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Onondaga County Legislature votes to borrow $50M for amphitheater project

Ellen Abbott
Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney recently proposed the amphitheater project that will sit on the shores of Onondaga Lake.

Update: The Onondaga County Legislature voted today to borrow $50 million to build an amphitheater along Onondaga Lake. The vote passed by a 12-5 margin. The five members of the legislature who voted against the proposition were Kevin Holmquist, Judith Tassone, Kathleen Rapp, Casey Jordan and Peggy Chase. 

Original post: Onondaga County lawmakers decide Monday whether to borrow money to build a $50 million amphitheater along Onondaga Lake.

Lawmakers are being asked to borrow $49.5 million to build the venue. The 30-year loan would be paid off using revenue from the Turning Stone Resort Casino, via a deal between the Oneida Indian Nation and New York state.

Among the issues lawmakers have wrangled over is whether that revenue stream is solid, and whether an entertainment venue built on a former waste bed can be profitable.

The Onondaga Convention and Visitors Bureau put together some numbers that President David Holder says show promise.

“We’re looking at a range of somewhere between $13-18 million, in terms of direct travel spending for the community. As you look at employment, jobs associated with this, for every $40,000 in travel spending it generates one new job in our community.”

Longtime project critic Kevin Holmquist, a Republican legislator from Manlius, is skeptical about the viability of an amphitheater. He’d rather see the Oneida Nation revenue spread out for economic development projects across the county.

“The county legislature could set up a process that we can be proud of, to implement an economic development program," Holmquist said. "With $2.5 million in revenue, there are things we could do that would be much more impactful than a seasonal outdoor amphitheater.”

Holmquist will urge lawmakers to nix the plan.

“The only responsible vote on this is a no vote, because the revenue has not been demonstrated," Holmquist said. "We’re committing the taxpayers of Onondaga County 30 years of bond payments that we can’t pay for. That’s not responsible."

But Holder believes there is more than money to consider with this project.
“We’re already seeing our community reinvent itself as more of a destination," Holder said. "This adds another asset that draws more attention to Onondaga Lake and the metamorphosis the lake has gone through.”

Onondaga County wants to begin construction as soon as possible on a 17,500 seat arena on the western shore of Onondaga Lake, with the hope of a concert late next summer.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.