Schenectady County

Rotterdam redevelopment projects plod on

Chain-link fencing now surrounds the dilapidated two-story building at the well-trafficked intersect

Chain-link fencing now surrounds the dilapidated two-story building at the well-trafficked intersection of Curry Road and Guilderland Avenue.

CVS Pharmacy bought the quarter-acre property in March but hasn’t come forward with any plans for demolishing the shabby building, which once supported three businesses and two apartments. Town officials believe the property is too small for the size of the pharmacy CVS wants to build, and the company’s efforts to buy adjacent land haven’t come to fruition.

Then earlier this month, the pharmacy erected the unsightly chest-high fence around the perimeter of the property, which is about a block away from Town Hall.

CVS representatives declined to discuss their intentions for the property, and there is no indication in the town’s planning department that a project will go forward anytime in the near future.

Plans to redevelop the corner have been floated at least three times in the past, but the prospective builders were never able to purchase enough land to make it worthwhile. Now, CVS appears to be in a similar quandary.

The corner lot is among several highly visible commercial properties around Rotterdam awaiting redevelopment.

“We’ve got people and businesses looking, but it’s tough for these sites that are already developed,” said Peter Comenzo, the town’s planner.

The longest and arguably most visible sign of a stalled commercial redevelopment effort lies about a half-mile from the vacant CVS-owned property, at the former Curry Road Shopping Center. Efforts to redevelop the plaza have dragged along since August 2007, when town officials voted to sell the property to a private developer proposing to build 94 two-bedroom condominiums and a modest street-front retail space.

During the early 1980s, the 77,000-square-foot plaza supported a Kmart and several businesses. When Kmart vacated the anchor store in 1989, the company tried to sublet its space to Price Chopper, while the owners of the plaza attempted to lease the store to Hannaford Brothers. The companies engaged in legal sparing for more than five years until Price Chopper bought the property outright in 1996.

The Golub Corp., Price Chopper’s parent company, initially discussed moving offices to the plaza but faced difficulties during the planning process because of the property’s location on Curry Road. Instead, the badly deteriorated plaza remained largely vacant for nearly a decade until 2003, when Golub donated it to the town to establish a new government center.

After mulling uses for the property for several years, the town decided to offer it for private development. They eventually awarded the redevelopment project to Polito-Columbia Properties LLC, which has since been negotiating a deal to move Golub’s print shop and a Trustco Bank — the only tenants remaining within the sprawling plaza.

Dan Polito, a principal with the development group, said the deal to redevelop the property is still chugging forward, only slowly. He said the deal is complicated because the tenants need to be relocated and due to lingering environmental issues.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation required a cleanup at the property because a dry-cleaning business once located there caused ground contamination. State health officials indicated that they will continue to monitor air quality around the property until its buildings are destroyed.

Polito was unsure when the deal would finally be completed. However, he said the project would eventually move forward.

“It’s a pretty complicated deal,” said Polito. “We certainly want to move forward with the project and Golub certainly wants to move forward with the project, it’s just that we have some issues we need to get around.”

Walgreens delays

A similarly complicated deal is playing out further down Curry Road at the highly traveled intersection with Altamont Avenue, where one of Rotterdam’s oldest shopping centers awaits redevelopment. The kitschy 1950s-era Capitol Plaza once housed 14 small businesses, including two restaurants and a dance studio that was a tenant for more than four decades.

In 2005, a developer representing Walgreens proposed demolishing Capitol Plaza to make way for a 14,700-square-foot pharmacy and a 65-space parking lot. The project received heavy criticism from the tenants, who argued that they would be displaced for a chain drugstore that wasn’t needed in the town.

Eventually, the town Planning Commission approved the project, but on the condition that the developer acquire a small slice of state Department of Transportation-owned land adjacent to the plaza to add additional parking — something that had always been lacking at Capitol Plaza. The acquisition remained stalled for more than a year, until it was determined that the land actually belonged to Schenectady County, which sold it to plaza owner Jeff Musiker in April 2007.

But even with the parking problem settled, Musiker and developer Bob Blank couldn’t agree on a purchase price for the now-vacant property. Because of delays, a special-use permit for Walgreens’ drive-through expired in April.

But the expiration of the permit was the least of the project’s troubles.

In August, a Walgreens spokeswoman indicated that the company was no longer interested in the project, much to the surprise of Musiker, Blank and the town.

Blank later attributed the statement to the project falling off of Walgreens’ “active” list of developments. He renewed his permit with the town last month, insisting that both the sale and project were still in the works.

Contacted by phone last week, Blank said he’s continuing to negotiate a price for the building with Musiker. He said that a closing on the deal is just weeks away.

“Because it took so long, we sort of had to back up,” he said.

In the meantime, Capitol Plaza has become markedly more run-down. In September, a speeding driver careened over a concrete median and smashed through one of the plaza’s street-level storefront windows.

The stalled Walgreens project has been a point of frustration with the town officials, who would like to see something done with the shabby plaza. Comenzo said there has been talk about Blank seeking a demolition permit, though his office hasn’t received anything formal yet.

“There’s only so much we can do,” he said of the project.

Hidden progress

The lack of perceptible progress at the vacant commercial properties doesn’t mean there isn’t action happening behind the scenes.

Ray Gillen, the director of the county’s Metroplex Development Authority, offered the long-dormant Grand Union building off of Hamburg Street as an example: Developers regularly contact him about the property, and its revitalization is only a matter of time.

“I’ve been showing it quite frequently,” he said. “But it takes time.”

The 35,000-square-foot building is at the center of an area town planners envision as the hub for a downtown commercial district serving the thousands of residents in Rotterdam’s Carman and Coldbrook neighborhoods.

Some maintain that the Grand Union and the area as a whole has failed to attract commercial businesses because it lacks a sanitary sewer connection. Last year, the town completed a federally funded study that suggested connecting Hamburg Street into Schenectady’s sanitary system. Such a connection would foster rapid development along the street that could be anchored by a street-front mixed-use building on the site of the former Grand Union.

But Gillen is confident that the Grand Union property — now owned by local businessmen Dave Simmons and Skip Renaud — could be redeveloped even without sewers.

He said a number of prospective businesses have discussed locating everything from offices to retail shops at the plaza; all it takes is aggressive marketing to generate interest.

“You’ve got to be showing them,” he said of the vacant properties. “You’ve got to show it to everybody and hope you get interest.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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