I have not written a blog in recent weeks because, quite frankly the news around the city was so negative, the budget process so bungled by everyone in city hall, that I just did not have the energy to address it.
Well, nothing gets my blood boiling, and my pulse racing more than a statement from former Mayor Roefaro. Usually, it's his "colorful" use of the english language that he is so well known for that piques my attention. This time , it was something much, much more unbelievable. He actually told the O.D. reporter that he "couldn't remember the details" of the purchase of the Bleecker Street block from Charles Gaetano!
Funny, Dave seems to have so many lapses of memory. Let me help jog his brain for him.
When I got to city hall in 2008, the parking garage /transfer station was a mess, bungled by the Julian Administration. The site behind Grace Church, their preferred location, was a tangle of various property owners, difficult grading, and potentially damaging to the historic 1850, Upjohn designed church. At a meeting to discuss projects around the city, I made a suggestion.
Let's move the garage across the street, I suggested, behind Harza. That way, it can serve Harza, the Adrorandack Bank Building, and free up spaces that could help the perceived downtown parking "problem." Roefaro agreed to this proposal and we set about to change the plan.
Local architect Dave Bonacci stepped in and was asked to design a garage and transfer station. These designs were very preliminary and were only a suggestion of what could be realized at the site.
Let me remind the former Mayor: He did not hire a single local architect, designer, or engineer to do this project. That was the beginning of the trouble. The firms, all located out of town, did not seem to care what we wanted. And, when I voiced my concerns, Roefaro pulled me off the project and made the point person Brian Thomas, Brian reported only to the Mayor. At this point, they were the only two people in city hall who knew anything about the project.
As head of the Urban Renewal Agency, I was supposed to begin negotiations for the purchase of the properties. Once again, Roefaro said NO! He would handle it him self. He was, as he put it, a "dealmaker" and he and only he could handle these "delicate" negotiations.
He often told us of his close friendship with Tom Clark, and he insisted that no one be allowed to deal with Mr. Gaetano. With a wink and a nod, Roefaro said more than once,"let me handle Charlie."
Now you must remember, the building in question was not even needed for the project. As such, I thought that it would be a great candidate for the same type of project that we had accomplished across Bleecker St. I asked the Mayor if we could pursue a grant application to stabilize the structure. He initially agreed, and then pulled back his support. He told me that the building was needed to "sweeten the deal for Charlie." "I need this property for my garage," he bellowed at a meeting one day. "I am going to have to make a deal with Charlie and this building is going to be part of it, Bobby. And, I don't want to hear any historic preservation bull." In my mind, this pullback signaled the end of the line for the building. I was upset and asked if we could possibly save the building and also buy the land for the garage. He just nodded and winked again. "Let me worry about that," he said. "I make the deals around here."
I was dejected, because I knew the roof was unstable and needed support. Once it collapsed, that would give demo-crazy city hall the reason to smash the building into the ground. Once again we would lose an opportunity to redevelop a block of buildings and bring new life and revenue to downtown.
I had one last chance. I appealed to Mr. Gaetano himself. I explained to him and his daughter that the building could be eligible for grant money. I told him that it was one of the last remaining commercial structures downtown and, perhaps we could bring it back to life as we did the block across the street.
They tentatively agreed but had one problem: since they owned a large chunk of the property (the pasta shopp)that the garage was slated to be built on, how could they be sure that the city would be fair to them on the purchase? They had emptied the building of tenants and had no revenue. There were taxes owed. No one had made any firm commitments to them. They were also concerned about the loss of some of the parking for the Paul Building.
I wish I could have been of more help. I was, as they say, "persona non grata" when it came to the garage project. Brian Thomas repeated the same line over and over-FTA would not let us negotiate for the purchase of any of the property. The Mayor stood by this and let valuable time tick away.
Tick Tick Tick. The time continued to go by and no forward momentum was seen. Brian constantly blamed it on FTA. The mayor blamed it on Brian, and then yelled at me. One day, in his office, he screamed "you have ruined my garage!" when I reminded him that it was he who took me off the project in the early stage and gave complete control to Brian, he just waved me off and told me to leave.
Well, the inevitable happened. The roof collapsed. I knew that it was now only a matter of time before the wrecking crews were called in. At about the same time, the garage project fell apart as well. The Gaetano property, the former pasta shop, was still needed for the Centro transfer station. So, negotiations apparently began in ernest with Gaetano.
I was not there. I had been replaced by Randy Soggs, the New Hartford developer who likes a lot of surface parking. And, apparently the deal was this: Gaetano would sell the pasta shop property to the city, include the Bleecker St property for $1, and the city would do the demo. A demo that could have been prevented. A demo that, it seems, was the plan all along.
That was the deal. Roefaro made it in his mind long before Soggs. How could he not remember? It was his "brainchild" as he liked to put it.
My memory is sharp. Crystal clear. Next time the former Mayor "doesn't remember," he should give me a call. I can bring him up to speed on a lot of things that happened when he was Mayor of Utica!