Alders approved an agreement that would extend the city’s short-term ability to manage Union Station, while newly released documents reveal even more of the bumps that it took to get there.
The Board of Alders unanimously approved the extension of the city’s 35-year lease agreement with the state during its meeting Wednesday night at City Hall. The extension allows the city to continue to lease the station for another three years, with two one-year renewal options.
The lease extension allows the state Department of Transportation (DOT) time to build a second garage at the station, and bid the contract for the operation and upkeep of the station after the end of the three years. The city wants to maintain control of the station indefinitely and has put forth legislation that is advancing in the state General Assembly that would wrest control of the station from the state and put it in city hands—an idea the DOT resists.
Alders were expected to take a final vote on the lease extension during their first meeting in June, but had to speed up their process because of a deadline that the city was only apprised of last month.
The city’s parking authority had communicated to DOT Commissioner James Redeker in a March 29 letter—just nine days after the authority’s had voted to approve the extension—how long it would take to get the lease agreement approved.
Chairman Tony Bialecki wrote that the lease agreement had to proceed through the “ordinary aldermanic process,” which would have meant a trip to the City Plan Commission, the Board of Alders Finance Committee and two readings by the full board before it could be approved.
In an April 12 response, Redeker characterized the proposed schedule for approving the lease extension agreement as “troubling” given that city had provided DOT a letter accepting the terms dating all the way back to June 29, 2016, which is essentially a year before the contract expires.
“The New Haven Parking Authority’s approval of the lease agreement is good news given that the lease agreement expires June 30, 2017,” Redeker wrote. “Given this expiration date, the proposed schedule for final approval by the City of New Haven is troubling.”
Redeker stated that given the need for a final review by the DOT and the state’s attorney general, the department needed a signed agreement no later than May 1.
“Towards that end, I encourage you to expedite your review and approval process by taking advantage of any opportunities available to you,” he wrote. “In the meantime, however, the Department of Transportation has a responsibility to our customers and rail operators to make sure the Union Station Transportation Center is managed, operated and open for business on and after July 1, 2017. Therefore, please be advised that the Department must proceed on a parallel track to have a new facility management company ready to assume the operation of the Center effective July 1, 2017 in case the above approval processes are not finalized by June 30, 2017.”
Mayor Toni Harp wrote in an April 18 letter back to Redeker that what she found troubling was “the new, and seemingly arbitrary deadline for approval of the Amendment by the Board of Alders.”
Harp went on to point out that the city had provided advanced notice, all the way back to May 20, 2014, of its desire to extend the lease. She said the state had rejected that proposed lease extension as well as others put forth since 2014. She said the city ultimately agreed to the state’s terms. But it also asked for a meeting to discuss terms and an amendment to the lease that never happened, though the city was told toward the end of December that such a meeting would take place. Prior to that, the city had drafted its own form amendment.
On Dec. 31, the state finished its new “Standard Railroad Lease Specifications and Covenant,” and in mid-January the state advised a representative of the Public Transit Administration that there had been no meeting, and that things needed to move quickly because of the tenancies at Union Station and the length of the aldermanic process.
In early February, the state provided the city with a significantly revised amendment with many new specifications including new insurance requirements and limitations on commercial retail leasing, according to Harp’s letter. She goes on to detail a timeline of events since that revised amendment landed at the city.
“All this being said,” Harp wrote, “I am deeply concerned by your characterization of the City’s forecast standard 12-week approval schedule ‘as more than 20 weeks’. Moreover—and this is well documented—the State took the entire first half of FY17 to develop new Specifications, which are presumably going into effect across the New Haven Line.”
Harp would go on to oppose the May 1 deadline and speculate about the DOT commissioner’s motives.
Alders voted Wednesday to discharge the extended lease agreement from the Finance Committee so that they could vote on the document. Annex Alder Alphonse Paolillo Jr. said for the record that the body was being asked to discharge it and vote, at the advice of legal counsel, and because of the movement of the state to impose the early deadline.
That advice came from Corporation Counsel John Ward, who informed alders that the city was originally working under an assumption that the expiration date for the current lease was the ultimate deadline.
“If not completed by that date, then the State could certainly take the position that the Lease had expired in accordance with its terms and that the City (and, as a consequence, the Parking Authority) had no further rights to occupy and/or operate Union Station,” he wrote. “Having negotiated the terms and conditions of the Fifth Amendment with the DOT (and subject to obtaining a favorable response from the Board of Alders) this did not appear to be an issue, since there was plenty of time to take the Fifth Amendment through the usual Board of Alders procedures, with a second reading on June 4, 2017.”
But after Redeker offered the May 1 deadline in his April 12 letter, which included his threat to pursue a “parallel track” for obtaining a new facility management company, it was indeed necessary to speed up the approval process and meet the DOT’s new schedule.