Schenectady County

Eastern Avenue projects generating momentum

Local officials appear serious about cleaning up Eastern Avenue.

Local officials appear serious about cleaning up Eastern Avenue.

Three months after the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority announced it would be targeting blighted portions of the corridor for demolition and development, the agency has announced at least 14 other buildings it’s looking to demolish or renovate as soon as this summer.

Some of the projects are done deals. Some of them are in the works. All of them, once complete, will result in a much cleaner-looking corridor for a neighborhood used to blight.

“I think after our earlier announcement, people on the street started to get excited to see these eyesores come down, and now people are jumping in and wanting to improve their properties,” said Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen.

All of the projects but one are along the 700 and 800 blocks of Eastern Avenue. Seven buildings are slated for demolition, including four sites that weren’t previously announced: 821 Eastern, 858 Eastern, 870 Eastern and 2 Nott Terrace Heights. In January, Metroplex purchased 722, 803 and 868 Eastern Ave. — vacant, rundown buildings that had sat as eyesores for some time, including the former Kilgore’s Tavern and Latimer’s Tavern.

There are also a few more facade upgrades that Metroplex is planning to help fund. Previously announced upgrades were for Arket Electric, an electrical contractor at 827-831 Eastern, and a machine shop at 813-815 Eastern. New to the mix are upgrades planned for 833 and 835 Eastern. The former is a three-family apartment complex next to Arket Electric.

Metroplex, by statute, cannot fund residential projects unless they are at buildings of three families or more. Gillen said the owner of this building called up Metroplex after hearing of its plans for the corridor and expressed interest in doing a major facade upgrade at this complex and a laundromat they own next door.

Neighborhood groups have long clamored for Metroplex to devote more attention to revitalizing areas outside of downtown Schenectady. Because its statute prohibits the use of Metroplex funds in residential areas, Metroplex has only been able to focus its efforts along commercial corridors in the city’s neighborhoods. The most obvious beneficiaries have been Upper Union Street and the city’s North Side, and lately the lower State Street area.

Two weeks into the new year, Metroplex announced it was turning its attention toward Eastern Avenue’s commercial properties. To create any real momentum, though, it would need the help of the city’s land bank to combat some of the residential blight.

On Wednesday, Metroplex announced it had made progress on this front. The property owners of seven homes from 779 to 809 Eastern will get financial help from the City of Schenectady Industrial Development Agency to fund major renovations at their properties. Gillen said most of the money will come from private investments by the property owners.

“The work will vary by property,” said Gillen. “But even modest renovation grants are spurring residential investment that we hope to marry with the demolitions to create some momentum. It’s the same approach we’ve used downtown. It works.”

Economic-development officials are also trying to iron out agreements with homeowners at 730 and 732 Eastern, and are eyeing 823, 839 and 846 Eastern for improvements, as well.

For some of these projects, like 722 and 803 Eastern, Metroplex is purchasing the properties and then paying back taxes on them.

Funding for the entire initiative comes from a few places. The City of Schenectady IDA has pledged $250,000. Metroplex has pledged $100,000. HUD and land bank funds will also be used.

“We’re building a war chest of funding between the land bank and the IDA and Metroplex and the money we just got from HUD to do this project,” Gillen said.

Schenectady received $3 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development last month to raze about 80 vacant or blighted buildings throughout the city, including several properties on Eastern Avenue.

Last fall, the city’s land bank received $150,000 from the state Attorney General’s Office but it was passed over for the prize it really wanted: a portion of more than $12.4 million in state money designated for land banks across the state. A second round of money will be doled out this year, and Schenectady is hoping its efforts along Eastern Avenue will earn it some good will.

“It’s going to be more competitive this year, but we’re trying to demonstrate a really good return on the $150,000 they gave us last year,” Gillen said.

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