In 2009, representatives of Wilmorite, Inc., SUNY New Paltz and the Riseley & Moriello law firm took part in a presentation in Boston highlighting a vision for a real estate development project that Wilmorite has referred to as “Collegetown.”
At their seminar entitled “University/Developer Case Studies,” representatives of Wilmorite and Nixon Peabody LLP (Wilmorite’s legal, lobbying and public relations firm) led off with a report on their Park Point project at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This 938-bed mixed-use project was described as having “… opened the campus edge and extended into the community.”.The “Collegetown Goals” included the creation of a mixed-use development, meeting RIT student housing needs and offering convenient and value oriented retail and service offerings.
One slide showed an aerial photograph of the campus and adjacent lands. Others depicted the “Campus Evolution” at RIT spurred by the Park Point project, showing ample adjacent lands ripe for further development and contiguous with both the campus and Park Point. The segment entitled “Creating Vital, Vibrant Town Centers” listed a Barnes & Noble Academic Superstore (“first in New York State”), M&T Bank, a hair salon and spa and several restaurants.
The 60-acre project, which required the university to be an ‘anchor tenant’, took only 16 months to construct, breaking ground in April 2007 and opening in August of 2008. The total development cost was $77 million and provided “market rate housing” for tenants described as “student, graduate, faculty, young professional.” The slide describing financing listed an “IDA PILOT agreement” showing as key features no sales tax on construction materials or real property tax.
If the above sounds strikingly familiar, it may be that it reminds you of Wilmorite’s current proposal for a Park Point project at the College at New Paltz. If the SUNY New Paltz project does come to mind, you won’t be surprised to learn that the second portion of the Boston seminar featured slides by Sally Cross, then executive director of the SUNY New Paltz Foundation and New Paltz property owner Mike Moriello. Their presentation included a discussion of the current housing situation at the college and the unavailability of student housing for transfer or graduate students. Aerial photos showed the campus and the 290 acres of Moriello family lands running south along Route 32, extending behind the homes on Jansen Road and Hawkhill Drive. On a slide entitled “Why this parcel and project?” the first bulleted item read “acquire land bank for campus.”
Land bank? What land bank? During all those meetings when SUNY president (and member of the Foundation’s board of directors) Don Christian was pleading his case to the town of New Paltz Planning Board, I don’t recall any mention of a land bank.
It seems logical to infer that the long-range plans for the New Paltz Park Point project include further development on the lands located south of the college along Route 32, extending to Jansen Road. In this column recently I questioned the need for the project, as well as the credibility of SUNY New Paltz senior administrators. Having studied the Boston seminar materials, I see no reason to change my position.
It seems that the PILOT application for Park Point may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the possible long-term negative impacts on the social, cultural and economic environment of New Paltz. I strongly urge the Planning Board, School Board and Town Board to explore this further. A good start would be to visit the website of the Institute for Professional and Executive Development, Inc. (iped), Nixon Peabody’s public relations and lobbying arm, at https://www.ipedinc.net/powerpoints/UNIVERSITY_DEVELOPER_CASE_STUDIES.pdf.
It is time for the college administration to tell us exactly what their plans are regarding the acquisition of a “land bank” for the campus when they formulated this intent and why they haven’t shared Wilmorite’s “Collegetown” vision with the New Paltz community.