The Urban Renewal Monster Returns

By Dave Duncan

Hang on to your hat, if you can still afford one.  Another plan’s been hatched to transfer money from the hands of the public to the pockets of the private sector. Binghamton politicians will soon announce a new-fangled idea to revive downtown Binghamton with public money along with tax breaks and other incentives to banker types who “promise” to bring prosperity to the downtown section of Binghamton.

The Dismal History of the Urban Renewal Agency 

The Binghamton Urban Renewal Agency was created in 1959 to revive downtown Binghamton and restore the tax base. The UR Agency began by using eminent domain and other pressures to drive over 400 small and medium sized businesses and their employees out of downtown. A couple of thousand low income people lost their housing in the process. This was done to facilitate “redevelopment” that would allow new, bigger, private companies to develop the newly vacant land. Old, beautiful buildings constructed in the 1870’s and 1880’s were demolished to make way for the new. Area residents who remember the downtown before UR are still sad over the lost treasures.

The properties sat empty for many years.  The first company to build was the Family Bargain Center that was built on Chenango St., at the corner of Lewis St. The business lasted a few years and closed. It was later occupied by the Post Office package center, a public entity. People today still marvel at the beautiful architecture of the Family Bargain Center Quonset building.

$200 Million Down the Drain

It was later that a few banks were built and later discarded by the developers. One was the former Marine Midland building that is now “luxury” housing for students. The other was the First City bank at the corner of Water and Court. This building is now occupied by a few businesses like the Social Security offices. Both the old and new owners got tax incentives from the city along with getting their hands on cheap land. The approximate public cost of “redevelopment” was $200 million. Federal Urban Renewal funds were meant to improve the lives of low income people in the City. Instead these funds were trousered by the rich few.

Another project built on land cleared with public money was the Metro Center Mall. This project was awarded a 50% tax break for 99 years.  Businesses now in the Metro Center were relocated from other buildings in the city. No gain there.

In many cities the Urban Renewal Agency was eliminated. Not in Binghamton. Every so often this agency is trotted out to give support to some scheme hatched by the banks and local developers. While the UR Agency is always funded by the public, they never report back on the “progress” in jobs and tax base revival that is associated with their partial destruction of downtown. The UR Board is a group of Binghamton City employees appointed by the Mayor.

Who Ran Urban Renewal?

The NY Times gave the credit to the Valley Development Foundation, a group of bankers and other leaders of the community including  Security Mutual, the law firm of Hinman Howard & Kattell and the  Binghamton Press. Planning staff from the city had to check-in regularly for their orders with the lawyer who headed the Valley Development Foundation.

We Need Absolutes for Using Tax Dollars  

What guarantees does the public get in this new scheme for pocketing the public funds by those who have a lot and want more?   Grab the money and run when the profits are not up to expectations has to stop now!

The Urban Renewal Agency promises the residents something for nothing. Instead they deliver nothing for something; A very expensive, destructive something.

 A New Twist?

What new scheme is being hatched by the U.R. Agency to hand public funds to the private sector? Stay tuned….
















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