Schenectady County

Center City plans backed by commission

The corner of the Center City building will be torn down and replaced this winter with a modern stee
This artist’s rendering shows the proposed rebuilt corner of the Center City complex at State and Jay streets, at right, as well as the existing neighboring buildings on State Street.
This artist’s rendering shows the proposed rebuilt corner of the Center City complex at State and Jay streets, at right, as well as the existing neighboring buildings on State Street.

The corner of the Center City building will be torn down and replaced this winter with a modern steel-and-glass section that will rise five stories.

The Schenectady Planning Commission approved the design Wednesday night after commissioners praised the new look for the State Street-Jay Street corner.

The building will fill the space now known as The Circle, where performances take place year-round. But some space will remain under an overhang, where developers hope a restaurant could run a bustling outdoor cafe. That same space could become a covered performance space during festivals, Galesi Group officials said Wednesday.

The building itself will be distinct as it wraps around the State-Jay corner. The facade will be made up of eight exposed steel beams and dozens of windows, separated by horizontal strips of white stone. The addition will be one story taller than the rest of the building, creating what architect J.T. Pollard called a tower effect.

The top four stories of tower will also jut out 5 feet from the existing State Street streetwall, creating a covered walkway 14 feet high. Under the walkway, the facade would be of mahogany and limestone, which would continue on the first floor of the Jay Street side.

“It’s a more modern look. We’re not trying to make a historic building here,” Pollard said.

Commission members were impressed.

“I think it will turn out to be a very interesting-looking building,” said Commissioner Brad Lewis. “In a lot of ways, I hope we encourage — periodically — architects to do a little experimentation in the city because I think frankly it will make it a more interesting city.”

But nearby property owner Frederick Killeen was not pleased by the idea of a massive, modern building in the heart of the downtown, where many buildings were built before or during the Great Depression.

“As a neighbor, we’d like to see this building redeveloped. … But it’s radically inconsistent with the character of the building that’s there now,” Killeen said. “It strikes me as somewhat overpowering.”

Synthesis Architects also objected to the project. The firm’s building is next door to Center City on Jay Street, separated by a wide alleyway.

That alleyway, which has existed since 1922, will narrow to 8 feet in the Center City design. The architects, who use the alleyway to reach their cars and enjoy the light flowing into their office above it, wanted to maintain the 14-foot width. They hired attorney Elizabeth Coreno to fight for the alleyway’s existing width.

“The impact to Synthesis is enormous,” she said, but the commission ruled that an 8-foot alley was reasonable.

Killeen also voiced the concerns of many Jay Street business owners who fear the project will make it more difficult for customers to reach their stores. The area has been hard hit by the recession and business owners say they can’t afford to lose retail foot traffic.

“There’s going to be significant disruption to the businesses on Jay Street,” Killeen said.

Commissioners assured him that the project will adhere to the city’s standards for minimum disruption, but Killeen scoffed at that.

“I’ve lived through several downtown projects,” he said. “There is going to be disruption.”

He also questioned the need to extend the steel-and-glass tower beyond the existing streetwall.

Pollard said the tower should mark the entrance to the Jay Street pedestrian walkway, but Killeen said it would make it harder to find the entrance.

“It’s going to limit the visibility of the entrance of Jay Street,” he said. “The businesses there are already struggling.”

The rear entrance to Center City will also change, with a glass column enclosing the four-story staircase. Many windows will be added.

“We’ve tried to break it up, use glass and limestone to give it a traditional feel but also give it a modern design,” Pollard said.

Both gymnasium and office entrances would be in the rear, but the main office entrance would be on Jay Street, where limestone would frame the first two stories. The frame was designed to “bring the eye down” since Jay Street has mostly one and two-story buildings, Pollard said.

Inside, the soccer arena will become a gymnasium and exercise room. The YMCA is negotiating with Galesi to move its downtown facility there.

Decking over the arena will allow for retail space on the Jay Street side of the building, and CVS will be able to expand by 2,000 square feet on the State Street side. The upper floors will be marketed as offices — two floors have already been claimed by MVP.

The Electric City Rock Gym will be relocated slightly but will stay in the build ing. Its relocation may allow it to expand its climbing wall so that more customers could climb at once.

Categories: Schenectady County

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