Schenectady

Schenectady OKs new 49-unit apartment complex for former bank site

A rendering of the proposal
PHOTOGRAPHER:
A rendering of the proposal

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Coming soon to the heart of downtown Schenectady:

A 49-unit apartment building at the site of the former Citizens Bank building at 501 State St.

The city Planning Commission unanimously approved Redburn Development Partner’s $10 million project on Wednesday.  

Located at the corner of State and Clinton streets, the three-story building will restore a gridlike setting to downtown, replacing the “architectural blunder” currently being demolished that officials said has discouraged foot traffic and disrupted the downtown landscape for decades.

“This project will transform an empty [building] with a barren, blank façade facing State Street with a new mixed-use building that will add to the growth we continue to see happening in downtown Schenectady,” said Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority.

Architectural renderings for the 50,000-square-foot building reveal a contemporary design containing elements of wood, brick and metal.

The scene Thursday. Marc Schultz/Gazette Photographer

Joining the apartments will be retail space on the ground floor, as well as a gym and interior courtyard for residents with trees and green space.

Storefronts will be situated on the State Street side, and entry points for ground-floor apartments will directly open out onto Barrett and Clinton streets.

Redburn’s business model is typically using tax credits to restore old buildings, an approach they’ve utilized for the nearby Foster and Fitzgerald buildings, as well as the former Gazette Press building on Broadway, which remains a work in progress..

Officials acknowledged tearing down an existing unit and building a new structure was a departure from their M.O.

“We wanted to do something with a little visual grandeur to it,” said Damien Pinto-Martin, vice president of development.

Early plans to utilize the site as a parking lot during the interim period have been scrapped.

The project is poised to bring a fresh blast of momentum downtown, said commissioners, and will ideally revitalize side streets, driving foot traffic and carrying momentum up State Street.

“I feel like we’re getting a real city back,” said Bradley Lewis, vice chairman of the city Planning Commission, recalling the traffic jams from GE’s heyday.

Urban renewal shredded downtown’s residential fabric, said city Planning Commission Chairman Mary Moore Wallinger, and removing the building is the just latest development in a long march toward course-correction.

“It’s been a long time where people want to walk and spend time and go to multiple businesses,” Wallinger said.

PARKING CONCERNS

Redburn will seek a variance exempting them from city regulations requiring 1.5 parking spots for each housing unit, instead steering tenants to the Metroplex-owned lots operated by Laz Parking.

The Planning Commission supports eventually scrapping the requirement entirely, contending parking lots are disruptive to urban environments and foot traffic from downtown apartment dwellers is critical to driving economic economy.

“A short walk to your apartment is not a bad thing,” Pinto-Martin said.

But at least one business owner said parking is already a crunch in the neighborhood as more businesses and apartments go online and a long-term solution is needed.

“The Laz parking lot doesn’t have enough spots as it is on Clinton Street now,” said Ron Suriano II. “It just doesn’t seem right that the city keeps building residential buildings but not addressing parking.”

Redburn’s building will go up between two Suriano-owned properties:

The building formerly housing the Taj Mahal restaurant at 140-144 Clinton St. and Moisture Salon at 158 Barrett St.

Under the current configuration, the former Citizen’s Bank parking lot separates Moisture Salon from the bank building itself.

But the new building will fill in the footprint completely, creating a 13-foot-wide alley between Moisture Salon and the Clinton Street Pub on Clinton Street.

That alley will serve as the main entry point for second- and third-floor residents.

Suriano also cited concerns about a loss of natural light and potential quality-of-life issues stemming from increased foot traffic.

“I have a serious problem with this rendering of where the entrance is for residents, and how close it is to my building,” Suriano said.


The site plan meets the city Planning Commission’s lot requirements, and the proposed structure surpasses the city’s minimum setback requirements, which require only five feet between buildings.

But Redburn agreed to erect a wrought iron gate with a key fob that can be programmed to lock at certain times in order to limit foot traffic only to residents. They’re also exploring use of “downlighting” to minimize disruption.

Pinto-Martin also acknowledged parking can be a challenge downtown, and is working with Metroplex on developing solutions, including those that would “vertically assist” with parking.

Parking issues are poised to be further alleviated with the sale of the fenced-off lot across from Clinton North.

“It’s going to be improved as part of related development downtown,” Gillen said. “The new owners have plans to improve it.”

Metroplex owns and manages 2,350 downtown parking spaces, including 55 at Clinton North, 190 at Clinton South and 122 at the Center City lot.   {{{Laz lots}}}}}

“We have capacity in the system as most monthly permit holders are daytime office employees,” Gillen said.
 

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AGGRESSIVE EXPANSION

The project marks the end of a nearly two-year span in which 501 State St. sat empty.

Citizens Bank relocated to Broadway in September 2018, leaving the site unmonitored.

The bank’s parking lot, used free during the day for office workers, became a magnet for illicit activity after sundown from the downtown nightlife crowd until Redburn purchased the parcel from a Houston-based company last August and restricted the lot to Fitzgerald tenants before closing it entirely.

“The property has been plagued in the past with people doing unscrupulous things in it,” said Pinto-Martin, noting all Redburn properties are equipped with external security cameras.

The new building will further cement the developer’s presence in the neighborhood.

The complex will sit between two mixed-use Redburn properties — the Fitzgerald Building on Clinton Street and Foster Building on State Street, which also houses the developer’s headquarters — and is one block from the former OTB, which the developers purchased last December.

And they’re making inroads into the Stockade, purchasing 26 buildings containing 91 apartments.

Stockade resident James Addison pointed at the developer’s aggressive expansion in the neighborhood, and questioned the developer’s screening process for tenants and the quality of property maintenance.  

“This has been an issue in the Stockade for recent Redburn acquisitions,” Addison said during the public comment period.

And as the developers continue to build new apartments downtown — Metroplex estimated 1,110 units have gone online in the past seven years from all developers, not just those constructed by Redburn — Addison asked what consideration city planners are giving to condominiums versus apartments; how many units Redburn controls and the projected market for rental units in the city.

Pinto-Martin said demand is high for Redburn properties, which have a backlist.

“They’re all affordable, market-rate and all fully leased.”

Tenants undergo a screening process, said Pinto-Martin, and it’s in the developers’ best interests to keep properties desirable and populated because empty units don’t generate revenue.

“We as building owners don’t want buildings that aren’t occupied,” Pinto-Martin said.

While plans for 501 State St. were approved, the developer’s plans to convert the Stockade Inn into 23 apartments and an office hit a barrier last week when it fell short in a bid to gain the first special city approval required to undertake the project.

Discussion for that project was removed from the city Planning Commission’s agenda on Wednesday.

 

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