FMCC waiting for approval to put dorms back on the market

The Fulton-Montgomery Community College residence halls at 2805 State Route 67 in Johnstown on April 25. Credit: Stan Hudy/The Leader-Herald

JOHNSTOWN — Fulton-Montgomery Community College President Greg Truckenmiller said Monday that he expects to hear back from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on whether or not the college’s non-profit arm the Fulmont College Association (FCA) will be allowed to list the college’s dorms for sale again.

Truckenmiller said after “the whole soap opera” that occurred when the FCA attempted to petition the court system for permission to sell the dorms back in April, he wants to make sure things are done the right way this time.

“We went back to the [New York] state attorney general and asked, ‘What do we need to do? Obviously, you have parameters in mind, what are they? And what do we have to do to satisfy them so the sale will go through successfully’,” Truckenmiller said.

In April, the FCA had petitioned the court system to allow it to sell the three dormitories for $1.1 million, less money than their appraised value, to Amsterdam-based Dan Vann Properties LLC.

The property sale was complicated by several factors:

New York state nonprofit law requires the court system to approve the sale of the assets of any nonprofit corporation to make sure the sale is in the interest of the members of the entity. FMCC’s state charter does not allow it to own dorm halls or provide cafeteria services, which is why the FCA was formed, with a governing board made up of the college’s faculty, administration and students, Truckenmiller as college president is the chair of the FCA board.

In 2010, the USDA loaned the FCA $11.3 million for the purposes of purchasing and renovating the vintage, 1980s Fulmont and Montgomery Halls for $4 million and then building from scratch the 144-bed Raider Hall for $7.1 million in 2012.

The dorms had been full of students, many of them foreign and paying double tuition, until the election of President Donald Trump in 2017. Trump’s clampdown on foreign student visas reduced FMCC’s foreign student population from a peak of 160, down to 47 in 2020. The decline cost the college millions in tuition revenue, and greatly reduced the number of students living in the dorms.

FCA’s annual debt service payments to the USDA are $770,000, which Truckenmiller has said are unsustainable with the dorms empty, prompting the FCA to seek court approval for the dorm sale.

Truckenmiller said, prior to the first attempt to sell the dorms, the USDA under Trump had agreed to forgo the approximately $10 million in outstanding debt in exchange for receiving all of the $1.1 million from the sale, minus broker fees. He said the state attorney general’s office also agreed to sign off on the sale.

But then there was a court challenge by Teresa Monroe, of the Monroe Law firm in Albany, on behalf of her clients Bianca Alicea of Amsterdam, a nursing student at Fulton-Montgomery Community College, and William Petrosino of Amsterdam, a long-time Amsterdam-area landlord.

Monroe argued the FCA’s court petition to sell the dorm halls to Dan Vann Properties, LLC was fatally flawed for a number of reasons, including that the undisclosed, sole real estate broker for the deal was the past FMCC board chairman Michael Sampone working for Pyramid Brokerage Company of Albany, and that the multiple listing service Pyramid claimed to have used to market the property — the Fulton County Multiple Listing Service — “does not appear to actually exist.”

Monroe’s court challenge also raised other red flags including that the FCA Board of Directors did not have a proper quorum to authorize the sale and doesn’t have the required 14 board members to operate by its own bylaws. She also said the FCA’s sales contract with Pyramid indicates the broker will be paid a $77,000 fee irrespective of whether the court approves the sale to Dan Vann Properties raising “grave concerns about Fulmont’s due diligence in dealing with the broker.”

After Monroe’s challenge in late April, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of New York filed notice with Fulton County Supreme Court indicating it would be sending Assistant U.S. Attorney John D. Hoggan, Jr. to the upcoming court proceedings over the matter of the potential sale of the dorms. Shortly after that notice, the FCA withdrew its court petition to sell the dorms.

Truckenmiller said Monday that after the FCA withdrew its petition the state attorney general and the USDA also withdrew their approvals of the potential sale. Now, the college and the FCA board are hoping to regain those approvals and start the process over again.

“So, the [New York state attorney general’s office] spent a couple of months talking with our attorneys and the FCA board and released some guidance to us, so that the property can be relisted,” he said. “We’re working with [Pyramid Brokerage Company] again to develop an offering memorandum and marketing plan that we submitted to the New York attorney general’s office and the USDA for their approval. The NYAG’s office has signed off again, at this point, and we’re waiting for the USDA to give their final blessing before we go forward.”

During the April controversy, Monroe’s client William Petrosino made a public offer to purchase the halls for closer to their appraised value of $1.8 million.

Truckenmiller also said Monday that at least one additional potential buyer has stepped forward since April: Wayne T. Senecal, the president and CEO of the United Campus Development & Management. Truckenmiller said Senecal has expressed interest in acquiring the dorms, and has reached out directly to the USDA regarding the matter.

“Mr. Senecal has sent emails directly to the USDA and the state attorney’s office, to anybody and everyone he can find because obviously he’s interested in the property,” Truckenmiller said. “Our response is, we’re happy to consider him as a purchaser, but we’re not going to fall into the same trap as before, in terms of everything we’re going to do is going to be vetted, everything is going to be above board, and we invite him to participate in the process, once the property is listed.”

By Paul Wager