ALBANY — The state’s top economic development official said Tuesday he may re-bid construction contracts on some projects that had been overseen by the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, whose leader was charged in a bid-rigging scandal.
Howard Zemsky, president of Empire State Development, said his authority was scrutinizing ongoing or planned projects in Utica, Dunkirk, Plattsburgh and Syracuse that were transferred to ESD by Gov. Andrew Cuomo after SUNY Poly president Alain Kaloyeros was charged last month in the felonious scheme.
SUNY Poly, acting through two affiliated nonprofits called the Fort Schuyler and Fuller Road Management corporations, was building high-tech facilities in Buffalo and Syracuse and allegedly colluded with developers LPCiminelli and COR Development when they won the contracts to build them. Kaloyeros and executives at both companies have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
SUNY Poly executives have previously argued that using the nonprofits gave the high-tech school the necessary flexibility to move at a private-sector pace. But the arrangement drew persistent criticism from good-government advocates and Comptroller Tom DiNapolibecause it evaded pre-approval and open meeting requirements.
Now, Zemsky said, ESD is reviewing everything that went on.
“We’re looking at every single deal individually,” he said. “If there’s circumstances where we decide that something should be rebid, that’s a possibility and we would.”
One of the charged companies, COR, is working on an LED factory for Soraa in suburban Syracuse, but LPCiminelli has essentially finished the solar panel factory being built in South Buffalo. There is no indication a contractor has been selected for a planned airplane parts factory in Plattsburgh for Norsk Titanium or a pharmaceutical plant in Dunkirk for Athenex.
Earlier this year, though, Fort Schuyler selected M+W, a company that helped build the GlobalFoundries plant in Saratoga County and is a tenant on SUNY Poly’s Albany campus, to design and construct a chip fab in Utica for the Austrian company AMS.
Spokespeople for AMS, Norsk, Athenex and Soraa have not commented since Cuomo put their fate in ESD’s hands. Zemsky, though, said he had been in touch with leaders of each company and believed that most of the projects would move forward.
“We’re evaluating each one, so it would be premature to say any have fallen off the table. Most everyone that I’ve spoken with is moving forward,” he said. “ESD has a deep bench and we’ve applied ourselves really aggressively and extensively to the task at hand with the objective of moving these projects forward. All the companies I’ve spoken with are really pleased with the engagement with Empire State Development and I’m optimistic that all or the vast majority will move forward to completion.”
He said ESD would announce new procedures governing each project soon. The development authority’s board is scheduled to meet Thursday.
“We’re actively reviewing issues around diligence and transparency and we’ll have something very specific to say about some of our go-forward recommendations before the month of October is out,” Zemsky said. “But you can expect that we’ll be recommending changes to governance, increases in transparency, and things of that nature.”
—additional reporting by Marie J. French