The state Department of Transportation is emptying out its regional headquarters in downtown Schenectady, where the office was built just a decade ago as a cornerstone in the city’s economic redevelopment.
Workers were informed Tuesday afternoon that they would be moving from their current home on Broadway to DOT state headquarters on Wolf Road in Colonie. The move, which may be gradual, will likely occur in late March, according to state officials.
That gives city officials just eight weeks to find new tenants for the building. They hope another state agency will move in and have already been discussing with representatives of the state Office of General Services which agencies would be the best fit.
Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen is confident one of the nearby state agencies will move in.
“More than the hope, the expectation,” he said.
According to OGS, the state has a lease-to-own arrangement on the Schenectady building, which it has been paying on for a decade. In essence, the state has been paying down a mortgage, and Gillen thinks the state will save money by moving another agency into the building from rental space.
“If they’re true to the restacking concept, this will be followed by another agency moving in here,” Gillen said.
The four-story building is 125,000 square feet and was designed to house 450 employees. In recent years, just 240 employees worked at the site, according to Gillen, though DOT spokeswoman Jennifer Post said the number of employees was likely fewer than 200.
It’s one of many examples of underutilized state buildings. This year, the state began consolidating such offices to save money in an effort dubbed “restacking.” Wherever possible, state workers are also being moved from leased buildings to state-owned facilities, although that’s not the case in the DOT move.
Moving DOT workers from Schenectady to Colonie will save DOT about $1.4 million a year in rent and utility costs, according to Post.
State Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, who said he was instrumental in bringing the DOT to Schenectady, lamented the decision to move. He vowed to contact both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and OGS Commissioner RoAnn Destito to make sure the building does not remain empty.
“That’s a real body blow,” Farley said.
But it could have been worse, if Schenectady were losing thousands of state workers instead of 240. This loss will be nothing like the huge blow Schenectady took when General Electric slashed its city workforce, city officials said.
“The Democratic position was never to rebuild the downtown on public sector jobs [because] these things happen,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said. “DOT is a component of the activity downtown. You’re always disappointed when one of these scenarios happens, but I think Schenectady is in a much better position than other places.”
Just one building must be filled and it will likely be easy to market, officials noted.
“It’s probably one of the newest spaces the state owns,” Gillen said. “It’s next to a parking garage. It’s incredibly convenient. DOT workers are despondent to leave.”
Many DOT workers, who asked for anonymity because DOT did not grant them permission to speak to the media, said they wanted to stay in Schenectady.
“Wolf Road isn’t a downtown,” one worker said. “There’s a lot of people who come out of the building and go places here. Going up the street to Subway or Nico’s. I don’t see that happening [on Wolf Road].”
And, he added, he was one of many workers moved here to help build Schenectady’s economy.
“Schenectady’s come a long ways. It’s a shame the state’s pulling the plug on it,” he said.
Other workers agreed.
“I don’t think it’s good for Schenectady. We moved here for the community,” one worker said.
While some said the Colonie site is closer to their homes, they complained that they will now be forced to deal with the difficult commute on Wolf Road. The popular street is often busy and sometimes gridlocked, particularly around Christmas.
And they’ll have to share their regional management offices with state headquarters.
“There will be some loss of autonomy now that we’ll be in the same building, rather than being off-site,” one worker said. “The decision-makers will have an opportunity to be second-guessed a little quicker.”
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