First piece of $80M downtown Albany project nearing completion

New apartments coming to revitalized buildings in North Pearl Street area
Work continues Friday on The Knick, a conversion of a vacant office building into apartments on Sheridan Avenue in Albany.
Work continues Friday on The Knick, a conversion of a vacant office building into apartments on Sheridan Avenue in Albany.

ALBANY — The first glimpse was offered Friday of a new downtown Albany community featuring affordable apartments and flying axes.

Redburn Development Partners announced the first retail tenant in its $80 million-plus overhaul of eight buildings in the core of downtown, a significant advance in the long-running effort to make downtown Albany an 18-hour neighborhood with life outside workday business hours.

The former office building at 16 Sheridan Ave., renamed The Knick, will contain 132 apartments above a bar featuring year-round lawn games on indoor artificial turf.

Redburn said The Yard Hatchet House and Bar will bring something new to the neighborhood with games like ladder ball and Viking chess, as well as four league-quality ax-throwing cages. People can also just sit back and eat or drink there.

Leyla Kiosse, a local attorney and owner of The Yard, said she’s been looking for nearly three years for the right place to go into business. The extended search cost her bragging rights as the first ax-themed venue in the region — two others have opened this summer. 

Owner/operator Leyla Kiosse stands outside the future home of The Yard Hatchet House and Bar in Albany on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019.JOHN CROPLEY/GAZETTE BUSINESS EDITOR
Owner/operator Leyla Kiosse stands outside the future home of The Yard Hatchet House and Bar in Albany on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019.

But she’s excited about the space she’s getting, and the surrounding area, which she’s watched gradually transforming into a residential neighborhood in the decade she’s been coming downtown for court appearances.

“That really inspired me to be part of that … I didn’t want to settle for a strip mall.”

Upstairs on Friday, Redburn displayed the first apartment to be completed: a one-bedroom unit with heavy industrial lines, concrete surfaces, high ceilings and extensive light through large windows.

The 131 other apartments will be mostly the same in size and aesthetic, with a few studio units and a few two-bedroom units in the mix. One-bedroom rents will run from $875 to $1,600 a month, the bulk of them in the $900 to $1,100 range.

Amenities include a fitness center, dog-washing station, rooftop deck and coworking center.

Up on the roof, a co-generation system designed in-house (one of the principals of Redburn is an engineer) uses four 350 cubic-inch Chevrolet engines burning natural gas to produce electricity; the heat they generate is captured and funneled into the hot water and heating systems, giving the building an environmentally friendly profile.

Pre-leasing for The Knick has begun and the first open house will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

The Knick, long-ago home of the Knickerbocker News and Times Union newspapers, later housed state agencies and other tenants before going vacant. While it’s an old building, the multiple adaptations for successive tenants over the decades stripped it of much of its historic character, so Redburn went with the industrial aesthetic, a change from some of the other projects its done, many of which have rescuing old downtown buildings in hopes of reviving the surrounding neighborhoods.

It also reflects a shift away from luxury housing for Schenectady-based Redburn, in favor of what’s called workforce housing, designed to be affordable to workers earning an average wage and spending less than a third of their income on housing.

Redburn said the first four floors of The Knick will be ready for occupancy Oct. 4; the other two will be ready in early November.

Kiosse plans to open The Yard in November.

The Knick is the first piece of a project hailed as transformational by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Kathy Sheehan and many others when it was announced in late 2018: 

Redburn purchased eight buildings — all neglected and/or underutilized — totaling more than 400,000 square feet in a compact area on either side of North Pearl Street near the Capital Repertory and Palace theaters. At a cost of more than $80 million, it will revitalize the existing parking, retail, performance and restaurant space and transform parts of it into about 330 apartments, 95 percent of which will cost less than $1,400 a month including utilities.

The other pieces of the puzzle:

  • 74 N. Pearl St: The circa-1878 Kenmore Hotel is one of the great remaining pieces of “Old Albany.” Redburn plans a mix of uses in its 105,000 square feet, with commercial and restaurant space, two streetfront retail spaces and 75 apartments. It also is working with a local group to reopen its historic Rain-Bo Room as an event venue, and to add a rooftop gathering area.
  • 1 Steuben Place: The building was the first home of the Albany YMCA when built 132 years ago and most recently was the Steuben Club, an upper-crust gym/spa/restaurant space. Redburn plans to keep it a mix of entertainment, exercise and eating, and will seek a family-friendly operator for the restaurant space. Upper floors will become 52 apartments. The basement, which would difficult to rent out, will become an aquaponics farm raising tilapia fish and leafy greens.
  • 43 Columbia St.: Redevelopment of the more-than 80-year-old Kennedy Garage is what Redburn considers the most ambitious part of the whole project. It will convert the top floor to housing and repair the rest for continued use as a garage, while using enough solar power and other green energy techniques to become net-zero — not use any more electricity than is generated on site.
  • 111 N. Pearl St.: The former Market Theatre and its garage will receive several million dollars worth of structural repairs after the Capital Repertory Theatre moves out for new quarters in Albany’s Warehouse District. Redburn is in discussions with a potential tenant for the theater space and it plans to reopen the garage as parking for tenants of The Knick.
  • 39 Columbia St.: The site currently is home to a home health care service and contains a 75-space surface parking lot. The health service will remain on site while other parts of the building are converted to apartments; the parking lot will remain surface parking for now but may be developed for other purposes in the future.
  • 55 Columbia St.: At 5,500 square feet, this is the smallest building in the portfolio. Renovations are underway and a restaurant will be named soon in advance of an autumn opening.

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