Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Local To Peekskill, New York...

Mayor Testa and the Republican government in Peekskill New York LOVE TO WORK IN SECRET. They often times take public sessions private, and refuse to put the working sessions on local public access television. In short, Testa and the Republicans do anything and every thing they can to get around Sunshine Laws. To thwart their efforts, the minority Democrats have started putting out a RECAP of the work sessions to keep the public informed of what goes on in these meetings. In support of this OPENNESS in Government efforts, this blog will publish these reports in their entirety as they come in.

Peekskill Common Council Work Session Recaps

As part of our commitment to open government, the Peekskill Democratic City Committee has begun providing recaps of Common Council Work Sessions starting December 4, 2006. Work sessions are public meetings, but are not broadcast on the local government channel and there are no official minutes kept for them. Democrats on the council have long called for these meetings to be aired and for minutes to be kept. To date, the Republican majority has refused to do so.

Council Work Sessions take place on the first and third Mondays of the month at 6:30pm in the City Manager's office. They are public meetings, but the space is tight and there is limited seating available.

Work Session Recaps:

December 04, 2006


Work Session Recap of Monday, December 4, 2006

Present at the meeting:

Mayor John Testa

Deputy Mayor Catherine Pisani

Councilwoman Drew Claxton

Councilman Don Bennett

Councilwoman Mary Foster

Not Present at the Meeting:

Councilwoman Milagros Martinez

Councilman Mel Bolden

(These two members are paid to ATTEND THESE MEETINGS, and their absenses should be TRACKED.)

Extension of Paramount Theatre Lease for 25 Years

The Paramount Center for the Arts, represented by Jon Yanofsky, Executive Director, and former Mayor Vincent Vesce, Paramount Board Member, appeared before the Common Council to request a long-term extension of their lease on the Paramount Theatre building. Currently, the Paramount Center for the Arts, the non-profit that is housed in the Paramount Theatre, has two years remaining on their lease with the City of Peekskill. Yanofsky and Mayor Vesce pointed out that they have had a very successful run over the last couple of years and the Paramount plays a huge role in the overall image of the City of Peekskill. Yanofsky presented several newspaper clippings to council members to demonstrate this point. Yanofsky also pointed out that the Paramount Center for the Arts has obtained $1.2 million in grants since 2004 that have gone to capital improvements to the building, including the restoration of the ceilings and the new bathrooms. An additional $800,000 will be raised in 2007 for a new loading dock and other repairs. In addition the Paramount has increased the amount of reimbursement it makes to the City for utility costs. In 2007 they will reimburse the City between $65,000 and $75,000. The City still expects to cover approximately $100,000 of maintenance costs for the Paramount building in 2007. However the amount of reimbursement from the Paramount has doubled in the last 3 years.

Yanofsky and Vesce explained that the Paramount Board is increasingly being asked by potential funders how stable and/or secure their tenancy is in the building that they lease from the City. Funders want to know that the Paramount Center for the Arts will continue to operate out of the Paramount Theatre before they commit significant dollars, particularly for capital improvements to the building. This being the case, Yanofsky and Vesce requested that the City consider renegotiating their lease and extending the term of the lease to 25 years.

Councilwoman Foster asked what is the current term of the lease and how much do they pay the City to lease the theatre. Mr. Yanofsky stated they are currently in a five year lease that expires in 2008 and the Paramount Center for the Arts leases the theatre for one dollar per year. The past practice has been for 5 year renewable leases. Councilwoman Foster also wanted to know how much the City contributed to the capital funds that were expended in the past 3 years. She noted that the City had set aside $50,000 in a capital project fund for the Paramount bathrooms. City Comptroller Serrano and Mr. Yanofsky both stated that the Paramount raised the entire amount of the funds they needed for the bathrooms and the City’s $50,000 reserve fund was not touched.

Councilwoman Claxton stated that she is a big supporter of the Paramount and that she attends almost two shows a month there. She commended the Paramount for its recent record of achievement and noted that it is an important and vital part of the community. She stated that under the current Director and current board there has been a great amount of momentum and success. She, however, was concerned that under previous boards and directors the Paramount did not do well, that there had been serious problems and the theatre had languished as a community resource. She stated that she was concerned that the progress made over the past few years may be based on the specific director and board and given a different director and/or board; such progress may not continue and could possibly regress. History of the theatre showed that this had happened before. That said, Councilwoman Claxton stated that, given a 25 year lease, there would need to be a mechanism built into the lease to protect the City in the event that the director and/or board members changed and the organization again fell into disarray.

Mayor Vesce agreed with Claxton's concern and agreed that previous boards and previous directors at the Paramount, while having good intentions, did not have the expertise to run the theatre. He went on to state that Common Council had an obligation to make sure that the City was protected in the event of an unforeseen eventuality or in the event that the leadership of the Paramount did not fulfill its duties.

Mayor Testa stated the Paramount is doing great things and is unquestionably an asset to the city. He said he supported the measure. Mayor Vincent Vesce suggested it was premature to make a decision at that time and that they are not looking ‘to close the deal” with the council this evening. He recognized there were major issues and concerns that would need to be worked out on all ends before the city could enter such a long-term lease.

