Anyone taking a drive through downtown Schenectady these days would have to be impressed by the transformation that’s taken place since the Metroplex Development Authority was created. Nine years later, there’s abundant evidence of life — day and night — with a greatly expanded Proctors, a couple of new hotels, several upscale eateries, a spiffy multi-screen cinema, new office buildings and attractive facades where empty storefronts and eyesores once dominated.
Metroplex has been behind most of this development. In short, it has accomplished everything its creators envisioned and then some — all with less than the $50 million it was authorized to borrow, against future sales tax receipts. However, it is within $8 million of that ceiling, and wants the county Legislature to ask the state to raise it by $25 million. At the same time, it wants its authority extended another five years, from 2028 to 2033. We see no reason not to grant either request.
For all its success in downtown Schenectady, Metroplex’s work is hardly done. The so-called “pizza block” across from the Hampton Inn is still in limbo, as is the Robinson’s building, the lower Erie Boulevard makeover and the Alco project. It’s hard to imagine that, for however much Metroplex has already spent on these projects, it won’t have to spend at least some more.
Chairman Ray Gillen has shown he knows how to get pretty good bang for Metroplex bucks, forcing developers to put up the lion’s share on most projects, providing loans instead of grants, etc. Some of the investments perhaps haven’t panned out the way they were supposed to — the Van Dyck and Big House come to mind — and some help was given or proposed for suburban projects that probably didn’t need it (e.g. Time Warner early on and St. James Square recently). But by and large, the authority has done its job well — especially since Gillen took control.
Expanding its borrowing authority is necessary if the progress is to continue, while extending the length of its authority five years is mostly a technical measure to facilitate future borrowing. The county and state legislatures should go for both.