Schenectady County

Planners approve demolition of historic Odd Fellows hall

Wreckers await the former International Order of Odd Fellows hall in the very near future.

Wreckers await the former International Order of Odd Fellows hall in the very near future.

Members of the city Planning Commission narrowly approved drastic changes to a plan they approved in July, allowing building owner Tony Civitella to demolish the entire structure at 440 State St.

Chairwoman Sharran Coppola cast the deciding vote to allow the demolition after members of the commission grappled with the issue for more than two hours Wednesday.

The approval will allow Civitella, the president and founder of Transfinder, to immediately move forward on demolishing the entire building. His original plans called for the leveling of the rear of the structure, but to retain the ornate terra-cotta facade and about 20 feet of the building’s front. His proposal is to put $5 million into a modern building to headquarter his software company.

Only an engineering report obtained after Transfinder purchased the building determined there to be no feasible way to preserve the facade, which was described as inseparable from the brick substructure of the building. As a result, Transfinder altered plans and sought a full demolition and the construction of a new building similar to other modern structures in the city.

Commission member Matthew Cuevas had initially suggested the project be tabled for further review. Several other commission members also questioned why Civitella only submitted the drastically altered plans for the project on Monday afternoon.

“It’s really a lot to handle in a short period of time,” Cuevas said.

Go or no-go

But when they began mulling a delay, Civitella abruptly requested they make a decision. He suggested any additional delays to the project would prevent him from starting work this year, thereby pushing construction back until the spring.

The commission ultimately abided by his request and approved the new site plan. As contingency, they required him to come back next month for an architectural review of his building.

The decision came after several members of the public criticized the new plan. Schenectady Heritage Foundation Chairwoman Gloria Kishton questioned whether the condition of the terra-cotta was the real motive for Transfinder seeking a full demolition.

Owners of the adjacent Hampton Inn refused to provide Transfinder’s contractors with enough staging ground adjacent to the building, meaning the front of the property near the facade would need to be used. Kishton suggested this would be cost-prohibitive for the company.

“The Hampton Inn will not give you the access to do this cost-effectively,” she told Civitella. “You would not need to demolish it if you went in from the side.”

City resident Thomas Hodgkins blasted the new building proposed by Transfinder as being “a soulless piece of garbage.” He said the existing building exudes the values of benevolent order and that contributes to its character. “The were building this building to support the values of friendship love and truth,” he said.

The new proposal is for a three story building with large windows on each floor and a corner entrance. The design includes balconies and space for a garden on the third floor.

“I really think it will be a strong statement for Schenectady,” Civitella said.

Sonny Bonacio, the owner of Bonacio Construction, said elements of the old terra-cotta facade may be used in the new building’s interior. He said even if it were feasible to save the facade, “It’s really at the end of its life expectancy.”

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