Schenectady DRI enters voting phase for how to spend $10M


SCHENECTADY — It’s go-time.

Members of the local panel guiding how to spend $10 million in state economic development funds are now voting on which projects will make the cut.

Ballots will be sent to panelists on Friday and must be returned by Sept. 3.

Consultants guiding the Schenectady Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) formally submitted the portfolio of projects to decision-makers on Thursday.

The package bundles together 18 projects seeking a collective $13.5 million in state funds.

Two developers are seeking nearly half of that, or $5.75 million.

Highbridge Prime Development wants $3 million to raze two of their buildings between Electric City Apartments and the Mill Artisan District on lower State Street and build a five-story mixed-use building with 17 apartments and nearly 300 parking spaces, an $8.2 million effort.

On the other side of downtown, Redburn Development Partners is asking for $2.75 million for a sprawling project to redevelop three underused blocks of Clinton Street.

The $38.7 million effort includes redevelopment of the former OTB building, the construction of a 49-unit apartment building on the footprint of the former Citizens Bank site at 501 State St. and renovation of the Bank of America building across the street.

The latter has not been publicly discussed at any of the four previous Schenectady DRI meetings or three public sessions (but was alluded to by Redburn at a city Board of Zoning Appeals meeting on Aug. 5 when they sought a parking variance for the 501 State St. project).

“It’s very significant,” said Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen, who said the developers aim to use historic tax credits to preserve the structure.

Acquisition of the site at the corner of Clinton and State streets would further cement Redburn’s presence on the 500 block of State Street, joining its Fitzgerald and Foster buildings, as well as the site of the former Citizen Bank building, which was torn down earlier this summer.

DRI funding is designed to spur additional economic development, and government officials previously said the state award could leverage $128 million in outside investment.

Consultants formally outlined priority projects earlier this month, and little changed from the previous meeting on Aug. 13.

Numerous public infrastructure projects are also on the ballot, which totals $59.9 million in collective spending.

A centerpiece of the DRI is connecting downtown and Mohawk Harbor. Recommended for funding are several trails between Mohawk Harbor and downtown — including reopening the closed Alco Tunnel Trail and section of North Jay Street, as well wayfinding materials and lighting concepts.

Funding for upgrades to SEAT Workforce Training Center have been flagged, as well as funding for art studios as part of the Alchemy Urban Playground concept on lower Erie Boulevard.

There’s also $750,000 for a Metroplex-administered facade improvement program that would extend to buildings in Little Italy and Lafayette Street, as well as $287,000 for public art projects, including a statue of George Westinghouse.

The state DRI program, now in its fourth year, allocates $100 million annually statewide, awarding one locality in each of the state’s 10 economic development regions $10 million for improvements designed to spur broader investment.

Allocations will be $9.7 million after consulting fees.

Announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a visit to Proctors in November, the planning process began in January and went on a five-month hiatus in March due to the COVID pandemic.

Each of the 16 members of the local panel known as the Local Planning Committee (LPC) will be sent ballots on Friday asking them to vote up or down on the 18 projects.

LPC members, which include leaders in the business, non-profit, arts and academic sectors, will be required to disclose any conflicts of interests by checking a box next to each of the items, as well as send formal disclosure forms to Stantec, the consultants leading the process.

Ballots are due by Sept. 2, and results will be posted on Schenectady DRI’s official website the following day.

It’s unclear what happens if panelists are simply required to cast a single up-or-down vote on the project bundle and it is voted down. Neither Stantec project adviser Steve Kearney or Dave Ashton of the state Department of State responded for comment on Thursday evening.

LPC members winnowed down the list and came to a general consensus after four meetings and three public sessions designed to solicit community feedback, the most recent of which was on Aug. 13.

Among the projects not recommended for funding include a proposal to install outdoor sound equipment downtown and at Mohawk Harbor; the Electric City Co-Op and Capital Region Aquatic Center, as well as a sports and entertainment complex at Mohawk Harbor.

Yet, each will be formally included in the final plan required to be submitted to the state, a measure that will cement their status as projects worthy of future consideration in other funding streams, state or otherwise.

The draft plan is due to the state by Sept. 11, with a final plan due later this fall.

After that, state agencies will vet and rank each project.

With a total request of $13.5 million, the state has nearly a $4 million buffer to consider reallocating to other included concepts if any of those contained in the portfolio fall through during the interim period.

“The state would turn to the next highest scoring project by the state that’s still viable,” Ashton said on Thursday.

In previous years, plans were due to the state by March, with the list of projects approved for funding announced by summer, Ashton said.

But the pandemic has upended the timeline, which remains murky.

“We don’t have any information on the timing of awards at this point,” Ashton said.

Categories: News, Schenectady County


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