February 05, 2019 11:22 PM
GENEVA, N.Y. (WHEC) -- The Finger Lakes Welcome Center in Geneva is meant to bolster tourism but taxpayers seem to be the ones taking it on the chin to impress those tourists.
Almost as soon as the center opened back in May, News10NBC requested all the vendor contacts from both the state of New York and the City of Geneva which partnered on the project to see how every dime of the $5 million project was spent.
In September, the state of New York provided the contract it had for the project which detailed nearly a million dollars in decorating costs.
Recently, the City of Geneva handed over its contracts under the Freedom of Information Law.
There's no doubt that the Finger Lakes Welcome Center is impressive.
Last fall when the weather was nice and the place was hopping, visitors told News10NBC they loved it.
"I think it's great. It's clean. It's very bright and welcoming, outside and all the way through to the water is fantastic," said Dannylee Rosa who was visiting from Rochester.
When the center opened, Governor Andrew Cuomo joked that he was behind the entire design.
"The truth is, it was all me…upside down canoe light fixtures. When I first said it, they mocked me, look how well they worked out," he laughed.
But a previous News10NBC investigation showed how much those fixtures and some of the other highlights of the center cost taxpayers.
It shows $434,365 in fabrication costs for items like an artifact wall, kiosks, gallery walls, AV equipment, LED screens, Walk of Fame plaques and soffit graphics—all of which seemed fairly standard.
But, among the itemized list of expenses are a number of smaller items with price tags that raised eyebrows.
The upside down canoe light fixtures Governor Cuomo was raving about, the boats themselves were donated, but the rigging and lighting was around $12,500 each for a total of $49,806.
A 7" by 5" printed map of New York state mounted to a frame was $9,900.
A "selfie" wall, which is printed wallpaper of a waterfall with the I Love NY logo on it was $13,153.
Two signs that point to the bathroom cost $6,240.
A single-sided "Community Room" sign with steel letters and a wood backer was $3,000 and the placement of that sign is about two inches away from a plastic sign that says the same exact thing, but also has braille.
It was the cost of a single picture frame, however, that seemed to irritate taxpayers the most.
The 10'' by 10'' stainless steel frame with a plexiglass panel that's intended to tell people that the boats hanging above them have been donated, cost NYS taxpayers $1,014.
Keep in mind, those numbers are just the fabrication costs.
Installation was another $158,496 and the "management" of the decorating process which includes travel and salary costs for nine separate employees of the marketing company was $131,960.
But that was only half of the story.
The state of New York gave the City of Geneva additional money to partner on the project and recently, News10NBC obtained copies of the contracts that show how that $3 million was spent.
The building was there but it was a renovated and a community room was added.
The engineering, materials, fabrication, and installation for that part of the project accounts for a majority of Geneva's spending but the contracts also show that $39,000 was spent on the Finger Lakes Welcome Center sign out front, $187,000 was spent to build and install the waterfall next to it and the fancy new playground to the side of the center cost roughly $200,000.
The cost of the memorable floor map inside the center isn't specifically listed in the receipts. It appears to be broken up and buried within several other line items from the general contractor.
News10NBC's calls to both the City of Geneva and the contractor about that cost went unreturned.
The Finger Lakes Welcome Center is one of 11 visitor centers recently built or completely remodeled across New York state.
A few months ago, a welcome center on Grand Island near Buffalo opened.
The grand total of taxpayer dollars spent on that one?
$20 million, which is four times the cost of the Finger Lakes Welcome Center.
News10NBC's news partners in Buffalo have requested and are waiting for the line item breakdowns for that center but expect similar spending.
News10NBC has been requesting an interview with the Geneva city manager on this project since early January, our calls and emails have gone unreturned.
But keep in mind, the state of New York gave Geneva the cash for this project, so it's everyone's taxpayer dollars.
Previously, the state told News10NBC that it uses a competitive bid process for all contracts but when pressed further about whether someone is actually going over those contracts with a fine-tooth comb, they didn't respond.
Updated: February 05, 2019 11:22 PM
Created: February 05, 2019 09:57 PM
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