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A Note on the Webster Block Deal

I stayed late to witness last night’s haggling between the Common Council and the mayor’s office that resulted in a deal to transfer the Webster block to ECHDC, so that Benderson Development’s proposal to build a new campus for HSBC Bank can be considered alongside other proposals bank officials will examine over the next month or so in London. (Details on the evening’s proceedings late; meantime, there’s Brian Meyer’s story in the News, which I imagine stretched the paper’s deadlines to the breaking point.) It’s a pretty good deal that protects the city’s interests and makes the land available to HSBC, should they decide they want to build there. The process was at times acrimonious (and strange—the Common Council received legal counsel on the document from former judge Joe Makowski, who is also representing the Marine Drive Tenants Association, which may well end up suing ECHDC) but the result was refreshing: The Council and administration were forced to deal with one another. That doesn’t happen often enough; too often, the administration tries its best to bypass the Council, and the Council responds by trying to insert itself where it can, and the gears get mucked up.  Last night was a messy but ultimately successful example of the branches of government getting its job done—and quickly, too: Whetehr you believe this was truly a crisis or not, it was resolved in just four days. Fast.

But here’s one piece of information that ought to be out there for taxpayers: ECHDC will pay $3.3 million for the Webster block if indeed HSBC decides to build there. But we understand that about nine years ago the city issued $1.5 million in bonds on the Webster block, and only about one third of that is paid off. The money from ECHDC will be used for investments in business districts throughout the city, but in the end the city will still be paying off $1 million on the Webster block at the same time that the ECHDC money (for the Webster block and possibly the other city-owned parcels in the Canal Side footprint) begins to hit the streets.