Four in every ten state dollars awarded to Ulster County entities in last week’s distribution of economic and community funding went to two projects in Kingston and one in New Paltz. The largest single amount, $1,750,000, was awarded to the proposed $80-million Wildberry Lodge project next to the New Paltz Thruway exit. Because he still must secure numerous governmental approvals and line up considerable capital, developer Steve Turk is unlikely to break ground on Wildberry Lodge in the near future. The waterpark, resort hotel and conference center has not yet submitted its full application for IDA tax-free financing or its final proposed site plan to New Paltz town government.
The two Kingston projects, which received a million dollars each last week under the state announcement, are likely to move toward earlier completion. The renovation as a food and beverage manufacturing facility and retail space of the former Woolworth’s building on Wall Street in the uptown neighborhood by BBG Ventures is scheduled for completion next year. The not-for-profit local housing company RUPCO will combine affordable housing on the upper floors of a zero-net-energy structure on Cedar Street in midtown Kingston with civic spaces on its ground floor. Though work may begin in 2016, this complex project is likely to take at least two years to complete.
Ulster County got $9.4 million in all.
Though Kingston-listed projects received $4 million in state funding, two of the larger grants were more regional in nature: $782,441 for LED streetlights to Kingston-based Courtney Strong, and $343,776 to Clearwater for restoration of its iconic vessel. Also headed to Kingston will be $500,000 to Bardavon for further UPAC restoration, $200,000 to the county for demolishing the old county jail to create a shovel-ready site, $100,000 to the city for sewer engineering, and $45,000 to pay a curator at the maritime museum.
In addition to the Wildberry Lodge set-aside, New Paltz did well. The municipality got $599,150 in funding for sewer lines. OSI got $500,000 to restore a Gunks carriage road, the Palisades Conservancy got $254,097 for access and trails, and Mohonk Preserve $188,785 for bridge replacement and work on its carriage roads. BOCES in New Paltz got close to $100,000 for its culinary and nursing training programs.
In other parts of Ulster County, Wawarsing got $600,000 for wastewater treatment and Ellenville village the same amount for sanitary sewers. Shandaken got $415,000 to help solve Phoenicia’s water problems. Marlborough got $135,000 for waterfront revitalization, and Saugerties village $20,000 for the same purpose.
Arts support was not plentiful. Shadowland was awarded $200,000 for a second stage. Phoenicia’s Festival of the Voice got $56,000 and Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale $19,760.
Under the fifth distribution of state grants under governor Andrew Cuomo, cruelly derided by some critics as “the annual begathon,” the state is divided into ten economic development regions with widely varying populations (New York City has roughly 50 times the population of the Adirondacks), which each year get roughly similarly sized pots of gold, this year between a low of $80 million and a high of $125 million. New York City, the richest and most populous region by far, always seems to lag in awards. Though the governor likes to describe the funding allocation process as a competition, it’s a very strange one. Over the duration of the past five years, the totals in all the regions except New York City have ended up roughly the same. They take turns “winning.”
The governor this year added a new wrinkle, tossing in an additional $1.5 billion through his inaugural Upstate Revitalization Initiative ($100 million a year each under the URI to three regions for five years), from which the New York City, Long Island and Buffalo regions (previously awarded the famous Buffalo Billion) were excluded.
The Southern Tier, the Finger Lakes and the Syracuse area “won” the URI money. There may be generous consolation for the “losers,” including the mid-Hudson region (which got $90 million this time around), however. In his press release announcing this year’s awards, the governor said that the four upstate regions not selected for the URI “will receive an additional $50 million to fund priority projects and further implement the regions’ strategic plans for economic growth.” He didn’t say whether that amount would be awarded for five years or for only one.
Though the governor was careful not to explicitly say so, the state system is frankly redistributive, designed to prime the upstate pump (“to stimulate or support the growth or success of something by supplying it with money”) in places where there is little economic activity and high unemployment. Local state senator James Seward, one of two state senators who this year served on the strategic implementation assessment team (SIAT) which reviewed the proposals, lauded this year’s process.
In an interview, Seward employed the pump-priming metaphor. The state’s commitment, he also thought, “will lead to continued revitalization and new opportunities for working men and women.” He spoke of the importance of leveraging the state money with funds from private investment sources. The senator advocated for a faster decision-making process “for good projects wherever they are.”
The upstate Republican, who represents portions of four of the ten economic development regions, said he had been extremely impressed with all of this year’s CFA regions. “Everyone really stepped up their game this year,” he was quoted as saying. “The innovative ideas generated through this process have given us a real blueprint that going forward will lead to exciting results.”
Republican state senator John Bonacic, who also represents portions of the mid-Hudson region, praised the “hard work and determination” of the regional economic development council, of which he is a member.
Assembly minority leader Brian Kolb’s response was harsher. “A grant program that pits upstate regions against each other is not a catalyst for sustained revitalization,” Republican Kolb’s statement said in part. “Regional winners are hand-picked by the governor, and…there is little evidence to show that lofty job-creation promises have been kept.”
In his statement, local Democratic assemblyperson Kevin Cahill listed the award recipients in his district. The awards plus other investments, Cahill wrote, “will significantly promote the region’s hospitality, housing, agriculture and artistic resources while providing employment for construction and permanent-facility workers.”