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Ogdensburg, state officials seek return of surplus psych center lands

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OGDENSBURG — The gears have begun to move on an effort to get 160 acres of land on the state-owned St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center campus turned over to the city for development.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, and Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, are drawing up legislation they will cosponsor to facilitate the exchange.

Speaking at a meeting Thursday evening at City Hall hosted by the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force, a citizen organization that fought successfully to keep the psychiatric center open last year, Mrs. Ritchie said, “Now seems like the time to act.”

Mrs. Ritchie said she has had some preliminary discussions with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

“He’s very interested,” she said.

According to the plan, which is still in its infancy, the city would take control of the land, which includes waterfront property at Point Airy, a wooded area close to the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority’s industrial park, undeveloped land along Route 37 and the property on which the Ag Energy LP cogeneration plant sits.

“It seems like this is a perfect project to be submitted to the Regional Economic Development Council for funding,” Mrs. Russell said. “This would be a transformational type of project.”

City Manager John M. Pinkerton highlighted the need for the project by pulling out some of the city’s unattractive statistics.

“Our poverty rate: 24.3 percent,” Mr. Pinkerton said. “9.9 percent of the adult population in the city of Ogdensburg receives outpatient [mental health] care.”

He also said only 36 percent of the property within the city is taxable.

Mr. Pinkerton also noted that the assessed value of the city’s taxable property amounts to about $200,072,000.

“Oneida, which is a community almost the same size as we are, has more than double the taxable base that we have,” he said. “So this project that we’re talking about, bringing property and putting it back on the tax base, is critically important to this community to go forward. If we can’t do this we can’t do anything else.”

City Planning and Development Director Andrea L. Smith said this project would see the city’s amount of taxable property increase from 36 percent to 40 percent.

Speaking specifically of the parcel that runs along the St. Lawrence River, Mr. Pinkerton said, “This is the only waterfront property within the city that is undeveloped and uncontaminated. It would be prime property.”

Besides construction jobs, Mr. Pinkerton said, there is the potential to bring industrial, retail and energy-sector jobs to the community through the development of the land.

“The potential there is very strong,” he said.

The project will not immediately tackle the old psychiatric center buildings, but there is a possibility that down the road the city could use a revolving fund to rehabilitate some of the historical and abandoned structures, Ms. Smith said.

“We can make this an economic development engine,” Mayor William D. Nelson said. “The waterfront is out future.”

Patrick J. Kelly, CEO of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, said the project opens up a host of opportunities for the region.

“I think it’s great; people want to see multiple levels of government working together,” he said.

The IDA was mentioned several times throughout the meeting as a potential investment partner if the land transfer is approved.

Mrs. Ritchie and Mrs. Russell are scheduled to meet Wednesday in Albany to finalize the bill language and begin figuring out exactly how to facilitate the property transfer.

Mrs. Ritchie said she hopes to have the bill included in the state’s budget, but if they are not able to get it in as a budget item, they will introduce it as a standalone.

St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Task Force Chairman Charles W. Kelly said the task force will help pull strings on the ground level to garner public support for the legislation.

“It’s there, and it’s a sin not to do something about it,” Mr. Kelly said of the land.

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