Third ward alderman candidate Art Iannuzzi pointed to his past economic development work on the common council from 1996 to 2000 as an indication of what he is hoping to accomplish in the future if elected this November. Appointed to the position in July after the resignation of Chad Majewski, Iannuzzi is seeking to be elected for the remaining year of the term. He is currently self-employed as a technology consultant.
At an interview on Monday, he stressed that good long-term planning is essential for the success of the city.
“As a council, what we do today will make a difference four to five years from now,” said Iannuzzi.
Iannuzzi said that reconstituting the city’s community and economic development department is one idea he would bring to the table to further that cause. Updating the city’s masterplan, identifying and leveraging opportunities in the regional market, grant writing for city projects, event planning, and marketing are all tasks he would like to see handled by the department.
While the city charter defines the department and the responsibilities for its administrator, the department was de-funded in by the mayor and common council in 2016. While the 2018-2019 budget adopted in June restored the salary for the administrator, the position has yet to be filled.
According to Iannuzzi, the department which was formed during his previous time on the council consisted of an administrator and a grant writer who was shared with the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency. He said the department was able to secure millions in state grants for projects such as upgrading the phone and computer network wiring for both city hall and the public safety building.
Iannuzzi’s vision is to bring back the department with multiple staff members with clearly written job descriptions, but he is flexible as to what tasks are ultimately covered by department, given that event planning and marketing are currently being handled well by the recreation department.
“You have to be a consensus builder to make your vision happen,” said Iannuzzi. “And I will strive to do that.”
He made a point to say that he is very pleased with the work that the Montgomery County Business Development Center has done for the city, especially with the recent Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant application.
“I can’t thank [MCDBC CEO] Ken Rose and County Executive Matt Ossenfort enough for the opportunities they have facilitated for us,” said Iannuzzi.
When asked about the proposed apartment complex and restaurant/banquet hall proposed to be built by KCG Development on the former Chalmers property on the south side, Iannuzzi said, “I support it, I believe in it. It’s the cards that we have been dealt.”
“You can’t get everything you want,” he said. “This isn’t Saratoga, this isn’t Kingston, this isn’t Chelsea. We have a wonderful melting pot of individuals and a very broad spectrum. And I think that is what the developer is whole-heartedly trying to service.”
Addressing concerns that residents have expressed at past public meetings about potential parking problems that the development could create, especially during large festivals such as ItaliaFest, Iannuzzi suggested that using remote parking, such as the Riverfront Center parking garage, and bussing people in would be one solution.
Iannuzzi said that he would like to see more amenities added to the project, but said that they may not be economically feasible.
“Would it be nice to have balconies? Certainly. Is it within the realm of the finances with the design they made? No,” he said.
“I want to go forward. It’s a project that absolutely is happening. And I want to embrace it for the betterment of the entire city, not just the fifth ward on the south side.”
He added that he would also like to see the project built closer to the river, but said he understood that maintenance access to the retaining wall along the riverfront was necessary.
He believes the city can do better to build “social currency” by conducting more public meetings and focus groups about large projects, which he believes will result in better buy-in from the city residents.
Iannuzzi had high praise for the efforts of recreation department staff in organizing city festivals such as the recent ItaliaFest.
“It was wonderful to see from ages 90 on down, they were there for the majority of the day. Where else in Amsterdam has that happened recently?” he asked.
Jokingly he said, “Walmart, Target?”
“It was wonderful. I saw generations of friends and family that we casually and so joyfully spent time with. That is a jewel,” he added.
Iannuzzi said that during his previous term he had “took some major hits” from people critical of him for supporting the development of the Riverlink Park.
However, Iannuzzi said, “I’m happy to say they are some of the first attendees at the events down there. And they now say thank you.”
In regards to the municipal golf course, which has posted losses for the past several years, Iannuzzi said that the same caliber of event planning and marketing that city currently applies toward festivals such as ItaliFest needs to be applied toward developing events at the golf course. He added that recruiting more corporate sponsors was also necessary.
“This asset that we do have, we have to make work for us,” said Iannuzzi. “I expect to see the golf course generating revenue when the proper plan is put in place.”
Given the negative fund balance of the golf course fund, Iannuzzi said that it would be unlikely for the city to attract a third party operator to run it.
He added, “We don’t want to lease it out to be run by another conglomerate in their own manner…Our pride has been built on our ownership of the golf course. I firmly believe that’s why it’s existed so long.”
In regards to the city’s negative fund balance, Iannuzi said he did not have any easy answers to the problem. Rather, he reiterated the need for long-term planning to bring in businesses and increase the city’s tax base.
To help cut expenses, he said he is in favor of leasing city fire trucks, as is currently done with the ambulance, as well as some department of public works and police vehicles. He said the lease option would avoid the potentially high interest charges for borrowing to purchase the vehicles, and would allow the city to replace vehicles every seven years which would decrease maintenance costs.
Iannuzzi said that he accepted to his recent appointment as third ward alderman “for the love of our city.”
“It’s been a wonderful community to grow up in and raise my family in,” he said. “I would like to maintain a reason for my son to stay here. And that will only come with planning.”
Iannuzzi will face Irene Collins in a Democratic party primary on September 13. He is also running on the Conservative party line.