If you ever wanted to know what’s really wrong with New York state government, look no further than a recently sold film studio outside Syracuse.
In a state where political leaders seem bent on spending more than they have on dubious projects at significant costs to struggling home and business owners, government leaders might well have topped themselves with a story reported recently by the New York Times.
As the Times noted on June 1, a $15 million film studio built by the state outside Syracuse was recently sold for the princely sum of $1 — one dollar — to Onondaga County after the promise of it producing hundreds of jobs and Hollywood-style glitter ended in disappointment.
The Times labeled the Central New York Film Hub a flop and, judging by the costs involved and the ultimate outcome, this one may be one of the sorriest productions in the history of New York state government. That’s really saying something.
Beleaguered and disgusted taxpayers can point to the usual suspects for this one, starting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been touting the virtues of bringing Hollywood dollars to the state since 2014.
“Who would have ever figured: Hollywood comes to Onondaga, right?” Cuomo was quoted as saying as the film hub was developed. “You would have never guessed. But it has.”
Sadly, as the Times noted, it never did.
Cuomo promised “at least 350 new high-tech jobs” with the advent of the hub and lauded it as a “a hot spot” for filmmakers and new film techniques.
Instead, the multi-million-dollar deal produced only temporary construction jobs and, according to the Times, “sporadic shoots.”
Raising further suspicion is the builder that received the lucrative contract for the film hub.
Turns out the development deal involved COR Development, the same company that is currently involved in a high-profile bid-rigging case tied to Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion initiative.
A pair of COR executives, Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, were charged in the case in 2016 along with Alain E. Kaloyeros, the former president of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute. All three men have pleaded not guilty, as has a fourth co-defendant, Louis Ciminelli, another developer who has given money to Cuomo.
Aiello was found guilty of conspiracy in March during a separate corruption trial that also saw the conviction of Joseph Percoco, once one of the governor’s closest aides and friends. Percoco was found guilty of three corruption-related counts, including conspiracy and solicitation of bribes.
Cuomo was not accused of any wrongdoing but, as his opponents in this year’s race for the governorship have consistently noted, his ties to associates involved in such things are not the best look for someone who wants to continue to run the state.
The New York Times investigation into the film hub project uncovered a tangle of issues including an array of lawsuits, tax liens and legal judgments involving the producers chosen to anchor the effort. The Times found that the production company, FilmHouseNY, represented on a website that it had offices in Albany and the Los Angeles area, and it turns out neither of them exists.
While Cuomo touted the film hub as a job creator, the two employees it had didn’t make a blip on the state’s employment radar.
In its report, the Times noted that “no major productions were ever shot at the film hub” and that the board of Fort Schuyler Management Corp., a nonprofit affiliated with SUNY that owned the 52,000-square-foot structure, agreed to “essentially gift it” to a newly created entity, Greater Syracuse Soundstage. State development officials, including Buffalo’s own Howard Zemsky, described it as a transfer, not a “market-value sale.” Zemsky told the Times the thinking is that the “best path forward” for this sort of facility was to place it in “local hands.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the silent actors at the governor’s office did not respond to request for comment from the Times. It seems they know better than to try to explain a state development flop of such historic magnitude.