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Metroplex sets its sights higher

Metroplex sets its sights higher

Since its creation in 1998, the Metroplex Development Authority has worked some serious magic to rev

Since its creation in 1998, the Metroplex Development Authority has worked some serious magic to revitalize the city’s downtown.

Now, it’s prepared to tap this mojo once again by turning $25 million into more than $100 million in additional investment in Schenectady County, local officials said.

Gov. David A. Paterson on Thursday signed legislation that increases Metroplex’s bonding cap by $25 million, to $75 million, and extends its life by five more years through 2033.

The law allows Metroplex to receive one-half of 1 percent of county sales tax revenue until 2033. This totals approximately $7 million annually. The same legislation would continue to provide towns with $3 million annually in sales tax money.

Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said the authority sought the legislation because the authority was fast approaching its initial bond cap of $50 million. He said Metroplex can support the additional debt due to a guaranteed income stream from the sales tax, from income generated through loan repayments and because of its strong credit rating.

While Metroplex had several major projects in play during its first five years, it was under Gillen’s leadership, which he assumed in 2004, that Metroplex hit its stride, officials said. Under his tenure, it has spurred more than $300 million in local investment, creating some 3,000 jobs.

Metroplex Vice Chairman Brad Lewis said the governor’s action “allow us to expand what we are doing. We certainly think there is plenty to do.”

Metroplex expects to quadruple the $25 million through a simple process, Lewis said. “We leverage it. Basically, in our projects, we always have a fair amount of other people’s money. We rarely would finance a project ourselves,” he said.

Metroplex’s investment, he said, “tends to be set up with private investment and, more often than not, with state and federal grants. We tend to put in a fraction of the money that goes into projects.”

Lewis said as Metroplex becomes increasingly effective, “our share has gone down. We are putting in expertise and helping get grants and people know we will be here for a while.”

He cited as examples Metroplex’s investment in the facade grant program administered by the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. and its investment in Proctors.

Metroplex has provided $1.6 million to the facade program since 2002. Participants must match the grant award, but more often they exceed the match, Lewis said. According to Metroplex, the facade program has generated some $6 million in exterior and interior building improvements downtown.

As for Proctors, Metroplex provided a $10 million grant toward expanding and rehabilitating the downtown landmark. Proctor’s more than matched the grant through additional grants and other sources by the time it completed the project.

Metroplex is now turning its attention to the revitalization of lower State Street, to the rehabilitation of Erie Boulevard and to the redevelopment of the former Alco site on upper Erie Boulevard, Lewis said.

Lewis does not expect Metroplex to use the $25 million quickly. “We also have money coming in as prior loans get repaid, and some of these projects will increase the sales tax stream, increasing the amount of money to Metroplex and to the towns,” he said. “But that kind of capacity will allow us to do some significant work.”

Politicians on both sides of the aisle praised the governor’s actions while saying little about how they almost derailed the legislation.

Majority Democrats in the Schenectady County Legislature proposed home rule legislation early in the summer to increase the bond cap to $75 million. State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Glenville, immediately supported it. Republican Minority Leader James Tedisco and Republican Assemblyman George Amedore Jr., however, amended the legislation.

Their amendments would have barred county legislators from the board, along with party chairmen and county government managers, and would have raised the bond cap to $60 million.

They also asked the county to delay its request until after the state audited Metroplex’s books. The State Comptroller’s Office plans to examine Metroplex’s operations from Jan. 1, 2006, to Dec. 31, 2007. The audit is Metroplex’s first since its creation. Metroplex officials called the state comptroller’s audit routine.

After weeks of dickering, Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, chairwoman of the Schenectady County Legislature, offered a compromise to ban all elected government officials serving on the Metroplex board unless they are currently a member. Republicans modified this to ban county and state legislators from serving on the Metroplex board and raised the bond cap to $75 million.

Everyone accepted the compromise and the legislation passed.

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