These days, lawyer and land developer Lou Lecce has a top-floor corner office in Latham with a view that comes via floor-to-ceiling windows.
He buys and sells properties, and proposes the kind of projects that change a community — for the better, he hopes.
His recent work has included the Albany Medical Center urgent care center soon to open on Union Street in Niskayuna and the $87 million multiphase retirement community proposed last month at the former Whispering Pines golf course in Rotterdam.
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But the high-rolling world of land sales, municipal permits and multimillion-dollar investments isn’t the one in which he started out.
The 60-year-old is the child of working-class Italian immigrants, the youngest of four children — and the only one born in the United States. He was born and spent the early part of his life on Carrie Street in Schenectady’s Goose Hill neighborhood, not far from St. Anthony’s Church.
“I’m a born-and-bred Schenectadian,” Lecce said in a recent interview. “Back then, it was the Italian section of Schenectady.”
His dad was a laborer in the home-construction industry, and his mother worked in housekeeping at Ellis Hospital. Between them, they made and saved enough money that they were able to move to a bigger home on Parkwood Boulevard. The young Lecce worked a little with his father, doing drywalling and other construction, so he absorbed a feel for the building industry even if he didn’t expect it to be his future.
Lecce attended Schenectady schools and graduated from Linton High School, where he was a wrestler — good enough to earn a scholarship to the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he studied political science while trying to figure out what he wanted to do. By junior year, he had settled on taking the Law School Admissions Test, and he did well enough to get into Pace University School of Law in White Plains.
After passing the bar exam, Lecce returned home and landed a job at Higgins, Roberts, Beyerl and Coan in downtown Schenectady, a respected firm that handled a lot of real estate transactions. “I learned the real estate aspect of closings from Ed Beyerl,” Lecce recalled.
After five years there, Lecce was put in charge of the real estate division and made a partner in the firm. But after 10 years, in 1993, he went out on his own, specializing in real estate work.
By then, Lecce had done a lot of real estate work for banks and private land developers, and knew his way through the municipal approval processes that are integral to getting any project off the drawing boards.
“A developer wants, say, 50 or 60 houses. You need to sit down, plan it, meet with the town, look at traffic, get the approvals,” he explained.
After a while, he said, Lecce became known as a middleman. People with pieces of land they wanted to dispose of — sometimes as much as 50 or 60 acres — would contact him, and he’d try to match their properties with developers who had the interest and resources to develop the land. Elena Estates in Colonie and Mohawk Trails in Niskayuna were among his notable early projects.
“I really enjoy doing this,” Lecce said. “Being a lawyer is exciting, but this is more exciting.”
More recently, his projects have had higher profiles.
He’s the developer behind the Albany Medical Center urgent care center in Niskayuna. It took a while to make happen, but Lecce said it fills a need and is providing a landmark entrance to the town in an area where the single-family housing was becoming run-down. He said he put out feelers, and seven homeowners proved willing to sell to him. He then went to Albany Med and they signed on to the $8.5 million project, which will face a commercial stretch of Union Street.
“The town of Niskayuna doesn’t have a lot of high-end medical space,” he said. “The Union Street location gets a lot of traffic. It’s a gateway to Niskayuna, it really is. Me being a Niskayuna resident and a Schenectady kid, I knew there was a need in the area.”
In Rotterdam, meanwhile, Lecce is close to formally applying for the zoning changes he would need to build the Village at Whispering Pines, which has already been presented to and informally reviewed by town officials. It’s another potentially transformational project — a 680-unit senior citizen complex on about 90 acres that would allow people age 55 or older to transition over time from single-family cottages and independent apartments to assisted living units to — finally, if necessary — memory care. Golf and a variety of activities would be available onsite for seniors who want to remain active.
Lecce’s wife, Christine, is from Rotterdam, and he said he’s watched her mother struggle with dementia and saw a need in the community.
“Schenectady County doesn’t have a facility like this,” he said.
Lecce said he’s been pondering the concept since 2015, when he first met with the owners of the Whispering Pines Golf Course on Helderberg Avenue, who were quietly interested in selling. The land borders the Thruway, though, which he said makes single-family homes difficult to sell.
“At that point I began thinking about a whole senior living community, aging in place,” he said. “I met with the town, they thought it was great, that we have a need for such a facility.”
The Lecces have been married for 35 years, and the couple has four children and two grandchildren. One son, Michael, is a sports marketing agent in New York City whose clients include retired Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. Lecce keeps an autographed picture of himself with Ortiz in his office.