While construction continues on the plans for the adjacent Visitor’s Center have been held up by a number of issues.
The corporation counsel has advised that certain changes to a 40-year-long lease between the city and the Foundation signed in 2007 would be necessary for the Visitor’s Center to move forward as planned, Acting City Manager Brian Havranek said. John Testa, the president of the Lincoln Depot Foundation, says the proposed changes are unnecessary and “an excuse to try to delay and change the scope of the project.”
The corporation counsel said that the lease needs to be addressed because the Visitor’s Center would have a catering hall and be used as a profit making entity, Havranek said. “The original lease did not talk about these items,” he said. “The city council and Foundation need to sit down and work this out,” he repeatedly told Patch when discussing the project. Havranek is trying to set up that meeting, Mayor Mary Foster said.
The depot museum and visitor’s center were part of a waterfront redevelopment plan that won an $8 million Empire State Development Grant in 2006, when Testa was mayor of Peekskill. The Lincoln Foundation was formed in order to handle parts of the grant that were required to go to a non-profit and could not be handled by the city. The plan was for the Foundation to use their grants to create the museum and for the city to use their grants to build the Visitor’s Center and a plaza. Once built, the Center would be operated by the Foundation, according to the lease between the city and Foundation. Testa says the plan always included a catering hall and profit making entity in the Visitor’s Center.
“We are trying to make a viable, self sustaining entity to take burden off city. That was the plan. The city was a conduit to the grants but the project would not cost them money. It has become an exercise in futility," Testa said.
Testa is complaining that the city has not taken the Foundations’ requests regarding the Visitor’s Center into consideration and that the city’s plaza designs will hamper the Foundations ability to hold events because it includes too many structures. He also says the proposed changes in the lease, which he says would put restrictions on operating hours and uses, will drive up the Foundation’s operational costs. Mayor Mary Foster said she could not comment on the lease changes the city is proposing.
The Foundation had been counting on the Visitor’s Center to be built at the same time as the museum so the two buildings could share a utilities line, which was to be run through the Visitor’s Center. Because the city has not broke ground on the Center, Testa says the Foundation has incurred an additional $250,000 cost to run their own utility lines to the museum. He said the museum has to stay on schedule so they don’t risk losing their grant money.
According to Havranek, the city needs to break ground on the Visitor’s Center this year because there is a chance it will lose it’s funding otherwise.
The construction plans are “fairly complete. It is just a matter of resurrecting issues with adjoining property owners and finalizing drawings and getting cost updates,” Havranek said.
When asked why the city is attempting to change the lease and the status of the construction plans and schedule for the visitor’s center, Mayor Mary Foster said:
“Much of this I can't discuss other than to say that our city attorney has been waiting since May to have a meeting with the Foundation’s attorney.
The previous City Manager and the Planning staff had tried to schedule a meeting with the Board and Council in late 2010 and early 2011 but the requests were denied by the Foundation Board. And yes, the Acting City Manager is trying to set up such a meeting again.”
Testa said that Patrick Garvey, the Foundation board chair, who is acting as liason between the Foundation and City, has met with the mayor and staff a couple times. City Planner Anthony Ruggerio said that Garvey has held met with city officials regarding the Depot museum project, but not regarding the Visitor’s Center yet.
Another hold up for the Foundation is a sublease from the city. The Foundation wants to build a westerly platform on the museum, but the platform would need to be on land owned by the MTA. The City has a lease with the MTA and would need to sublease that land to the Foundation. Havranek said the city cannot do that until the lease between the city and Foundation regarding the center is sorted out.
Another issue that rose from the Visitor's Center plans were the owner of , over how it would affect her business. She had been using the city land on which the Center will be built as parking for the bakery for decades. Ruggiero and Sanca have been meeting to work towards a solution that addresses these concerns.
“I am confident it (the Visitor’s Center) will happen this year,” Havranek said, despite the challenges.
Havranek is now trying to set up a meeting between the Foundation Board and the City Council.