SCHENECTADY — Connector trails between Mohawk Harbor and Jay Street, a proposed City Square-type concept, and a mixed-use apartment building and parking structure are among the projects flagged by consultants as key contenders for state grant funding.
Consultants outlined a portfolio of a dozen-or-so projects for Schenectady Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) on Thursday.
The package constitutes $60 million in capital projects, with sponsors seeking a collective $13.5 million as part of the $10 million state grant award (or $9.7 million after consulting fees).
“We try to come in at a higher number because some in reality could fall through,” said Steve Kearney, a project manager with Stantec, the Boston-based consultants guiding the effort.
Stantec also flagged public art projects, LED lighting for the church spire at First United Methodist Church and a proposal by Redburn Development Partners to develop three underutilized blocks of Clinton Street as high priorities.
Each of the proposals has the potential to catalyze broader economic development, Kearney said, which is a central element of the state grant funding awarded last fall.
Sponsors of priority projects have indicated the funding will allow them to execute the projects, and will be able to complete the efforts within two years, Kearney said.
Other high-profile concepts, including the Electric City Food Co-op and Capital Region Aquatic Center, didn’t make the cut.
While they were not selected as priority orojects, their inclusion in a final plan flag them as important and will bolster their chances for future funding opportunities, Kearney said, whether through the state or other agencies.
Thursday’s public meeting, the third, comes as local panelists guiding the effort are nearing the Sept. 11 deadline for submitting a draft plan to the state.
A final plan is required by late September.
Members will vote on projects after reviewing profiles that rank proposals by feasibility, public support and potential to kickstart additional economic development, among other criteria.
Highbridge Prime Development wants to raze two of its buildings between Electric City and the Mill Artisan District and build a five-story building with 17 apartments and nearly 300 parking spaces on the footprint.
They’re asking for $3 million as part of the $8.2 million effort.
Tom Carey, president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods, questioned the priority of the project as downtown attempts to claw back from the COVID-induced economic downturn, and wondered about the structure’s impact on walkability.
Furthermore, he said, parking is not an issue downtown and asked Stantec for data to support that conclusion.
“Your concerns are the same concerns voiced by the [Local Planning Committee] three weeks ago,” Kearney said.
Kearney and panelists have said parking needs have surfaced in community discussions.
Yet, as more developers construct apartment complexes downtown, the city hasn’t commenced a formal parking study.
While the city Planning Commission informally batted the idea around earlier this year , officials have not taken any formal action.
Residents also voiced support for Urban Initiatives Group’s request for $300,000 to build a series of art studios and retail space on lower Erie Boulevard, a $685,000 project.
Stakeholders said a key goal of the Alchemy Urban Playground is attracting minority artists, a measure that will pull them into downtown’s fabric, improving both the community and their careers in the process.
“I feel like it’s something that’s going to bring that slogan home — ‘a downtown for everybody,’” said Oscar Bogran, an arts educator involved in the project.
Redburn Development Partners is seeking $2,750,000 as part of a $38,673,206 effort to redevelop three underused blocks of Clinton Street into housing, retail, medical office and parking, but few additional details were provided on Thursday.
The stretch already hosts several Redburn properties, including Fitzgerald Building, the newly-acquired former OTB building and footprint of 501 State St. where the developers aim to construct a 49-unit mixed-use apartment building this fall.
Local panelists are nearing a decision as the ongoing COVID pandemic has upended the downtown economy, forcing the closure of major businesses like Proctors and Rivers Casino & Resort and tripling the county’s unemployment rate.
“We’ve got a lot of exciting projects and I think it’s going to help Schenectady recover from the pandemic,” said Dave Buicko, president and CEO of the Galesi Group who also serves as co-chair of Schenectady DRI alongside city Mayor Gary McCarthy.
Ahead of the pandemic, a report drafted as part of the effort determined downtown could absorb a 61,200 square-foot need for neighborhood services like grocery stores, pet groomers and dry cleaners.
“This represents a real opportunity for growth and an opportunity to really fill that first floor and mixed-use development,” Kearney said.
Gloria Kishton said the lack of downtown grocery stores results in residents taking their shopping and other business to the suburbs.
“When you go out to the suburbs to get food, that just naturally leads to you shopping in the suburbs,” said Kishton, a supporter of the Electric City Co-Op.
While retail has taken a beating during the pandemic, the downtown housing market shouldn’t be impacted in the long-term, according to the consultants who drafted a residential market analysis.
The study, which was completed in February before the pandemic prompted widespread shutdowns, revealed demand supports construction of 162 to 211 new units per year, with occupancy split evenly between empty nesters/retirees, families, and younger singles and couples.
Panelists will meet for the final time on Aug. 27 before voting on the bloc of projects.
Comments can continue to be submitted via Schenectady DRI’s website over the next several weeks, Kearney said.