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Dunn and McCarthy land

The former Dunn and McCarthy site, a city-owned plot for over two decades, could be sold to Helio Health. 

While there's always some level of behind-the-scenes work that goes into a large commercial development proposal before it becomes public, it nonetheless felt rather sudden to hear that a Syracuse health care firm wanted to buy the old Dunn & McCarthy shoe factory lot from the city of Auburn.

That bit of news came out a little less than two weeks ago, when Helio Health presented a plan to the Auburn City Council on Aug. 8 to buy the site and build an affordable housing complex for its clients in the area. The Syracuse-based company provides services to people with substance abuse and mental health disorders. A week later, the council had a resolution on its agenda to move forward with a $130,000 sale.

It marked the second such resolution for that site for this council in roughly a year. In June 2018, councilors OK'd moving forward on a much less lucrative sale to Live It Fitness & Training, a fitness company with gyms in Auburn and Geneva, that had an ambitious expansion plan. However, that deal was never finalized.

Some might say getting a second, and bigger, offer on the site, which the city has owned for 25 years following a massive factory building fire, is something councilors should immediately take. 

But the council on Thursday decided it wanted to take a little more time to consider the impact of Helio's potential project.

That's a good idea.

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Helio's proposal could well end up being a terrific addition to the area, but it doesn't appear the city has enough information about its potential impact — and certainly not the public, which ought to have some time to learn more about the project and have the chance to weigh in.

Some city officials have heard from substance abuse and mental health service providers in Cayuga County who are concerned this project could be duplicative of already ongoing efforts to help this client base. That's a question that should get a thorough vetting before Auburn moves forward.

We also encourage city officials to assess the long-term impact of the Helio proposal on the city's property tax base. A sale to a private business, such as what LIFT would have been, could return this long-dormant property to tax rolls. As a nonprofit, Helio would likely be exempt from property taxes.

The good news is that Helio's leadership expressed willingness to allow the city to do some more research.

Now it's up to city officials to bear down to do the research that's needed to decide if the Helio offer is in the best interests of the city, and to share their findings with the community so it can help the five people who have the final say — Auburn's four city councilors and the mayor — make the right decision.

The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Michelle Bowers, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

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