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Politics and Government

Roof deck was sticking point in Tech Garden negotiations with Syracuse Council

Governor Andrew Cuomo's office
A rendering of The Tech Garden expansion.

There could be enough votes for the Syracuse Common Council to pass a new long-term lease for the downtown Tech Garden, the startup business incubator that wants to build a $16 million expansion. A new roof deck was a sticking point in negotiations between some councilors and CenterState CEO, which runs the Tech Garden.

The expansion would add two floors on top of the existing, city-owned building. CenterState wants a 20-year lease, in which they would pay only $1 annually. They’re offering to create a $250,000 revolving loan fund to entice Tech Garden companies to locate their businesses in distressed parts of Syracuse.

But Councilor-at-Large Michael Greene said this expansion offers an opportunity for the city, which has a structural deficit, to generate revenue. CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson has previously said a roof deck could be used for events by businesses like the Syracuse Marriott Downtown hotel. But he’s dismissed the idea of sharing any profit with the city.

At a Council committee meeting last week, Greene proposed leasing the building to CenterState, except for the roof. Then the city could bid it out to another business.

“And that way, the city gets a rental payment and we can get some revenue coming in,” Greene said.

But Simpson was leery of giving up control, saying it could negatively impact the Tech Garden's mission. And he said the roof is not worth holding up the rest of the expansion.

“If we build it, we’ll commit to just using it for our own mission-related purposes, and not allowing other private uses on the space,” Simpson said.

But Greene insisted the roof is a good money-making amenity for the city. Simpson proposed an event-use fee for the city to collect on any private events on the roof.

Deka Dancil spoke on behalf of the Urban Jobs Task Force, and said the city should be charging CenterState $100,000 annually for the prime downtown space. She questioned why CenterState should get it rent free, when they're already getting the state-funded expansion and pay no taxes as a nonprofit.

“It’s disrespectful and it’s gaslighting to be proposing a deal as it is,” Dancil said.

Greene said if councilors want anything changed in the lease, it could be amended. But Councilor-at-Large Khalid Bey, who has played a part in negotiations, thinks there are enough votes to pass the lease, as it currently is, without a deal regarding the roof, on Monday.