to break ground later this month or in early September and finish construction by next August, in time for the start of the 2009-10 academic year.
College officials said housing will allow SCCC to attract additional students to its premiere programs in culinary arts, aviation and music.
College President Gabriel Basil told legislators Tuesday night that student housing is expected to increase enrollment by 5 percent. “I know the housing will have an impact on the college and its future as well as plans to move into athletics,” he said.
The housing will also help spur economic development along lower State Street, according to Ray Gillen, chairman of the Metroplex Development Authority.
Metroplex, the county’s top economic development agency, is targeting the area for growth after helping revitalize upper State Street near Proctors.
The county established the LDC at the request of Metroplex and SCCC officials once the housing project reached the construction phase. Developers announced their plans at the Legislature’s committee meeting Aug. 4. The city’s Planning Commission approved the site plan last week.
Gillen said an LDC is the only entity that can issue the tax-exempt bonds necessary to make the student housing project affordable. He said the Schenectady County IDA could have issued the bonds to the nonprofit foundation, but the state law allowing for that expired in January.
Gillen said the college foundation cannot issue bonds on its own. “Under state law, you have to have an entity recognized by the state. In New York state, we use the IDAs, but we can’t use the IDA in this case. So we are using the LDC,” he said.
The new LDC is a single-purpose entity, Gillen said. “It will do this one project. It will not have any ability to do other projects,” he said.
Minority Leader Robert Farley, R-Glenville, supported the project, but said he was concerned about the cost of the rooms for individual students. A cost breakdown was not immediately available.
Community activist Elmer Bertsch criticized the project as not meeting the Legislature’s recently adopted standards that county buildings be energy efficient.
Legislator Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, said developers could not design a building to meet energy efficient specs and still keep housing affordable to students.
Gillen said the Schenectady County IDA will help administer the LDC and that Mallozzi-Chiaravalle and Mericle will split duties with the new entity. Morris was placed on the board to help generate possible uses for the housing when students aren’t using it, Gillen said.
“We are trying to eliminate duplication by adding the county IDA members to help administer the LDC,” Gillen said. “Philip is a good add. This housing can be used by Philip for programs during summer. We felt he would add a lot of energy to the LDC.”
Legislator Joseph Suhrada, R-Rotterdam, called Mallozzi-Chiaravalle and Mericle political operatives tied to the Democrats and urged that future members come from the general public.
The county Legislature also set a public hearing for September on a proposed 45-year lease between SCCC and the new LDC, which will be the tenant of the student housing.
Under terms of the lease, the tenant will pay annual rent of $1 and any taxes and assessments on the property. The LDC will retain surplus revenue. The lease will expire in 2053, or when the bonds used to finance the project are paid, whichever first occurs. The county will then take over possession of the property.
In other business, the Legislature approved SCCC’s $22.1 million budget for 2008-2009. In the process, the county increased its annual sponsorship contribution $80,000, to approximately $2 million. College trustees had asked the county to boost its annual sponsorship contribution by $120,000.
The county is trying to help the college stabilize its finances so it does not have to continuously tap its fund balance. At the current rate, the college’s surplus would disappear in two years. It will contain $1.3 million next year.
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