PLATTSBURGH — The City Common Council was split down the middle on the Boat Basin buy Thursday night, forcing Mayor Christopher Rosenquest to break the tie.
Rosenquest, who has spoken highly of the deal, voted in favor during Thursday's committee meeting, putting the item up for a formal vote at the council's upcoming regular session on Thursday, June 18.
"My style of legislating is that I would much rather have a majority support," he said the following day. "I don't necessarily want to be a tiebreaker on issues like this."
The resolution in question was to authorize the mayor to enter into a purchase agreement for 11.84 acres of waterfront property neighboring the Plattsburgh City Marina off of Dock Street.
As previously reported by the Press-Republican, city officials are considering paying $7.25 million for the property, assessed at $1.7 million, and its onsite assets the Plattsburgh Boat Basin and Naked Turtle restaurant.
Mayor Rosenquest anticipated bonding out the funds over a 20 year period at 2.5% interest with yearly payments of around $450,000. He said early estimates show an annual profit of about $250,000, after expenses.
His vision for the site included onboarding third-party entities to operate the businesses and the city's existing marina.
According to the mayor, entering the agreement would not bind the city to the deal, but somewhat commit the buyer and the seller to the prospect, while launching two months of due diligence, including a third-party valuation, appraisal and inspection.
The city would also get a closer look at "the books" and business operations there, the mayor said, noting the agreement was necessary to perform a "deep dive" into tax returns and a financial audit.
Should the city decide to back out of the deal after signing on, it was at risk of losing $20,000 — a concern for some councilors Thursday night.
"That's standard business," Rosenquest told the Press-Republican Friday. "We're asking the seller to take their property off the market in the height of the time when properties are for sale, so there is a risk for them to lose a sale if we go into this due diligence period and then decide we're not going to purchase it."
As an attempt to ease councilor concerns, the mayor said he would go "back to the seller to ask if there is some room on this number" before the next council vote.
'AT TAXPAYER RISK'
Councilors Mike Kelly (D-Ward 2), Elizabeth Gibbs (D-Ward 3) and Jeff Moore (D-Ward 6) were those against Thursday's resolution.
Kelly thought the city should invest more into its existing rec facilities, like the Crete Memorial Civic Center and City Gym, before adding on another. He also wanted "more assurances," like those anticipated for the due diligence period, before voting in favor of the agreement, not after.
Gibbs felt similarly.
She emphasized being in favor of community development, but didn't want to "hurry" through such a big purchase with taxpayer dollars on the line.
"I'm very intrigued by the idea that we could make our waterfront whole, (that) we could have this 11-ish acres. I think that is a very intriguing idea and it does hold a lot of potential."
But the mayor pro tem, who thought she and her colleagues should first assemble a list of questions and take a variety of other steps before signing the agreement, felt the governing body had an overall lack of expertise on such purchases and suggested they hire an advisor with marina and waterfront development experience.
"I don't want to learn on the fly at the risk of taxpayers and I certainly don't want to hurry through this in two months. I fully recognize it's a due diligence period, but it's a short amount of time."
Councilor Moore said he had more community members contact him on this topic than they had on any one prior.
Among their concerns were anticipated property-tax decreases should the city take the acreage off the tax rolls. Moore referenced not only the possible $49,000 loss to the city itself, but expected blows to Clinton County and the Plattsburgh City School District, as well.
The notion that the city had already "tried and failed" to operate a marina was discussed during Thursday's meeting, as well.
As previously reported by the Press-Republican, Mayor Rosenquest said the city's current marina was unprofitable in part due to a 2018 settlement with the Plattsburgh Boat Basin itself, which prevented the city from completing future development phases there.
In 2017, the New York State Financial Restructuring Board, in sifting through the city's finances, reported the marina could be successful if expanded.
"So automatically, there was no opportunity for the city to make money managing its own marina," the mayor had told the Press-Republican.
IT'S AN 'IF'
Councilors Jaime Canales (Ward 1), Jennifer Tallon (D-Ward 4) and Patrick McFarlin (D-Ward 5) were those in favor of the resolution.
Mayor Rosenquest and Councilor Canales, who both noted their own experiences in the business sector, asserted two months was plenty of time, and a typical amount of time, to carryout the city's due diligence for a purchase of this size.
Canales, who said "the pros outweigh the cons," listed positives of taking on the venture, like making the property accessible to the public and bringing in the estimated annual revenue.
"To me this is a no-brainer. This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal."
Councilor McFarlin, who agreed with Councilor Kelly's notion that the city had not done well to take care of its existing properties, thought, if all goes well, the purchase could be much-needed way to bring in Lake City revenue.
"If this asset, if this purchase brings in $250,000 a year in profit, then I agree with (Canales) — it's a no-brainer, because we can use that $250,000 a year to do all of the things (Kelly) pointed out. To fix all of our stuff, to help the city," McFarlin said.
"The counterpoint to that is it's an 'If.' If we lose money on this marina, it's a terrible risk to take for the taxpayers and it will backfire tremendously, but if it's successful. . . if we could put that $250,000 in our surplus every year, we could do so much more for the people in our city."
When it was time to vote, McFarlin ultimately voted "Yes," adding "but I'm not sure how I'm going to vote in a week."
The councilors were not alone in their indecision.
Mayor Rosenquest posted about the matter on his mayoral Facebook page and commenters on both sides of the coin surfaced. The two community members who spoke at the committee meeting were also split, one for and one against.
The mayor hoped, in the days preceding the Thursday, June 18 meeting, that he could continue to address the concerns of councilors and city residents alike.
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