February 13, 2013

Editorial: Skepticism now natural


---- — An item in the Press-Republican’s weekly Lookback feature on Monday reminded some people of why skepticism accompanies any suggestion of large-scale projects around here, such as the Laurentian aircraft-maintenance proposal.

Laurentian was born just at the threshold of the international economic collapse five years ago. The embryonic Canadian firm aimed — still does, it says — to build a hangar to service wide-body jets at reduced costs compared with current arrangements overseas.

Turbulence in the financial world has interrupted progress, though, and has created serious doubts in many minds that the project will ever get off the ground.

Clinton County has seen significant distress before in promising developments that never materialized. One of the more notable was Montrealer Frank Arvay’s plan for a major development in downtown Plattsburgh. It was first introduced in 1978 and lingered in one form or other into the 1990s.

Arvay had already provoked controversy by buying a historic property at the corner of Cornelia Street and Prospect Avenue, tearing it down and building an apartment house.

Downtown, he proposed obtaining access to the City Parking Lot and building a 154-room, 14-story hotel with a convention hall and restaurant; a 281-unit, 11-story senior-citizen-apartment tower; a 110,000-square-foot shopping mall; an eight-story office tower; 51 riverfront townhouses; an elevated walkway above Broad Street; and a three-level underground parking lot for about 1,300 vehicles.

Originally, it was called a $17 million project, but, as time wore on, the estimated cost grew to $50 million.

And time did wear on. Historically, the Press-Republican has assigned one reporter at a time to cover the goings-on in City Hall, as most newspapers do. This project lasted so long that at least four reporters chronicled the progress, or lack of it.

And the project, itself, underwent many changes, as it was kneaded by funding situations and the marketing wisdom of the day.

Federal and state money factored into the project. Even the city would have become involved by borrowing $5 million, to be paid back from the proceeds of the enterprise.

The public grew weary of the ups and downs of the project after awhile. Eventually, the whole idea was abandoned.

Meanwhile, in 1981, a Texas developer named Jarrell Jennings came to town suggesting he lease land at the City Beach to make a Coney Island-style amusement center. Thoughts of boardwalks and midways danced in the minds of Plattsburghers — briefly, as this one, too, fell through.

There have been others.

So skepticism has been ingrained into the hearts and minds of local residents. Any project that involves more than a reasonable number of delays grows faint rather quickly.

On behalf of the people of Plattsburgh, we wish Laurentian well and earnestly hope to be in on the eventual celebration. But we also understand if they don’t keep holding

their breath.