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Legislature Casts Key Vote on Proposed Conference Center

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Legislature Casts Key Vote on Proposed Conference Center

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Tompkins County Legislature voted 10-4 (with Legislators Glenn Morey, Shawna Black, Amanda Champion and Henry Granison voting no) in favor of a resolution committing to financial terms between the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County in support of a community conference center. The center would be part of the Green Street Garage redevelopment project in downtown Ithaca.

In supporting the project, the Legislature agreed to commit 4% of the county’s hotel room occupancy tax revenues each year until 2050, or until such time the space is no longer used as a conference center. Housing and Economic Development Committee Chair Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) recognized the current COVID-19 crisis will create a financial strain, but she urged her colleagues to look toward the future. Noting the project won’t start for another three years, Kelles said “This is an opportunity to help boost the room tax revenue by drawing more visitors for meetings and conferences.” She added the County would not be taking on the risk for the project.

In the discussion prior to the vote, Legislator Henry Granison countered, “It is all about risk,” pointing to studies of the Saratoga Springs conference center that showed operating expenses doubled that of revenue generated. He said he didn’t see any downside should the project not move forward, as more affordable housing would take the conference center’s place on the site.

Legislator Shawna Black said it’s ‘the hardest vote she’s had to make” during her two and a half years on the Legislature. Citing the uncertainty around COVID-19, Black said she’s voting ‘no’ because the timing doesn’t feel right for her.

Legislator Rich John said “We have to look beyond COVID-19, and look at the long-term economic health of the County.”

Legislator Deborah Dawson said that while she is “not a big fan of the conference center…I don’t think it’s the magic bullet everyone claims it to be,” she will support the resolution because of how the business community and the local hospitality and tourism industry believe the project is badly needed.