Builder urges restart of county project

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The main builder of the Nexus Center tournament and recreation center planned for downtown Utica called on Oneida County lawmakers and administration to find a way to restart suspended work on the project so the firm, subcontractors and trades people can get paid and get back to work.

Hueber-Breuer construction firm president Andy Breuer addressed the county Board of Legislators at their October meeting Wednesday to ask the county to firm-up financing for the $50 million-plus venue so his firm and subcontractors can get paid for work they have done.

Work on the complex was stopped this past spring over uncertainty whether $22 million funding announced by New York state’s economic-development agency for it would be reimbursed while the state faced a revenue shortfall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money was to be supplemented with money from a bond issue by the Upper Mohawk Valley Memorial Auditorium Authority, an entity created in 1996 to run the adjacent 1960 and formerly city-of-Utica-run Utica Memorial Auditorium and Adirondack Bank Center and which owns the Nexus site. The plan was to repay the bonded debt using some of the funds from an increase in the county’s tax on accommodations from 2 to 5%. However, the bonds have not been issued, which the authority has blamed on the pandemic and unfavorable costs of borrowing on the bond market.

The Syracuse-based firm has filed a lawsuit against Oneida County and the Auditorium Authority. The company says in its complaint in Supreme Court for Oneida County it is owed about $10.4 million because the county and authority induced the company to begin work, including executing subcontracts and purchase contracts to get services, materials and equipment for the project.

Breuer said the company preferred not to go to court but wants to prompt action so that it and subcontractors can be paid. Under contract terms, it could have terminated the contract in August but that would not help anyone, Breuer said.

“Our interest very simply is in finishing our project. Our interest is in helping you achieve this vision of the Nexus Center as a regional driver of economic development of sales tax and hotel bed tax,” Brueur told legislators.

“Please give us an avenue to complete this project for you. Do not force us to be litigious.”

The company worked on the Doyle Hardware building reconstruction in Utica, SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Hilltop residence hall, and The Meadows senior housing in New Hartford, he said.

Legislators also heard from representatives of subcontractors and trades unions involved in the project who urged action to resume work.

The company’s legal complaint acknowledges the contract is with the Auditorium Authority but contends that the Authority was an agent of the county, which was an active participant in the project and its financing. It contends that payment procedures were that the company submitted payments to the county, and the county has paid it up to now. Breuer also noted Wednesday that the Board of Legislators established a formal county capital project for the project in January.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. also addressed legislators and defended handling of the shutdown and project but agreed it needs to be restarted. He appoints five members and the board four, but the Authority is the agency that has the contract and is responsible for arranging full financing, and the county is only a pass-through entity for funding, Picente said.

Now, New York State Empire Development will not reimburse the county with the $22 million grant until the project, which Picente estimated to cost $59 million in all, has a full financing package lined up, the county executive told legislators.

Ideas have been discussed to move it along, Picente said, including involving private investors. One proposal, however, would stretch out financing over 45 years and end up costing $128 million, he said. Another idea was a fee on patrons, but it hasn’t been moved on yet, Picente added.

“It is a big project for the future. It is something essential to the development and recreation and overall destination of this county and of this region, but I can’t get blood from a stone.”

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