To lease or not to lease … that is the question.
Batavia City Council members answered that line with a resounding yes tonight, approving by a 7-1 margin a resolution to enter into a lease agreement with Batavia Players that opens the door for the theatrical troupe to make a new home at the downtown City Centre.
“I cannot wait until they come into the mall,” said Council member Patti Pacino. “It’s just a wonderful way to bring people downtown where they will get into the habit before we open Eli Fish, before we fill the Carr’s department store (so) we’ve already got people down there. It’s just a delightful idea.”
Pacino joined Adam Tabelski, Kathleen Briggs, Al McGinnis, Paul Viele, John Canale and Council President Eugene Jankowski in voting in favor of the agreement to allow Batavia Players to lease space at parcels 2, 35 and 39 Batavia City Centre (sharing space in one of the parcels with Dent Neurologic Institute). Rose Mary Christian was at an out-of-town conference.
Robert Bialkowski cast the “no” vote, contending that the lease contains inaccuracies and loopholes, and that it keeps the City in an unenviable position as a landlord.
“My position is you draw a lease and you draw it properly – you don’t have all these errors in it, and I’ve never heard of a lease saying, ‘We don’t include utilities, you go work it out with the other guy who is paying for it,’” he said. “This is how you end up in court with lawsuits.”
Bialkowski disputed the monthly rent figure in the lease for months seven through 12, stating that it should be $2,243.76 instead of the $1,223.86, based on $3 per square foot for the 8,975 square feet to be rented by Batavia Players.
Interim City Manager Matt Worth acknowledged that the original draft had the wrong amount, but said that it had been corrected.
Bialkowski also questioned whether the City would be responsible for repairs and utilities, and pushed for his colleagues to put the space up for sale.
“I don’t believe in the City sitting on property and being the landlord. It’s not the job of government to be a landlord,” he said afterwards. “It’s the job of government to take repossessed property from taxes or whatever, put them on the auction block and sell them.”
He also said the low rent per square footage ($1 per square foot for the first six months, $3 per square foot in months seven through 12, and $4 per square foot in months 13 through 60) created “an unfair competition” situation.
“There are plenty of places to rent downtown; they cannot rent for $2 a square foot – it’s impossible. So for the City to be renting below cost is ridiculous, and it’s unfair competition, I would say.”
Worth noted that the mall operation user fee charged to tenants is $2 per square foot, so – including property rented by Dent, “the total (rent collected) exceeds that amount (user fees).”
The lease calls for Batavia Players to be responsible for everything except structural repairs. As far as utilities are concerned, Dent is currently footing the bill.
In the end, Council took the view that the Batavia Players organization is a community asset and would be in a stronger position to recieve some of the $10 million in Downtown Revitalization Initiative money by being able to stake its claim downtown.
Pacino said Batavia Players has a solid track record and is a popular family entertainment option – just what is needed downtown.
“Batavia Players has everybody acting from 5 years old to 100 years old,” she said. “Every one of those has a family that comes to see every one of their plays. Every time they come to a rehearsal, every time they have a play, they’re downtown where we’re trying to get people.
“Then they’re going to a place to get something to eat. On their way there, they’re putting gas in their car. They’re (Batavia Players) doing everything positive …They’ve already proven themselves where they are. They’re dependable, and they take responsibility.”
In other action, Council:
-- Voted unanimously to take $17,400 out of the former Vibrant Batavia funds to pay for the engineering and architectural costs to design a flood-compliant home for Genesee County Habitat for Humanity at 116 Swan St., but only after amending the resolution to make sure the City has full use of those plans for future home building in a flood zone.
Bialkowski wondered aloud if the City would take ownership of the documents, or if they would belong to Habitat for Humanity.
“I think that since the City is paying for the engineering, we should own the design. Then it would be public domain,” he said.
After a brief discussion, Council agreed, voting 8-0 on an amendment making the resolution contingent upon Habitat for Humanity sharing the plans (and making copies available to the City) for the public domain. Then the board voted 8-0 in favor of the resolution.
-- Scheduled public hearings for Feb. 26 on the 2018-19 budget, water rates, meter fees, capital improvement fees, and City Centre concourse user fees and to amend the Business Improvement District plan.
The $24.3 million budget comes with a tax rate of $8.99 per thousand of assessed valuation, down from $9.27 a year ago.
Water rates are set to go up by 3.5 percent -- Bialkowski cast the lone “no” vote on water rate increases, citing high poverty rates in the City -- and the capital improvement fee is set to go up by about 5 percent.
The City Centre Concourse user fee is in play due to the recent settlement between the City and the Mall Merchants. The fee is $2 per square foot, effective April 1, 2018 through March 31, 2012, and goes up to $2.04 in 2021-22 and $2.06 in 2022-23.
-- Voted to accept a low bid of $721,566 from Roman Construction Development Corp. of North Tonawanda to complete construction of 12,300 linear feet of sidewalk as part of the Healthy Schools Corridor Project.
-- Heard from Jankowski that the city manager search committee will be meeting Wednesday afternoon to look at proposals from seven search firms and is prepared to share its recommendation at the next Council meeting (Feb. 26).