A discussion ensued regarding the programming at the Paramount. Councilman Bennett mentioned that there is a theatre season and noted that the Paramount had increased the amount of shows it shows each year.

Councilwoman Foster stated that there needs to be serious protections written into any such lease to protect the City's interest. She went on to point out that many of the major theatres in NYC, Brooklyn, and the surrounding areas work diligently to establish an endowment in order to continue their growth and achieve financial independence. She asked what kind of work the Paramount Center for the Arts has taken to establish an endowment. Mr. Yanofsky stated at this point they have not been able to focus on building an endowment because their priorities had been focused on capital improvements and programming. He noted, however, the Paramount is currently hiring a full-time fundraiser and a marketing director as well, both of whom will address these issues.

Councilwoman Foster went on to suggest that the Council needed information on a 5 year capital plan so that they had a better understanding of the total amount of capital improvements that are still needed before the Board was able to focus on raising an endowment. In addition there would need to be measures written into any long-term lease that focused on incentives for building an endowment fund rather than just negative provisions that allowed both parties to walk away from the lease if the Paramount did not continue its current level of success. There are 2 factors to be balanced: the City needs to protect the community asset but cannot do that on the back of the taxpayers. The Paramount needs to become self-sufficient and an endowment is the only way to do that for the long-term. Mayor Vesce stated he agreed with Councilwoman Foster that the City needed protection and that if we are to move forward with a lease of this length that it would be important that all of this language and concerns be written into the agreement.

Deputy Mayor Pisani stated the Paramount is a wonderful place. She noted she was a board member of the Paramount during the dark days, but said sometimes we need to take a risk and she supports extending the lease for 25 years at its current one dollar a year rate. She said endowments are great, but we should take baby steps.

Councilwoman Foster said the Paramount has done a wonderful job taken those baby steps and now its time to take bigger steps.

Councilwoman Foster asked about the concerns expressed by some business owners about the “dark periods” in December. Councilwoman Claxton asked about January and why there were fewer productions in January and over the summer months. Mr. Yanofsky stated that the only dark periods are Thanksgiving weekend and the week between Christmas and News Years. That there are a number of productions and films held in December. Mr. Yanofsky also stated that there were two live shows in January, which were traditionally slow months in the theater business, and that the Paramount showed films 4-5 days per week over the summer, as well as accommodating rental productions and making Wednesday evenings available in case the City’s Parks and Recreation Riverfront concert series was rained out.

City Manager Dan Fitzpatrick stated the City will start to address the issues raised by the Common Council and they will have continued discussion on the matter.

Fireman's Memorial

Fire Chief James Howard appeared before the council to update them on the development of a Fireman's Memorial, which will eventually be placed at the waterfront. The design of the memorial will have 6 pillars (one representing each of the six fire stations in Peekskill) and atop the memorial will be the refurbished fireman's bell that now sits on the land adjacent to the Columbian Engine Firehouse on North Board Street. Additionally, a statue of a fireman will stand under the bell.

Because grant monies were obtained and must be exhausted by July of 2007, Chief Howard was requesting that the City provide additional funds to help cover what they have not been able to raise themselves in order to complete the project during the required timeframe as outlined in the grant. The cost would be roughly an additional $15,000 from the City. A presentation was made by the designers of the memorial showing previous work they had done. It was suggested that upon completion of the memorial it be housed in storage until such time as it can be located on the land that is scheduled to be redeveloped at the waterfront.

The common council agreed to move forward, Councilwoman Foster stated there were extra dollars available from monies not utilized by the Paramount Center for the Arts.

Staircase and right-of-way

City Attorney Bill Florence addressed the council regarding ownership of a set of concrete stairs that go from Howard Street to Carhart Avenue. Questions had emerged at prior meetings regarding who owns the staircase and who has liability for the staircase. After Florence's presentation it was still unclear as to who owned the staircase and who was responsible for the upkeep. Florence suggested the stairs were very steep and represented a safety issue.

Councilwoman Claxton pointed out the stairs are used by school children going to and from Hillcrest School and in light of the absence of sidewalks along Husted Ave and other roads leading down to Main Street, it was the safest available path for the children. Florence suggested "safe" was interpretive. Claxton replied that unless the City was willing to build sidewalks so that the children had a safe path home, then the stairs present the safest path of travel for the children, unless the city expected them to walk on the side of a steeply sloped road with vehicular traffic.

Councilwoman Foster asked if any one knew exactly when the stairs were built and the relationship of those stairs to the building of Hillcrest school. She also stated that after the last discussion on the issue she took a tour of the area and also noted that there are no sidewalks in that immediate neighborhood and no direct route from Main Street to Hillcrest school unless the stairs were used. Based on the maps Corporation Counsel was showing them, she thought the stairs may belong to the City. She also mentioned that Husted Ave had a lot of bus traffic directly before and after school at the same time as the school children would be walking along that street if the stairs were closed.

Mayor Testa said he has not seen the location yet and will have to go take a look. City manager Fitzpatrick apologized to the council for not having provided more clarity on the issue since their last discussion on the matter.

The meeting adjourned at roughly 8:30pm.


Common Council Work Session recaps are brought to you as a service from the Peekskill Democratic City Committee
PO Box 686
Peekskill, New York 10566

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