We pointed out last week that the Judiciary has been failing to do its part to help the state reduce expenses during a severe fiscal crisis. Today, the New York Post reports the state Office of Court Administration is spending $23 million to renovate a 27,000-square-foot downtown Albany building into a posh condo and office complex that will serve as a “hotel” for members of the nearby Court of Appeals. The Post account picks on a story first disclosed in December by an Albany TV station, WRGB-CBS6.

judges_hotel-140x100-5749138
What fiscal crisis?

From a Manhattan perspective, $23 million might not sound like a lot of money.  By Albany standards, it’s a huge expense.  A few blocks north of the Court of Appeals, a private developer is converting an old warehouse into 24 luxury condominiums.  The reported cost: $9 million.  A few years ago, a vacant clothing store two blocks down into the Capitol was converted into 74 State, a high-end boutique hotel with 74 rooms, a penthouse suite, corporate meeting spaces, a full-service restaurant and piano bar. It cost $13 million.

From the Post:

The Office of Court Administration showed little regard for the state’s fiscal woes as it plowed ahead with the judges’ “secure residence.”

In fact, agency correspondence reveals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman requested $1 million in upgrades last fall — including cherrywood furniture and marble tile for the judges — only to retreat after the state comptroller questioned such amenities “at a time of unprecedented financial hardship.”

The court ultimately shelved plans for a $400,000 “museum” and canceled refrigerators and microwaves for the judicial hotel rooms, but kept the Carrera marble — with a $49,115 price tag — and much of the cherry furniture, costing $368,800.

[snip]

The Post observed hardwood-framed porthole windows, stained-glass skylights and a domed ceiling adorned with a newly painted mural of the Zodiac during a limited tour last week.

The Court of Appeals, however, citing “security concerns,” refused to let the newspaper photograph — or even see — the seven 400-square-foot hotel rooms being prepared for the judges.

The judges’ current practice of staying at local hotels is “the opposite of a secure situation,” said Court of Appeals spokesman Gary Spencer. He refused to detail any threats against the judges.

It costs about $34,000 annually to house the judges in local hotels during the 66 days the court is in session, factoring for a state reimbursement rate of $104 and the fact that two judges already live locally.

That, with the $240,000 the Law Reporting Bureau will save on its current lease, means the building should pay for itself — sometime around 2095.

Memo to the Legislature, which controls the Judiciary budget: cancel the change orders and immediately offer this project to the highest private-sector bidder. It won’t fetch $23 million, but the difference can be deducted from the OCA budget until it is fully repaid.  With interest.

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E.J. McMahon

Edmund J. McMahon is Empire Center's founder and a senior fellow.

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