Schenectady County

Edison Tech Center plans appeal to keep 2 Schenectady buildings

The Edison Tech Center plans to appeal a judge’s order that the city can take away its two downtown
The city of Schenectady is repossessing 132 and 136 Broadway following a state Supreme Court judge's ruling on Friday.
The city of Schenectady is repossessing 132 and 136 Broadway following a state Supreme Court judge's ruling on Friday.

The Edison Tech Center plans to appeal a judge’s order that the city can take away its two downtown buildings, the organization’s treasurer said Saturday.

“There’s enough ambiguity in the situation that it warrants being reviewed at a higher level,” said Bill Kornrumpf, the Edison Center’s treasurer.

Mayor Gary McCarthy announced Friday that a state Supreme Court judge had found that the Edison Center hadn’t made building improvements required under the 2005 agreement in which the city sold 132 and 136 Broadway to it for a dollar each.

“The group which received title to both buildings for nominal consideration has not lived up to their end of the bargain,” McCarthy said.

The Edison Tech Center maintains and displays a collection of artifacts from the region’s industrial and engineering history. It has display exhibits at 132 Broadway and uses 136 Broadway — the former Gazette printing building — for storage. The center, just steps from State Street’s busy entertainment scene, is open to the public a few days a week.

The organization, then known as the Edison Exploritorium, acquired the two properties from the city with the understanding that building code issues would be addressed and exterior improvements made.

Kornrumpf said the Edison Center has spent a significant amount of money on repairing the late 19th-century buildings.

“Obviously we are not happy with the judge’s decision,” he said. “It’s a little more complicated than what the city has basically said.”

The city sent a letter in August 2011 notifying the owners that they were in default of the original agreement. The center was cited by city inspectors in 2007 for a deteriorated cement exterior, damaged masonry columns and wood facade, and deteriorated caulk and mortar, the letter said.

Kornrumpf said the organization spend significant amounts of money in 2006-2007 repairing the roofs and stabilizing the buildings, and said they are safe, even if there are issues with the facade.

Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, said the city only went to court after lengthy efforts to get the center to make improvements, including matching facade grant offers from Metroplex.

“The facade simply looks horrible,” Gillen said. “We have a lot of visitors coming into downtown and that’s what they see.”

Given the success of downtown redevelopment efforts, Gillen said the city won’t again be selling downtown properties for a dollar. “A deal is a deal,” he said.

The needed facade improvements have been estimated to cost between $80,000 and $120,000, Kornrumpf said. Even with a grant, he said that’s a lot of money for an organization whose annual budget is only about $150,000.

Another issue is back taxes the city says it is owed by the Edison Center.

Kornrumpf said the current board of directors questions whether the organization really agreed not to seek tax exemptions on the buildings. He said that clause is stated in a hand-written addition to the sales contracts.

Despite the clause, the city says the center sought and was granted tax exemptions on both buildings starting in 2007, while Kornrumpf said an exemption was never sought for 136 Broadway, the building used for storage. He estimated the organization has paid $40,000 in taxes since 2006 — apparently for the services provided by the Schenectady Downtown Improvement District.

Acting State Supreme Court Judge Richard Sise said he based his decision on the sale contract, which made the building improvements part of the consideration for the sale.

McCarthy said the city would like to take the properties back from the Edison Center and find a way to return them to the tax rolls.

An Appellate Division appeal would almost certainly allow the Edison Center to remain where it is while the appeal was pending, but Kornrumpf said the center eventually hopes to move to another location anyway.

“We actually have our sights set on another property, but I’m not at liberty to say where it is,” Kornrumpf said.

Kornrumpf said he believes the Edison Center contributes to downtown, hosting meetings and events.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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