Implosion was cool and a sign of progress
During my very first week of employment at The Daily Gazette, I wrote an article headlined “Albany to proceed with convention center, hotel.”
The piece described how the city planned to build a $150 million convention center and hotel that would bring 270,000 visitors to Albany each year and create 1,700 jobs.
Thirteen years have passed since I wrote that story.
Somewhere along the way, I became a convention center skeptic. I began to doubt that downtown Albany would ever see a new convention center. News reports only reinforced this skepticism, as the convention center seemed to shrink in size and cost with each passing year. I waited for the headline that would inform us that the project had been scrapped altogether.
Well, the project has not been scrapped.
In fact, it’s moving forward, albeit on a much smaller scale.
On Saturday morning, I headed to Empire State Plaza to watch the implosion of the 11-story Wellington Hotel Annex, which was demolished to make way for what is now projected to be a $65 million convention center.
Implosions don’t happen every day, and I wanted to see it.
Turns out, I wasn’t the only person who felt this way.
Thousands had gathered on the plaza and atop nearby parking garages; others lined the streets. The overall mood was one of festivity and anticipation. I felt like I was waiting for a parade to begin.
I used to work down the street from the Wellington Hotel, which is located on State Street below the Capitol.
But I didn’t really become aware of the building until 2004, when it began falling apart.
At the time, there was a real sense of loss, especially on the part of historic preservationists and history buffs. The hotel had been named one of the Preservation League of New York State’s “Seven to Save,” and an ad hoc group, called Save Wellington Row, formed. But the old hotel was deemed beyond saving, and in 2009 almost everything but the facade was demolished. To those who care about such matters, the Wellington’s
sad descent into ruin was just another example of how little the powers that be valued the city’s history and architectural assets.
Unlike the original hotel, the Wellington Hotel Annex was not a particularly significant or aesthetically pleasing building.
Nobody at the plaza looked that brokenhearted about its demolition, and many seemed to regard the event as a sign of progress. Gazing upon the annex, it was hard to see the graffiti-covered, brick structure as anything other than a blight upon the downtown landscape. It was also hard to see the construction of a convention center on the site where it once stood as a bad thing.
As for the implosion, it was very cool.
Preceded by an impressive display of red, white and blue fireworks that got everyone oohing and ahhing, the building collapsed in a matter of seconds, folding in on itself and falling into rubble. A large, brown cloud billowed outward, like a miniature dust storm.
“That was so much cooler than I thought it would be,” someone remarked.
“Dang,” said someone else.
My feelings were best summed up by my friend Bruce’s mom, who exclaimed, “Let’s do another one!”
Because, in an odd sort of way, the implosion simply whetted my appetite for more.
More drama. More pageantry. More excitement.
It was unusual and memorable, and suggested that positive change might be coming to downtown Albany. Certainly, this is how the public officials in attendance portrayed the event — as symbolic of the city’s rebirth and economic revitalization. “We’re taking the old, and we’re going with the new,” Albany County Executive Dan McCoy proclaimed during a short ceremony held before the blast.
What surprised me is that watching the Wellington come down made me feel more optimistic and upbeat about Albany’s future.
Perhaps I was just caught up in the celebratory atmosphere.
Or perhaps witnessing the demolition transformed me from skeptic to believer.
Either way, work on the convention center is slated to begin soon — perhaps as soon as next month. It’s not as big as the project I heard about all those years ago. But it’s something, which is better than nothing, and should count for a lot.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 395-3193. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Her blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/foss.