In the July 20 League of Women Voters debate, I was asked what I would do with the Seneca site now that the transit village originally planned for the space is on hold. I replied rather bluntly that I would consider selling the space. I also openly questioned the purchase in the first place. Here’s why:
Olmsted county purchased the Seneca site Feb 19, 2019 for $5.6 million. The goal was stated to be for use as a transit hub in collaboration with the City of Rochester. The city had already identified Graham Park for development of the transit hub, so on the surface it made sense to purchase adjacent property, build the transit hub there, keeping Graham Park free to develop according to its own master plan. It also brought the county further into discussions with the City and DMC, which would have been a welcome sign after increased tensions between the City and County had been emerging.
However, the county bought the land before anything had been agreed to or signed for the transit hub to go forward. Months of negotiations followed, with city and county staff and elected officials trying to negotiate a deal, to no avail. Eventually, the City and DMC walked away, and decided to move forward with only a single transit hub by Cascade Lake.
Fast forward to today, and the building at the site is slated to be demolished at cost to taxpayers. This will likely bring the price tag up to $7 million. The master plan for Graham Park has also been updated (see p.100) to eventually develop the space. Eventually. Perhaps with a hockey arena. In the meantime, it will be more open green space in a park already teeming with open green space.
It might seem easy to claim that this mistake was obvious in hindsight, but Gregg Wright (district 3 commissioner) was a vocal opponent for the same reasons I noted above, and the fact that Graham Park’s existing master plan already included space for the hub. His blog post (written after the vote & linked below) provide more detail.
I bring this up because the purchase doesn’t align with the county’s mission statement – to provide the foundation of a vibrant community. It amounted to land speculation in a city teeming with other parties who are far more adept at that business than the county. My platform is one of collaboration and engagement. That means working with the city on deals like this, and getting public input before making a purchase of this magnitude. We can do better.
I do care a great deal about our county parks, and support investment in them. However that investment has to align with a master plan, and has to involve sign-off by any partners involved before making the purchase. At RPU, we have negotiated a few purchases for projects in recent years (Westside Energy Station, and a new solar farm come to mind). In each case, all parties were in agreement about the path forward and mutually signed agreements prior to any land purchase.
So what to do with a large industrial complex about to be flattened at taxpayer expense that has no immediate plans? Sell it and use the proceeds to either improve the parks we already have, or cover any pandemic-related shortfalls. Either option would help provide the foundation of a vibrant community.