Thursday, February 4, 2010

Herbek addresses Newburgh Developers Group

The Newburgh Developer’s Association and I have something in common: our hiatus is over. After three years plus, the NDA met today for their monthly lunch meeting. After three months, I am finally writing in my blog.

Today’s NDA meeting was held in the most appropriate of locations: Christine’s on Broadway. This jewel of a restaurant in the midst of a blighted lower Broadway has long needed such attention. The owner, Jim Moss, put his time, energy and wealth into this downtown establishment based on a belief in Newburgh's redevelopment. That belief is still to be realized, while his restaurant is a reminder of how the rest of Broadway could look to those who still hope for Newburgh's redevelopment.

The NDA started its meetings in 2000 when the city was between city managers. Just like now. NDA founder Gerry Sanchez announced that this was the 85th meeting of the organization. The NDA suspended operations and was dormant for three years. Along the way to this meeting, Sanchez survived three strokes, yet his energies are undaunted. Some would say 'you can't keep a good man down.' Whatever way you look at it, I hope Gerry stays around to continue in Newburgh's redevelopment.

RJ Smith, the most prominent real estate broker in Orange County, made an excellent presentation on the need for more homeownership in Newburgh. The data on homeownership is quite bleak in comparison to other cities. Newburgh has about 30% homeownership, while even Middletown maintains 54% homeownership. 64% of Americans own their living space. Smith suggested that by increasing homeownership, especially in multi-family properties, the city could rise up from its current state of affairs. Amen.

The acting City Manager Richard Herbek addressed the audience as well. He spoke of his background and 39 years of experience in municipal governance and his first six weeks in the job after finding there was not enough money to make payroll. No doubt, he has the contacts and acumen to resolve our problems. Yet, his presentation was not as crisp and clear, as I would have enjoyed. Then came the questions, rumors and innuendos.

The biggest rumor was that he refused to take the job of City Manager because he did not agree with the terms. The audience voiced concern that there is no stability in city government, a familiar and recurring concern. Herbek explained that the City Council opted to go ahead with a new search and that was their decision. He said he would stay in what he called “the biggest challenge of his career.”

Herbek announced that the City was offered to buy the Armory property on South William Street for $1. He said some city departments may go there or a recreation facility. He mentioned a recent meeting with the YMCA which brought concern from some audience members that other recreation organizations would not be given an opportunity to make a bid.

My question was concerning the taxpayers of Newburgh. I asked why would the city use a large, basically free parcel of land for city departments and recreation when we need to expand our tax base. That property would make a great corporate park or industrial site that could provide jobs and some tax relief for those of us paying the 35% tax increase due to the city's fiscal irresponsibility. I asked Herbek to consider using the Orange County IDA and Orange County Partnership to market the property and find a suitable tax-paying corporation.

Herbek responded that the city was offered the property and had until May to make a decision to acquire it. I then jumped up again and asked how could the city acquire another piece of property when it cannot take care of the properties it has taken in tax foreclosures.

Herbek's final response was that it was the City Council's decision to acquire the property and if it did, the city could not sell it at a profit. YIKES!

I will say this a thousand times: The City of Newburgh is not a developer!!!! It is a municipality. It has municipal responsibilities that it does not fulfill: security, infrastructure, and fiscal propriety. It needs to relinquish all properties it owns not acquire new ones. Show me one project the City of Newburgh has developed to completion and I will swim the Hudson River.

I left the meeting without chitchating with the remaining attendees. I had an appointment to do loan modification and tax grievance for a client who can't afford Newburgh's taxes.

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