By Kevindaryán Luján
On May 28th, letters were submitted to the members of the Orange County legislature informing us that SUNY Orange would be abandoning the Innovation Grand Street project.
This unfortunate news came amid a decision by key members of the legislature to remove the YMCA building from the original project. This was a decision that was made despite opposition from local Newburgh representatives and community members, regarding a project that the college and county officials had been working on for months under the leadership of Dr. Kristine Young, her staff and the SUNY board. The Innovation Grand Street project would have facilitated workforce development in the City of Newburgh, bringing partners specializing in public health, hospitality, entertainment and trades. The bold vision of the project’s leadership team came at a time when innovation is a must for our city, and showed that the college had been listening to the needs of a struggling community on the rise.
Unfortunately, some legislators had other ideas in mind. Earlier this year, a developer was invited to present before the Legislature’s Education and Economic Development Committee and pitch an alternative project for the YMCA building. This was unbeknownst to the officials at the college, who had already spent months raising millions of dollars in funding. The end result of the legislature’s meeting with the developer was that the YMCA building would be considered for a request for proposal for development (RFP) outside the scope of the Innovation Grand Street project. Because the YMCA building was one of only three buildings that were going to be repurposed, this rendered the project unfeasible in the e+yes of the college, and led to their eventual decision to step away from the Innovation Grand Street initiative.
As the legislator representing the district where this project would have taken place, I have been a firm supporter of Innovation Grand Street from the start. When I heard about the college’s plans, I recognized that it echoed what I had heard from my community for over a decade: the need for workforce development, the need for industry partnerships, and the need for a college that tailored its programs to the current and future goals of our community. It was a plan that recognized that not everyone goes to a traditional four-year college. It was a plan that recognized that we can and must do better for our next generation. The plan was energetic and forward-thinking. It touched on a changing landscape, and it highlighted the importance of public health jobs, the trades and so much more. It had the future of our city, our community and students at the heart of its vision. It was what we had always hoped for and more. It was the beginning of something… perhaps the game changer that Newburgh needed. It could have been the missing piece for a community rapidly experiencing a beautiful renaissance.
Newburgh and Orange County deserve innovation, not more of the same. I still firmly believe this project is what Newburgh needs. These properties were purchased for the college, and meant to help SUNY Orange have a stronger presence in Newburgh. The college has put forward a plan that merits the support of our local elected officials and our community as a whole. I hope that residents of our county will reach out to their elected officials and urge them to restore the original integrity of this vital project. I hope that we can collaboratively reach a solution that would allow this project to move forward. I hope that my fellow legislators and the County Executive will return to the table alongside the college to ensure that Innovation Grand Street is restored to its initial vision.
Kevindaryán Luján is an Orange County Legislator representing Newburgh – District 4.