A Bad Idea Part IIA Guest Viewpoint was recently published in this space regarding the questionable conversion of the MetroCenter Plaza in downtown Binghamton into a ten space parking lot, at what amounts to about $35,000 a space. Much has happened since that initial piece.
Members of the Commission on Architecture and Urban Design (CAUD) were the first to raise concerns about this project. Other concerned citizens also raised meaningful points and voiced these in person at City Council Meetings. As a member of the City’s Planning Commission at the time, I also voiced my concerns. We were all told by the Administration that CAUD approval was not needed, that our claims were inaccurate and untrue. Good citizens raising questions were told Traffic Board review and approval was not needed, that our concerns were inaccurate and untrue. Taxpayers watching the city’s spending habits were told that the Mayor could use unspent Bond Funds from another Capital projects without any other approvals, that our objections were inaccurate and untrue. We were told that the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was not applicable, that our concerns were inaccurate and untrue.
How time changes circumstances. Since these concerns were raised, the Administration has now engaged CAUD, sought approval from the City’s Traffic Board, acknowledged the need for new bonding authority to fund this project and committed to compliance with SEQRA. All of this begs the question, what was the Administration trying to do before these issues were raised?
I think the answer is pretty clear. The goal was to circumvent the existing process, those checks and balances that are in place to ensure good governance, and deliver a quality project that benefits the public’s interest. This was an attempt by the Administration to force this project through the process hoping no one would notice. The ultimate goal of the project the benefit of a select few at the expense of the many.
So what can we say to this? At the February 18th City Council meeting, Council members will have to decide whether to borrow the funds and ultimately build the project. Is spending $350,000 of our tax dollars a good investment for ten parking spaces? If we are going to bond, and borrow from our future, shouldn’t it benefit more of our citizens?
A colleague pointed out to me in an e-mail that it took three years of strong advocacy to get $25,000 invested in the ball park and bathhouse at Columbus Park. West End Park will get tens of thousands of dollars in investments this coming year, but largely because of a state grant. It took eight years to reach agreement to borrow $100,000 to tear down the First Ward Pool. Through the Design Your Own Park, resident groups on the North Side and West Side worked tirelessly for a few years to get $20,000 in public investments in new park spaces.
Neighborhood parks are used by thousands of our city's families, kids, and individuals every year! Is Council really going to approve borrowing $350,000 to build a ten space parking lot in the heart of our downtown, two blocks from the City’s three parking ramps, all of which are in dire need of repair?
Obviously if the City is to borrow there are better uses that will have a broader impact on our citizens and help build community. We all, as citizens need to be paying more attention to what goes on in City government. Go to the City’s website, review City Council, Planning Commission, and Zoning Board agendas and minutes. Even better, reach out to your Council representative before the February 18th meeting and tell them to think twice about spending so much money to convert the MetroCenter public courtyard into a ten-space parking lot. Tell them to say no to “David’s Dead End.”
Good government needs you!
Mark D. Bowers is a resident of Binghamton’s West Side