There was a time in the not-too-distant past when development along Excelsior Avenue might have seemed like a losing proposition.
The corridor north of downtown Saratoga Springs offered a mix of brownfields, vacant property and several small businesses along the half-mile stretch running between the Olde Saratoga Brewing Company and Excelsior’s junction with High Rock Avenue. Work to develop a 4 1⁄2-acre property at the corner of Marion Avenue into the Lexington Club — a six-story hotel and condominium project — stopped amid the economic downturn in 2007, leaving little more than poured concrete foundations.
But then last year, a Fresh Market opened on the former Lexington Club site. Two restaurants — Smashburger and Gennaro’s Pizza Parlor — also landed in the plaza, along with Compliments to the Chef, a kitchenware shop.
With a mix of retail stores open for business, the area now appears poised for significant residential growth. Three separate mixed-use projects are in the works for Excelsior Avenue, each bringing a blend of apartments and retail to the area.
Just south of the Fresh Market plaza, Prime Beechwood is planning three multistory buildings that would add 101 apartment units to the area. Several of the apartments in one building may connect with ground-level retail to offer live-work accommodations, according to plans submitted to the city.
A short distance east, across from the brewery, Bonacio Construction is planning 65 apartment units with 2,750 square feet of ground-level retail. The project also includes plans to connect to the Spring Run Trail, a popular wooded path that runs parallel to Excelsior.
And at the junction with East Avenue, Trojanski Builders is proposing a three-story, mixed-use building that would bring in 12 apartments and ground-level retail. The project also includes two condominium units that would be constructed just south of the planned building, by Spring Run’s trailhead.
“We have people interested already,” Dave Trojanski said of the project’s retail component. “It’s going to be a really attractive building.”
Part of the appeal of Excelsior is that it offers the perfect medium between the massive retail zone surrounding Northway Exit 15 and downtown Saratoga Springs, said Marc Goldstein, director of real estate for Columbia Development and co-owner of the Smashburger franchise that opened this week. The area is easy to reach from Exit 15, a frequent shortcut for local residents trying to avoid traffic along the Route 50 arterial, and a short distance from Skidmore College.
“You’ll probably see more on that corridor going forward just because it is easy to reach,” he said.
Goldstein and business partner Leo Butera scoped out locations for their restaurant both near Exit 15 and in downtown, deciding each was a bad fit for a new place. Downtown lacks parking and sometimes gets too congested for diners who want to drop in for a quick bite. Amid the commercial sprawl of Wilton, meanwhile, Goldstein said a restaurant like Smashburger would face a lot of competition.
“You can kind of get lost in the shuffle,” he said.
Excelsior, on the other hand, is a perfect fit. Goldstein sees residential growth coupled with increasing traffic as a winning combination for his business.
“Excelsior has become the de facto shortcut for everyone who lives in the city,” he said.
City officials see development along Excelsior as a way to finally bring at least partly to fruition the vision for the area included in the 2001 Comprehensive Plan. They also see the renewed interest in Excelsior as a way to finally bolster connections with the western outskirts of the city through the creation of bicycle lanes, sidewalks and other amenities to generate pedestrian traffic.
“As the city grows in a thoughtful way, we are particularly focused on street-level activity with mixed-use neighborhoods,” Mayor Joanne Yepsen said.
Through planning, the hope is to extend a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly corridor running east from downtown to the Excelsior Park development and ultimately to the outer edge of the city on Weibel Avenue. Kate Maynard, the city’s principal planner, anticipates interest in developing along Excelsior will continue to grow as the corridor takes shape.
“There’s still a mix of vacant parcels,” she said. “We expect to see more activity taking place along this stretch.”