The Glens Falls Civic Center, site of the NYSPHSAA boys basketball Final Four.
The city-owned Glens Falls Civic Center — which has hosted British supergroup “The Who,” as well as legendary jam-band Phish — and was once the home base iof the AHL Adirondack Red Wings hockey team — will soon be up for grabs at a bargain price.
With the public auction of the city-owned Glens Falls Civic Center set for 11 a.m. Monday Aug. 18, a coalition of area community and business leaders has formed with a mission to keep the civic center locally owned and managed — and assure that the fabled arena continues to draw people to the area.
The auction, set for 11 a.m. in the center’s Heritage Hall, features a minimum bid of $1.5 million, a mere fraction of the building’s present-day construction cost. City officials have reserved the right to refuse any and all bids. Also, any new owners would have to follow through with the city’s three-year contract with the Adirondack Flames AHL hockey team, according to the bid specifications.
Facing the prospect that a buyer might in following years convert the civic center to a new use — or even raze the building, this group of concerned citizens first met just several weeks ago to see what they could do to assure the civic center’s future as a sports and entertainment venue, according to Ed Moore, a lead member of the group. Moore owns and operates the French Mountain Commons mall in Queensbury.
This group, the Coalition to Save our Civic Center, plans to place a bid at the auction. Moore said Tuesday Aug. 13 that the Coalition seeks to raise $750,000 to $1 million or more to purchase the arena. In the first 10 days following Moore’s recent announcement that he’d personally match up to $250,000 in private investments toward the purchase, the Coalition has lined up nearly $400,000, he said.
“Were raising more money every day, $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 at a time —We’re closing in on what we need,” he said. “A bunch of people that are passionate about the Civic Center believe that it is a remarkable asset for our region.”
Another anonymous person has promised a matching pledge of $50,000, according to reports. The group is seeking to form a public-private partnership to own and operate the center with Warren County providing some of the financial backing — and Glens Falls continuing to play a role, Moore said. The coalition includes Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce President Peter Aust and Miller Mechanical president Elizabeth Miller.
To make a pledge towards the mission of the Coalition, contact Aust at 798-1761 or Moore at 792-1483.
Glens Falls officials have put the civic center up for auction because of the center’s costs of ongoing upgrades totaling an average of about $300,000 annually.
For many months, city officials have lobbied Warren County to provide annual support for the civic center. Recent appeals to the county by Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond for money have been rebuffed, prompting the announcement of a public auction of the arena.
Since auction was set, Warren County supervisors who believe the civic center is a valuable regional asset have been lobbying their counterparts to commit to appropriating money towards the center’s operation, up to $700,000 or so annually. Several proposals were made, including raising the 4 percent county occupancy tax to 5 percent, an initiative which State Sen. Betty Little said wouldn’t be supported by state legislators. A more recent proposal has been to dedicate occupancy tax reserve funds to the civic center, or take the $30,000 share each municipality now gets from the occupancy tax receipts and divert it to the venue.
Friday Aug. 1, the supervisors serving on the county Occupancy Tax Committee balked at making any decision on the proposal. Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover said that earmarking money for the civic center — without knowing the auction’s outcome — would be premature. Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Geraghty said that decreasing the town’s share of occupancy tax wasn’t a good idea, as the allocations promoted events that were important to the commerce and culture of the local communities.
“Taking the money away from the towns is the wrong approach,” he said.
Citizen activist: ‘Form a public authority’
The supervisors, however, reacted with positive comments to a suggestion aired by John Salvador of Queensbury, known as a political watchdog and frequent critic of local governments.
He suggested that the county form a public authority to operate the civic center under a public/private ownership. Citing one vintage county resolution after another, he said that enabling legislation had been passed by the state legislature about a decade ago giving the county “home rule” to set up such a “convention and sports authority” that could draw on occupancy tax funds. Committee Chairman Supervisor Bill Kenny questioned Salvadore’s assertion, but referred the issue to county Attorney Martin Auffredou for an opinion.
After Salvadore’s presentation, Geraghty said the idea of a sports authority had merit.
“This concept would work, as long as we have the right business leaders serving on the authority,” he said. “The civic center is a regional asset — and maybe we need to look at redistributing the occupancy tax funds.”
County Treasurer Mike Swan also said the concept would be viable, noting the continuing increases in occupancy tax receipts.
Salvadore also noted that occupancy tax collections could and should be extended to property owners who rent out their residences for weeks, yet are not now paying the so-called “bed tax” as specified in the existing law.
”We could increase our receipts substantially without raising the occupancy tax rate,” he said, suggesting also that existing awards for events be more closely scrutinized. In addition, he proposed that the existing Glens Falls Civic Center Foundation contribute to the center’s operational expenses.
Salvadore went further, saying the legislation is in place to institute a general tourism tax, which could be extended to tourism attractions, including amusement venues, taverns and restaurants. He proposed that this tourism tax be initiated at one percent of gross receipts.
“A tourism tax this small wouldn’t hurt anybody,” he said.
Tuesday, Moore said he was pleased that some county supervisors were thinking regionally, and considering the concept of a sports authority in a public-private partnership.
“These are positive developments, and we’re optimistic,” he said.
Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond said he was impressed with Moore’s coalition and other proposals to keep the civic center a regional destination for years to come.
“I’m glad to see people are finally looking at the civic center as an important regional asset, and how passionate some people are about it,” he said, adding that the auction would go ahead as planned, and that city officials will then be reviewing their options. “We’re going to go through with the auction, and see what the real estate market values the civic center. One thing for certain, city taxpayers cant afford to support the civic center ay longer. Hopefully, there will be positive results.”