Mayor Gary McCarthy says Schenectady will build on its successes this year regarding crime, finances and economic development — “you can bet on it.”
McCarthy delivered his 2015 State of the City address to a packed house at City Hall Monday evening, which focused on the positive development the city has experienced last year and how he is looking to continue that momentum of growth this year.
“This is our 217th year as a city,” he said. “That is a long time covering some good times and some more challenging periods. 2014 was a very good year, and we should all be excited about the future.”
He opened his speech with a recap of the economic development projects that have either been completed, currently under construction or just announced last year. A majority of those projects are in downtown, along State Street and Erie Boulevard.
“We revitalized lower State Street with investments by the city, Metroplex and National Grid of over $4 million,” said McCarthy, a Democrat, who took office in 2012. “In addition, $14 million was spent on the rebuilding of Erie Boulevard. We have successfully transformed the western entrance to the city.”
He highlighted development projects including a proposed $20 million investment by Prime Companies and Highbridge Development to transform several properties on State Street and Erie Boulevard into apartments and retail space, and the multi-million dollar renovation of 251 State St., named the NYBizLab, to house companies under the state’s business tax incentive program, START-UP NY, in partnership with Schenectady County Community College.
“The western gateway to the community has really been improved with our work on lower State Street and Erie Boulevard coming to a close,” said Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, following McCarthy’s speech. “We have a lot of work ahead in 2015, but we continue to follow the successful plan to redevelop downtown and work countywide to bring jobs and new investments to the community. It’s working.”
Tony Civitella, CEO of local software company Transfinder and creator of the NYBizLab, said he is expecting “a major announcement soon” regarding the building’s first tenant.
“A lot of renovations are underway and just before spring the building should be ready,” Civitella said after McCarthy’s address. “We will be able to have six or seven companies come in right away. It’s coming soon, so look for an announcement next week or so. We’re very close.”
McCarthy said since he has been mayor the city paved an average of 8.5 miles of city streets each year, compared to an average of 2.6 miles in the previous four years.
He announced a plan to call on the City Council to adopt a paving program that would seek to pave more than 10 miles of streets this year. McCarthy also anticipates that repairs to the Oak Street Bridge will begin later this year, after a structural analysis of the bridge is completed in a few months.
Councilman Vince Riggi, the only non-Democrat on the City Council, questioned where the funding would come from for the paving project and repairs to the bridge. Overall, he said McCarthy’s speech “didn’t surprise me.”
“We’re still waiting to find out if the bridge has to be replaced or rebuilt,” Riggi said afer the State of the City. “That will make a huge difference in terms of the time of repairs. If it has to be replaced, I don’t see it reopened by the end of this decade.”
Aside from downtown, McCarthy said “we continue to make major investments in our neighborhoods” with the demolition of dilapidated homes using a $3 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loan and attracting more owner-occupants to the city leveraging his Home Ownership Made Easy in Schenectady (HOMES) program.
“By demolishing the worst buildings and doing aggressive code enforcement we are removing the hurdle to investment and redevelopment in our neighborhoods,” he said. “I want to send a strong message that we will hold property owners accountable.”
McCarthy said seven homes have been demolished using funds from the HUD loan last year. Up to 70 more demolitions are slated over the next year, he said.
That’s on top of five demolitions last year through the Capital Region Land Bank, leveraging a $3 million grant from the state Attorney General’s Office. The Land Bank plans to demolish another 40 buildings and rehabilitate about 25 homes over the next year.
About 42 real estate agents marketed 101 of the city’s foreclosed properties, he said. Of those properties, the Realtors sold 56 of them generating $721,000 in revenue for Schenectady last year. Also, in 2014, seven new homes were built and 33 housing units were rehabilitated.
Riggi said he would like to see the development of the city’s neighborhoods “happen faster” and that the demolition of buildings is not the only way to address problems, such as crime, in residential areas.
“The concept of just demolishing buildings and selling houses to people is good, but we have an element in some neighborhoods that no matter what you do there will not be any change,” Riggi said.
McCarthy said he is expecting the city’s third consecutive surplus. In 2014, the city started with a $14.4 million fund balance in the general fund, an increase of $1.6 million from the previous year, he said. The total property tax levy is also .72 percent lower compared to three years ago.
Mention of a casino in Schenectady was saved for the end of McCarthy’s speech. He touted the project as a “tremendous economic driver.”
“This project will incorporate not only services that our city needs, but public and green spaces that will be of great benefit to all,” he said.
Rotterdam developer the Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming of Chicago were recommended for a casino license by the state Gaming Facility Location Board last month. The developer and operator plan to build a $330 million Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor, located at the former Alco site between Erie Boulevard and the Mohawk River.
The casino project includes plans by Galesi to also transform the 60-acre brownfield with apartments, condominiums and townhouses, along with office and retail space. The developer is looking to incorporate the river into the overall development with biking and walking paths and a harbor with 50 boat slips.
“We have the largest, most impressive partnership in the region happening here in Schenectady,” McCarthy said. “The news that a casino will be coming to our city was preceded by months of work done hand-in-hand by our business community, our friends in arts, culture and hospitality, and those working to advance economic development in our city and region.”
It appears McCarthy also coined a new casino-related phrase for the city, ending his speech with six words — “Schenectady: You can bet on it.”