by Jeremy Moule
Last night, the Legislature agreed to let Monroe County buy space from Kodak for a new Monroe Community College city campus. But Legislature Democrats, all of whom voted against the legislation, and Mayor Tom Richards say the county unnecessarily rushed the deal (Richards' statement is at the end of this blog).
The county plans to buy and renovate several buildings at Kodak's State Street site for MCC. It has a tentative agreement with Kodak to purchase more than 560,000 square feet of space, plus part of a parking lot — though MCC will only use 275,000 square feet initially. The county, college, and Kodak negotiated a purchase price of just under $3 million. The county and college are still negotiating with Kodak over llingering details of the sale.
Democrats questioned several aspects of the deal at last night's meeting, including the cost of maintaining the unused space ($100,000 a year, said MCC President Anne Kress) and the certainty of $30 million in state funding that college officials say is set aside for the project. MCC has a $72 million budget to buy and renovate the campus.
Democrats also pushed for college and county officials to consider a proposal by the Sibley building's new owner, WinnCompanies. Winn says it can renovate 275,000 square feet of space at the building for $57 million;
MCC officials are skeptical of the plan. Andrews offered a motion to table the Kodak deal, but it was voted down along party lines.
The final vote was also split along party lines, with 19 Republicans voting for the legislation and nine Democrats voting against it.
After the vote, Mayor Richards issued this statement:
"It is unfortunate that the Republican caucus of the Monroe County Legislature opted not to take the time to adequately study and address the myriad of questions surrounding the purchase and the operation of the old Kodak site for use by MCC. I want to say here and now, that the cost to purchase and renovate the Kodak space is just one concern as there is an alternative that is $18 million cheaper. Of larger concern are the operating costs of the facility. Lacking is a clear explanation of how the operating costs will be funded. The college is buying twice the amount of space they need. There are also purchasing an entire heating and cooling plant — not just for their space — but for the entire Kodak Tower complex. MCC will now have to find a way to operate the plant and become a small utility company and not just a college.
"How will the cost to heat the unused space and the costs of operating the heating plant be paid for? Will the County divide up the extra costs and pass them onto taxpayers with their charge-back fee system? This will put a great burden on City taxpayers as well as on the larger towns who send students to MCC as well. We don't know the answer to these questions and still the County is moving ahead and entering to a binding deal that could needlessly cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The hard part to understand is that there is no rush needed here. MCC has a new five-year lease at Sibley and there is no one beating a path to purchase the Kodak site. The public did not get a chance to participate in this decision and I fear taxpayers will be left to pay a bill they can ill afford."