Richard Gefell is always looking for potential business opportunities, so when he heard last year SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany needed dormitories for 500 students near its campus, he was intrigued.Gefell, director of business development at Purcell Construction Corp. in Watertown, signed a confidentiality agreement to get the project specifications, a requirement 12 other companies also fulfilled, according to documents released to Albany Business Review under the state Freedom of Information Law.But his interest waned when he read the Request for Proposal, or RFP, and realized developers must have their headquarters or “major operations” in the Albany region. Watertown is 175 miles west, near Lake Ontario.He was also dismayed to see the college preferred the dorms be built within a 10-minute walk of campus.“The way the RFP was written, you could kind of tell they had already selected their site,” Gefell said. “The more research I did down there, there’s really one site that was suitable.”He added, “They had very tight parameters on where the site could be located, and a very short window of time to secure it. It appeared there weren’t that many sites that met that criteria.”Another builder said the deadline to submit proposals — just 43 days after the RFP was issued — made it impractical to get control of land near the campus on time.“We thought someone had an inside track,” said the builder, who asked not to be identified because of concerns it could threaten future dealings with SUNY Polytechnic. “It was so highly specific. Unless you knew about it before the RFP was released, you would not have been in a position to respond.”
Only one developer submitted a proposal - Columbia Development.
If you guessed that Columbia Development was a Cuomo donor, well, you win a government contract from the Cuomo administration.
Here was Chris Churchill in the Times-Union back in September following some of the money around the Columbia Development/SUNY Poly dorm story:
SUNY Poly just awarded a contract for dormitory construction to Columbia Development, whose entities have given at least $175,000 to the governor's campaign fund since the start of 2014.
June 2014: The Times Union learns that Columbia is the developer for the so-called ZEN building, a $191 million project that is still under construction. Columbia will be also be a ZEN tenant.
July 2014: We learn that Columbia is buying homes on Loughlin Street, just south of the SUNY Poly campus. "Nobody here has any idea what that's about," Gretzinger said at the time.
March 2015: SUNY Poly issues a request for proposals to construct dorms. The school asks that the dorms be within a 10-minute walk of campus, and it requires that the developer be based in the Capital Region and have experience in dorm construction.
The requirements seemed perfectly suited for Columbia, but SUNY Poly head Alain Kaloyeros cautioned against jumping to conclusions. "It would be an erroneous assumption to presume at this point that we have a preferred developer or location," Kaloyeros said then.
September 2015: We learn that Columbia has, indeed, won the bid and will develop three dorms and parking on land that includes Loughlin Street. SUNY Poly is negotiating to buy the land from the developer. The project architect is EYP, which is headquartered on the SUNY Poly campus.
OK, so take that timeline and overlay it with what I found on Monday while searching the Board of Elections online records.
August 2013: A Columbia entity gives $25,000 to Cuomo's campaign fund. It's the company's first donation to Cuomo in the database.
June 2014: Two Columbia entities — Ridgehill LLC and 25 Monroe LLC — give $50,000 each. All together, Columbia and related LLCs give $115,000 to the governor over the course of 2014.
July 2015: Six separate Columbia entities give a total of $50,000 to the governor on just one day, July 13. All together, Columbia has given $60,000 so far this year, according to state records.
The three-year total: $200,000.
That's a significant amount of money — and it's probably an undercount of Columbia's contributions. It's so difficult to ferret out all the various Columbia-associated LLCs that it's likely I missed a few. Columbia President Joe Nicolla, who also is a SUNY Poly Foundation board member, could probably provide the precise number, but he declined comment Monday.
Churchill went on to note the similarities between the Columbia Development/SUNY Poly dorm story and the Buffalo Billion/LP Ciminelli story:
In Buffalo, a similar pattern was uncovered by the Investigative Post, a Buffalo-based online news outlet.
Jim Heaney, its editor, dug deep on the Buffalo Billion, a Cuomo economic development effort in which Kaloyeros is heavily involved. His reporting peeled away layers of secrecy to find that a request-for-proposals seemed written for LPCiminelli, which is owned by a major Cuomo donor.
This week we found what seems to be a similar RFP rigging from SUNY over a proposed for-profit charter school run by NHA - a Cuomo donor in the past.
I'm no lawyer, but I would imagine that this kind of pattern - RFP's seemingly tailored so only Cuomo donors can get the contract - will interest the U.S. attorney and his merry men and women looking into potential criminality, conflicts of interest and malfeasance in Cuomo's economic development programs.
It's Attorney General Schneiderman officially looking into this SUNY Polytechnic dorm proposal, but it's not like he and Preet don't talk, you know?