NYS Exposed: Why is the Canal Corp giving away money to something not on the canal?

May 04, 2017 11:43 PM

One of our viewers was flipping through his Geva Theater program when something caught his eye. It was a name tucked in the list of donors for Geva's recent $10 million renovation.

When he showed it to us we thought: why is that name donating taxpayer money to a theater downtown?

NYS Exposed tracked down the name on the list.

This isn't a story about Geva. It's a story about how the state spends your money. Seven different state agencies donated your tax money to renovate Geva Theater. But one of them just didn't make sense to us.

Before the Curtain

It's an hour before curtain call at Geva. Linda Rubens and JoAnne Muller came early to have dinner in the newly renovated theater. Linda has been coming to Geva for 40 years.

Linda Rubens, Pittsford: We moved here from England. We were there for four years and I will tell you that it's wonderful to have great theater here.
JoAnne Muller, Henrietta: I know lots of young people that are starting to come to Geva because they do such quality plays.

People who go to Geva like it. But one patron noticed something in his program. Under the list of donors for the theater's renovation project was the New York State Canal Corporation. Geva says the Canal Corporation awarded the theater a $100,000 grant in 2013 to help pay for a new heating and air condition system. But why is the State Canal Corporation giving money to a theater that is no where near the canal? 

"I want to show you something in a program of Geva Theater which is in Rochester," I said to the Canal Corporation Director when I met up with him at a budget hearing last month.

The Canal Corporation spends 40 times more than it makes.

Brean: Why would the Canal Corporation be giving $100,000 for a theater renovation? 

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Brian Stratton, Director of New York State Canal Corporation: Well this is part of our CFA (Consolidated Funding Application) grant program.

Director Brian Stratton says the Canal Corporation gives out a million dollars in grants every year to cities and towns and not-for-profits.

Stratton: And that would include the Geva Theater and any not-for-profit within the canal corridor. If it's a project that is supportive along the canal.  

Brean: But the Geva Theater is in downtown Rochester. It's not near the canal. 

Stratton: It's still part of the canal corridor.

Geva Theater is across Washington Square Park from Xerox Tower. It's eight miles from the canal in Pittsford. It's three miles from the canal at Genesee Valley Park. It's two blocks from the Genesee River which the Canal Corporation says is part of the Erie Canalway.

Brean: But I guess from a layperson's perspective or my perspective, I'm trying to figure out why the Canal Corporation would be giving money to any facility that's not on the canal. 

Stratton: Because it's part of the Governor's program to have a broad based, supportive, locally based economic development program and we weren't the only funder. There were other agencies that also added to that. 

That includes the State Dormitory Authority, the State Parks and Historic Preservation Department and State tourism. Geva Theater received its grant in 2013. According to the New York State Canal Corporation, the Canal Corporation awarded $1.8 million in grants to 16 other projects in the Finger Lakes region between 2011 and 2015.

All of these other projects in the Finger Lakes region were on the canal, like a park in Spencerport and a pavilion in Pittsford. Geva was the only theater to get Canal money.

Stratton: They don't necessarily have to be water based agencies.
Brean: And that makes sense?
Stratton: I think so. It helps to make a more vibrant downtown.

Geva Theater told me they applied for the grant, they qualified for it and ultimately won the grant. According to our affiliate in Albany WNYT, it costs $120 million to operate the Erie Canal each year. The Canal generates $3 million.


Berkeley Brean

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