By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Town Councilman Mike Madigan will be sitting in the former CannonDesign building, not as a councilman, but as a corporate employee, Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray said Monday.
McMurray closed Monday’s Town Board meeting with a 10-minute speech in which he blasted Madigan, his main sparring partner in 3 1/2 years on the board, because the town has been outbid on Cannon’s building by Madigan’s employer, Thermo Fisher Scientific. CannonDesign has decided to move its offices off the Island, to Buffalo, and will make a deal with Thermo Fisher instead of a deal with the town that McMurray pursued.
“I hope the councilman enjoys his new office,” McMurray said. “It’s a spectacular building. It would have been a better community center and a library. Sadly, this is not the first incident when we missed a chance to upgrade our town’s facilities or made choices that were not in the best interest of Grand Island.”
Saying the town has “outgrown our current town facilities,” McMurray said at the end of Monday’s regular meeting: “Our buildings are falling apart, and we have children meeting in spaces that are often inferior to what children in other communities have available to them, or are even safe. With the exception of the Parks Department, which enjoys a large new structure, our department heads have repeatedly expressed to me their dissatisfaction with our current town facilities. They are inadequate.
“To address this issue, I have tried numerous times to either expand or upgrade our town facilities. Unfortunately, my efforts have often been stymied. Much of this opposition, I’m afraid, has been political.”
McMurray said projects such as the Welcome Center, the sidewalk project on the boulevard, the solar projects, and the West River Connector Trail, to name a few, have “been met with resistance and often outright hostility.”
“I feel the need to set the record straight and tell the full story. But most importantly, right now, I need to talk about our attempts to upgrade our town facilities. We just lost a deal that we may never have another chance at,” McMurray said.
“When I heard that Cannon Design was leaving, I immediately visited with its leadership. I expressed to them my concern and my hope that they could stay. They made it clear to me that they could not. During our discussions, however, a possible sale to the town came forward. We, in fact, worked out a preliminary deal. It was a good deal. The purchase price for Cannon, including fixtures and equipment, was $3.75 million dollars. That’s it. A real steal. I will submit the offer for our town records. ... And it’s also far, far less than the assessed value of the Cannon building itself, which is approximately $4.6 million dollars, plus equipment, plus $375,000 for the vacant land around the building. Please note, the Town Hall is currently is assessed at only $1.4 million.”
McMurray said council foot-dragging was a major cause of the deal slipping away.
“There’s an old adage, ‘Time kills all deals.’ And here we had a deal that was almost done, and suddenly slipping out of our hands because our own side was working against it.
“Councilman Madigan, in particular, ranted that it was a ‘a want and not a need.’
“Finally, the board demanded another comprehensive needs assessment before the Cannon deal could be executed, but no one assisted with my efforts to find a competent party to complete the assessment. Nonetheless, I eventually found one, and we have started that process.
“In the 8 months that transpired since my first meeting with Cannon, the many debates that followed, the $3.75 million offer, and beyond, I fought as hard as I could for a deal. But then, last week, I was notified they signed with another party. I knew that several other suitors had appeared, and I was at least happy that it was a local reputable business. But I was and remain troubled that it is Thermo Fisher, Councilman Madigan’s employer.”
“Councilman Madigan has advocated to the NFTA for Thermo Fisher. He praised a $1 million taxpayer funded water line that will support the company. Even the councilman’s efforts to stop the West River multi-use trail were often related to his relationship to Thermo Fisher.
“Remember, one of his main points was that Thermo Fisher needed the old underused parkway for transportation. Indeed, he wanted to invest millions in the parkway to turn it into a superhighway, which may explain why (at this very moment) Thermo Fisher is working to expand their delivery facilities on pristine forest nearby their Staley Road facility. Please take a look. They are clearcutting the property for a driveway and expansion.
“Never, throughout the time we were in discussions with Cannon, did Mr. Madigan tell us that his company had become a potential alternate buyer or renter,” McMurray said.
Madigan denied during the meeting that he knew that his employer was involved in the process.
McMurray said, “Given how this opportunity was taken from the town, I plan on asking both Cannon and Thermo Fisher to find new opportunities for us once our needs assessment is complete. We still need to upgrade our facilities either by investing in the Town Hall and our other buildings or by creating new space or both. Cannon and Thermo Fisher have been on this Island for generations and are good businesses. But they both received our support as well, including the tax and infrastructure benefits I mentioned above. Many of their employees (like Mr. Madigan) live here too and also have a stake in our future. They may say no again, but given the circumstances, I must try to ask them to make up for what we have lost.”
“I am not running for supervisor again. I have been trying to avoid stirring up political debate during this time, so those who are running can do so in an environment free from my direct influence. I will not be here to decide what happens next. But that needs assessment (for all town’s future facility needs) will be finished before I’m gone. And I predict you will see that we have objective needs that cannot be filled without cash and the hard, often difficult, work of good government. You will see a sticker shock that will make that $3.75 million-dollar Cannon deal look even better. Please note, throughout my time as supervisor we have thrived as a town financially, with improved credit ratings and below the tax cap. This is the time we should have invested more fully in our future. In the time of prosperity in Egypt, Joseph told the Pharaoh invest wisely or perish during famine.”