RCBJ Talks With Clarkstown Councilman Donald Franchino About Clarkstown’s Permissive Referendum On Nov. 3rd Ballot Allowing Palisades Center To Build Out Unused Space
Councilman Donald Franchino Says It’s Time To Release Pyramid From 20-Year Prison Sentence
Q. Why have you been an outspoken champion for Clarkstown to hold a permissive referendum asking voters to allow the Palisades Center to expand?
A. Since taking office in 2017, I have been outspoken on the restrictive covenant. This is Clarkstown’s number one employer, number one taxpayer by far, and number one tourist attraction. Although the Town Board could have voted the covenant out without a referendum. I, along with the entire Town Board, voted unanimously to place the question before the voters of Clarkstown. The Town of Clarkstown would like nothing more than to work together with Pyramid and the Palisades center.
Q. Please put into context the specific economic impact the Palisades Center has on both the Town of Clarkstown and Rockland County taxpayers and why COVID has deepened your concerns about the fate of the mall?
A. The Palisades Center has a tremendous impact not only to the Town but also to the Clarkstown School District. To the county, sales tax revenue will be sharply impacted should Pyramid decide to close the entire structure. Specific revenues: the Town $3,500,000, Clarkstown School District $14,000, Sales tax revenue to county $23 million. Since the Palisades Center opened 1998 over 1.5 billion in tax revenue has been generated.
COVID related losses affecting the state, town and school districts have yet to be realized. I am sure the state will be implementing significant cuts to state aid. Private industry is just beginning to recover. Lifting this covenant will aid in the mall’s recovery. The financial markets will look favorably on a positive outcome.
Q. The County Exec has floated the idea of raising the sales tax to offset COVID-related losses. Do you think that would have a negative impact on the mall?
A. I feel raising the sales tax at this time is not prudent. The county must implement cost cutting measures as must the towns. I do not want to drive business across the border to neighboring states.
Q. Do you think Clarkstown’s elected officials should openly state their position about the referendum questions, and use their efforts to help persuade voters?
A. I believe the Clarkstown elected positions should take a position for or against the referendum. The town board voted unanimously to place this referendum before the voters. This is a very good first step. I firmly believe we will be unified in our campaign to help pass the referendum. I have personally met with Supervisor Hoehmann to formulate a plan to communicate with the citizens of Clarkstown. There will be a one or two tele-town hall meetings, along with a Q & A on the town web site. The town will be sending a mailing. I will hold a live-in person Q & A in town hall.
Q. What actions will you take as a an individual or a group to try to persuade Clarkstown voters? And do you think the turnout will be especially strong due to the presidential election?
A. I will emphasize the need for the Palisades Center to redevelop, reinvest and repurpose the mall. One of the top issues in this town is affordability(taxes). Vote the referendum down and I can guarantee higher taxes. With the impact of the internet on retail sales, this asset must reinvent itself, much like Pyramid did with Destiny USA in Syracuse.
Q. A lot of people say: the mall has so much empty space, why do they need more. How would you answer that question?
A. Should this referendum pass, Pyramid will have the ability to market the building without the hinderance of a restrictive covenant. It is time to lift this covenant. We were heading in this direction before COVID and the pandemic made this issue even more critical. I feel the 20-year prison sentence should be lifted and allow this asset to move forward.
Q. Finally, if you had a crystal ball, would you say the referendum will pass – and if so, why? If not, why not?
A. I do not predict outcomes. I tend to be an optimist and believe the voters of Clarkstown see the future. Pyramid is here. Allow them to repurpose, reinvent and reinvest in this asset.