At a special board meeting this Friday, September 29, of the Water Street Development Corporation (WSDC), a shell entity created by the Kraham administration to move forward the controversial Water Street Parking Garage project, two very important things happened.
First, WSDC Board Member and former Mayor Rich David tore into the school board and local housing advocates for rejecting a massive tax break for a wealthy developer to build five floors of privately-owned luxury housing atop a five-floor, publicly-owned parking garage in downtown Binghamton.
Mayor David took a few minutes to “put on record” a harsh critique of those “ignorant protestors” and naïve school board members who played a role in sinking a massive tax break that, based on simple math, wasn’t really needed.
David said it was “extremely troubling and disappointing that the school board chose not to support the PILOT bond due to pressure from a vocal few.” He explained their decision as “short-sighted” for a number of reasons, but primarily because the school district is responsible for the bulk of local property tax bills.
He then characterized those who spoke out against the massive tax break for a luxury housing developer—which were local citizens, mothers of children in the school district, housing justice advocates, and voters—as “ignorant” and “protestors.”
He continued his political monologue saying the school board ruined this transformative project because they don’t have experience sticking up to “protestors” like the City Council and administration do,” and then emphasized the need to put this all on the record.
In other words, he blamed the school board and suggested they acted naïve and cowardly for listening to the community they swore an oath to serve.
Binghamton Bridge agrees with Rich David that it’s important to get his commentary “on the record.”
Here is a video of WSDC’s 9/29/23 meeting, and Rich’s political monologue starts at 1m20s.
Also for the record, neither former Mayor David, current Mayor Kraham, nor any other board member of the WSDC (which consists of former Republican Councilmember Chris Papastrat, current Republican Councilmember Tom Scanlon, Mayor Kraham’s City Comptroller Chuck Shager, Mayor Kraham’s old boss (David), and champion-for-any-investment-in-downtown Ron Sall) addressed The Bridge’s reporting of how the PILOT didn’t seem necessary.
According to the City’s own numbers, the developer could have made up for the lost tax break by increasing rents approximately $300, which seemed in line with rents at other “luxury” developments in the area. The simple math exercise blew up an absurd lie by the developer’s spokesperson who told the local newspaper that without the PILOT rents would have to increase from $1,200 to $7,000.
While some community members who spoke at the school board meeting were understandably opposed to any tax break for luxury housing in the midst of a severe housing affordability crisis in the area, most said something like, “Reject and renegotiate the PILOT because the wealthy developer doesn’t need this much for luxury housing that these same politicians say is in huge demand.”
A very reasonable argument made by local residents, which apparently resonated given the school board voted unanimously to reject the massive property tax break.
But it seems former Mayor Rich David wanted to make sure the blame was placed on a “naïve” school board and a few “ignorant protestors.”
Interestingly, at the end of the meeting, Binghamton Comptroller and WSDC Board member Chuck Shager stated that the interest rates have skyrocketed so much since this project was first conceived (more than 2 years ago), that it has become financially impractical for both the Water Street Development Corporation and the private housing developer to borrow monies for their respective part of the project.
It was a quick, honest admission that exposed David’s comments as both petty and political grandstanding.
The second important thing that happened at this special board meeting?
The WSDC Board approved transferring all the contracts and this project back to the City of Binghamton. Since the WSDC was created specifically and exclusively to handle this project, it basically just committed suicide. It’s done.
Congratulations all you naïve, cowardly school board members and you ignorant protestors. You won this round.
But stay alert: this a chess move to remove from the decision-making process those who dare “listen to community.”
The best move now for those who oppose massive tax breaks for wealthy developers to build luxury housing atop five floors of public parking?
On Election Day (November 7), vote out the three Councilmembers who have served as rubberstamps for former Mayor David and current Mayor Kraham: Phil Strawn, Sophia Resciniti, and Tom Scanlon. End the One Party Rule in Binghamton, and elect a great and diverse slate of Democratic candidates to keep Mayor Kraham and his cronies in check.