Schenectady County

Center City gets boost

An anchor of downtown Schenectady will get the benefit of a $2.5 million grant from the Restore NY C
Electric City Rock Gym owner Andy Gilpin hangs in the air as he puts up new tape to mark paths along the climbing wall at Center City on Tuesday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Electric City Rock Gym owner Andy Gilpin hangs in the air as he puts up new tape to mark paths along the climbing wall at Center City on Tuesday.

An anchor of downtown Schenectady will get the benefit of a $2.5 million grant from the Restore NY Communities Initiatives Program, the governor’s office announced Tuesday.

The city will use the grant to renovate the 170,000-square-foot Center City building at 415-419 State St. The Galesi Group is in the process of buying the building and will contribute $2 million toward its renovation.

Projects in Albany, Cohoes and Rensselaer also will receive grants from Restore NY.

The Robert Lupe family owns the office and retail portions of the four-story Center City building while the city Industrial Development Agency owns the indoor soccer field and manages it through the nonprofit Center City Committee. Galesi is a major developer that owns two industrial parks in the county as well as several buildings downtown.

“This will give us the capital to restore the building and put it on the tax rolls,” said Ray Gillen, chairman of the Metroplex Development Authority, which helped write the grant. Metroplex will take over the parking lot, its eighth in the city, at the rear of Center City, and will spend up to $450,000 to improve it.

Metroplex submitted the grant to the state in September, seeking $4.5 million to renovate Center City and fix the facade of the former Gazette press building downtown. Galesi submitted a letter of intent at the time to provide $2 million to the Center City project.

“The goal is to create a mixed-use project in the heart of downtown across the street from Proctors, the Hampton Inn, the cinema and office complex and [within the] emerging arts, entertainment and technology district in downtown Schenectady,” Gillen said.

Galesi will use the $4.5 million to completely overhaul the building, said David Buicko, chief operating officer. “It is a tired building. It needs a new roof, new HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems. It’s kind of a hodge-podge,” he said.

Galesi will put more money into the project if necessary to complete the work, Buicko said. “There are a lot of things that have to be done,” he said.

Tentative plans call for putting retail businesses on the first floor, offices on the second and third floors and the apartments on the fourth floor, Buicko said.

The building’s exterior is expected to undergo renovation as well. The extent is undefined, but city officials said Galesi may demolish a porch featuring a waterfall and steps to build out toward State Street to accommodate new tenants and may redo the ramp on Jay Street to improve access.

The city sold Galesi the Center City porch for $1 in December. Galesi wouldn’t buy the building unless the porch was included. Metroplex spent $1.1 million in 2004 to create the facade.

Center City currently houses several agencies of the Schenectady County government, the Metroplex office, a drug store, a rock-climbing business and Black Watch Premier, a youth soccer business.

A Bombers Burritos Bar is currently under construction on the first floor of the facility.

The county will relocate its offices to a Galesi-owned facility on Broadway within a year, and Black Watch’s contract expires later this year. Buicko said he will work with the existing tenants but is interested in bringing more tenants into the building. “The more people we can put into Schenectady, the better,” he said.

POSSIBLE TENANT

A possible tenant is the Schenectady County Community College music program, said County Legislator Vincent DiCerbo, D-Schenectady, chairman of the county Legislature’s Committee on Economic Development.

“That is one potential user that has been identified. It is my understanding that if Galesi did not buy the building that the music program would go there. It is one of the potential tenants, but not the only one,” DiCerbo said.

That idea has been opposed vigorously by the college music faculty, which prefers upgrades and new facilities on campus.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton hailed the state’s announcement of the grant award and its application toward Center City. “Center City’s decline has been symbolic of the city’s downtown decline, but the record progress we have made in four years includes remaking it into a new facility. It will bring new jobs and will revitalize our community,” he said.

Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, chairwoman of the Schenectady County Legislature, said the award is part of an “excellent track record in attracting state and federal dollars to support our efforts to grow the economy and put more buildings on the tax rolls.”

She said in the last year, the county has worked with the governor on projects that have created or retained almost 900 high-paying tech jobs in Schenectady County.

Gillen said Galesi will pay full property taxes on Center City once it takes possession. For the last 25 years, Lupe has paid a flat fee of $10,000 annually under a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement on a building worth millions. The city built the structure in 1979 using federal grants.

Galesi also plans to use Proctors’ district energy plant to purchase low-cost heating and cooling services for Center City, Gillen said. “We have a couple of branding things there: it’s going to be a green building, it’s across from Proctors and it’s going to be tied into the energy system,” he said.

DiCerbo has long called Center City “an albatross around the city’s neck. Now the building will go into the hands of a private entity that will pay taxes.”

Schenectady’s $2.5-million award is one of 64 distributed this year in the second-round Restore NY funding. A total of $50 million was distributed in 2006-07; $100 million in 2007-08; and $150 million will be available in 2008-09.

The grants can be used to revitalize commercial and residential properties by demolishing or rehabilitating structures they contain.

ALBANY COUNTY

The city of Albany is getting $3.3 million to demolish vacant buildings and construct two new ones with retail and office space near Albany Medical Center, in the troubled Park South neighborhood, which the city for years has targeted for revival.

The removal of blight is expected to attract private investment, and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings said he envisions a project of more than $200 million transforming the neighborhood south of Washington Park. Substandard housing needs to be demolished and good housing built, the mayor said, for students and workers who want to be near the colleges and medical facilities in the vicinity.

Also in Albany County, the city of Cohoes is getting $545,000 for rehabilitation of 119 Remsen St., converting it into artists’ lofts and a visual and performing arts gallery.

Assembly Majority Leader Ron Canestrari, D-Cohoes, said “It’s a great building in the heart of downtown,” which is now mostly vacant.

In Rensselaer County, the city of Troy will get $2.5 million “to demolish City Hall and begin work on the north waterfront area that will include construction of retail and office space, apartments and condominiums, a hotel and parking facilities,” according to a statement from Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick.

And the city of Rensselaer in Rensselaer County is getting $1.4 million “to demolish the former Rensselaer High School to make way for construction of a large-scale mixed-use development along the riverfront that will include 40,000 square feet of retail space and 50 housing units,” Bruno’s statement said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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