ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. — There are signs that Onondaga County’s plan for an Inner Harbor aquarium may be sinking as questions of the Onondaga County Executive are now coming from both sides of the political aisle.
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon unveiled his $85 million plan in October and even shared a way of paying for it.
But a vote to approve the plan isn't even close to being scheduled yet.
One of many questions that legislators are asking is how much will it really cost.
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If the price tag was $85 million in October, given inflation, rise in gas prices, construction, and real estate, what is the price tag now?
An aquarium in Onondaga County is not a new idea. Onondaga County Legislator Mary Kuhn says this is the third time our community has had discussions like this, yet there is still no aquarium.
“I don’t know why, and I’ve asked that question and have not gotten an answer, so I will speculate,” said Kuhn. “In my opinion, it is that business people do not see it as a good investment.”
Mcmahon says finances for the project will come from a $60 million budget surplus for 2021, plus $35 million from this year’s budget.
But will that get the job done? It’s a question Democrats and Republicans in the County Legislature are starting to ask.
“So, the $85 million that was proposed, even if it was for it then, which it wasn’t, when you look at the economy now; gas prices, building materials, wages, real estate. They haven't bought the land yet, so the $85 million, that’s just a start at this point,” said Kuhn.
“That’s a very legitimate concern and I think whatever the county executive elects to do with the project, those are questions that have to be asked,” said Onondaga County Legislature Chairman Jim Rowley. “Lumber and steel alone have gone up like 60 to 70% year-over-year, so yea, those costs are real, and we need to know if we can still do it for $85 million.”
Even if $85 million would do it, McMahon needs nine of the 17 legislators to vote yes to get the project moving.
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“And I presume my colleagues feel the same way because if the county executive had nine votes, it would be on the legislature,” said Kuhn. “So, he’s working hard to get people. You’ve seen the billboards, you’ve seen posters; every time the county executive is on television, on the radio, you hear about how wonderful the aquarium would be. I am not against economic development; I don’t think there is enough information and I’m assuming my colleagues feel the same way.”
At this point, Republican Chairman Rowley says an aquarium vote is still not on the agenda.
“It’s sort of the way it works, right. I mean, I don’t think he’s got all his ducks in a row yet, and I know he’s been working on it behind the scenes,” said Rowley. “The last information I had, based on his comments, was that he was going to try to bring it over in June committees for a July vote, but we’re wrapping up the agenda for June committees and there’s nothing on there for the aquarium at this time.”
When asked about the timeline for the vote, the county executive’s office says they are still hoping to bring it over to the legislature for a vote this summer.