Albany mayor seeks funds, with help likely on the way

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Kathy Sheehan. (AP Photo/Mike Groll )
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ALBANY — With the capital city's mayor searching for $12.5 million to fill a “structural deficit” in her budget, the state said it would seek proposals to re-program an underutilized uptown office complex with private development in May.

Kathy Sheehan, a Democrat in her third year, joined other mayors in Tuesday's “Tin Cup Brigade” — a legislative budget hearing in which local officials ask state lawmakers for more funding. Sheehan's case, which was also made by her predecessors, is that the high concentration of government buildings and other, non-taxable institutions in Albany place an unfair burden on the rest of its residents and businesses.

“The City of Albany has a revenue problem,” Sheehan testified, noting her budgets have mirrored Gov. Andrew Cuomo's in holding growth to less than 2 percent. “We need state funding that recognizes the unique and compelling position we have as the capital of New York State.”

She described the $12.5 million appropriation as a five-year “bridge” to a time when cost-cutting and increased development will plug the hole. One of the best possible sites is the Harriman State Office Campus, which lies east of the University at Albany's uptown campus, bordered by Route 85 and Washington and Western avenues. It has seen a downtick in the number of state workers assigned to its buildings.

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State officials have changed course several times on developing the campus, but Sheehan said the state's Office of General Services has been in touch with her office as it crafts another request for development proposals.

Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for OGS, said the agency's “goal” was to release the RFP in May.

Sheehan hoped it was “imminent,” but recognized the agency was busy as Cuomo presented his 2016 agenda. She said her $12.5 million request aligned well with her push for more development at Harriman.

“If the state decides it wants to slow down private development, and continue to pay the $12.5 million, then the city can at least plan for putting together its budget and know there's enough money to pay for the services we provide. If we accelerate it, then it's just that much faster in terms of reducing that $12.5 million,” she said.

“I'd like to say that I'm optimistic. It really is going to depend on what we see happening with the market here in Albany and in the Capital Region and what the needs are. I certainly understand that the state has to be looking five years down the road at what its space needs are going to be and also be thinking about the opportunities for expansion at SUNY Poly, at UAlbany." So, she said, she understood that the state wants to "make sure this is property that is not part of any long-term plan that they can release for private development.”