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A better move

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The Jefferson County Local Development Corporation should slow down its plan to expand its presence at the Watertown Industrial Center on Starbuck Avenue, on the far north side of the city, to more properly evaluate whether it should move to downtown Watertown and become a prime tenant in one of the four major projects underway in and around Public Square.

The agency had anticipated coming to an agreement today to lease 4,700 square feet from the Center (2,500 more feet than it now occupies for $2.74 a square foot) plus a loan of $100,000 from the Center to help fund building nine offices in the additional space. However, the actual construction costs have not yet been worked out. The JCLDC should postpone that decision.

This arrangement is pretty much of a good old boys backroom deal that requires more public input. The city and the county certainly should have a role in this decision, especially since their offices are downtown and concentration of office space will improve customer service.

The JCLDC and WIC describe themselves as sharing the mission of attracting new business and more jobs to Jefferson County. That is exactly what is happening on Public Square and downtown with the massive investment in the Mercy project, reconstruction of the Woolworth Building, the rejuvenation of the ground floor of the Stream Building and the potential work at the Lincoln Building. JCLDC belongs downtown as a tenant in one of those projects.

But Donald C. Alexander, CEO of the development corporation, claims that the agency wants to be as “close to downtown core as possible” and that history controlled the decision. He cited a close relationship with the WIC.

William J. Soluri, the industrial center’s site manager, is pleased with the proposed deal even though it requires one nongovernmental tenant to move to accommodate the JCLDC. He should be happy because the WIC has found a way to maintain financial support from the JCLDC, its former parent which had to spin off the entity after withering criticism from the state comptroller.

No jobs are being created, but instead one government agency is finding a way to support another agency by dispossessing a private tenant in favor of new offices for government workers.

If the JCLDC was concerned with development, it would be looking to participate in the nascent rebirth of downtown Watertown, proclaiming to its clients that it is willing to take a risk on locating here. And being in the heart of downtown is a lot better than being as close to downtown as possible. Close enough should not be good enough for the JCLDC.

The projects in downtown will lead to competition between developers providing the JCLDC an opportunity to drive a hard bargain and become a leader in the resurgence of Jefferson County’s most visible business center.

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