GUILDERLAND — A Western Avenue motel that attained local landmark status for three different reasons in three separate phases is now scheduled to be flattened.
The old Governors Motor Inn was most recently owned by the Albany County Land Bank, which announced Tuesday that it had sold the site to the operator of two self-storage facilities, who now plans to build a third such business on the site.
The motel at 2505 Western Ave. was built in 1963 and soon gained renown as a wedding, honeymoon and event destination, with a restaurant, cocktail lounge and heart-shaped hot tubs in the guest rooms.
In later years it deteriorated and moved to the no-tell motel and non-transient residency models.
In July 2010, a major fire gutted one wing of the motel. It sat that way for an extended period, partly charred and partly intact, until the charred portion was demolished and the rest was left to decay.
“It definitely seems like it had an interesting history,” said Land Bank Executive Director Adam Zaranko.
Of the 600 properties the Land Bank has processed to new ownership, this attracted some of the widest public interest because of what it once was and what it had become, he said.
“A lot of people have told us about the history,” Zaranko said. “Everyone’s familiar with it, it’s just part of the landscape at this point.”
The parts of the motel still standing were untouched by flame but have been marred by human hands and the elements through 10 years of vacancy. Most of the air conditioners were stolen and there’s clear evidence of squatters leaving incidental damage and vandals inflicting intentional damage.
The house next door, probably home to an owner or manager at one point, is in worse shape, thanks to water intrusion and 10 years of the upstate freeze-thaw cycle.
The two buildings have sat like this on their little rise above Route 20, catching the eye of some of the thousands of people who drive past daily — especially after the Land Bank took it over in 2018 and whacked back the weeds blocking the view.
With all the public interest, Zaranko got some sense of a local landmark he’d known little about.
“It was a destination for romantic weekends and honeymoons and weddings,” he said.
“A lot of people contacted us with or pointed us to materials that showed the history of the place. It was the place to be. Then some people shared some stuff with us that showed what it became.”
It became a place with weekly or monthly rates for those who had no other home and hourly rates for those who already had a home but couldn’t take a friend there.
After the fire, unpaid property taxes accrued to the point that any plans to redevelop it were untenable.
Enter the Albany County Land Bank.
The land bank model in New York, created in the wake of the 2008 housing crisis to deal with the resulting wave of abandoned properties, allows a buyer to acquire a foreclosed property from a land bank with all the previous liens and tax bills erased.
It is a way to breathe new life into decaying properties, with resulting benefit to the neighborhood; it gives up on collecting old tax debt in hope of attracting a more responsible owner who will become a steady taxpayer.
It is a slow process, Zaranko said, sometimes four years from start to finish for a single property, but it’s a process that works smoothly in Albany County, where the Land Bank recently completed its 600th transaction.
The process is:
1: Acquire the property.
2: Figure out what needs to be done with it. Ideally this means a quick cleanup and stabilization or even selling it as is; it can also mean a partial or full renovation or demolition, but these run the risk of raising costs to the point that the buyer is scared off or the Land Bank can’t recoup its investment. A few times, it has meant a collaboration with Habitat for Humanity.
3: Selling the site and putting the money in the hopper for the next abandoned property.
Albany County’s is the second-largest among New York’s 26 land banks, with over 1,150 properties acquired, 94 structures demolished, 93 structures stabilized and 130 vacant lots improved. It estimates the buyers of those properties have invested $25 million and returned more than $20 million in assessed value to the tax rolls.
County government created the nonprofit Albany County Land Bank in 2014 and is a key partner, foreclosing on properties and turning them over. But there are many other public, private and nonprofit partners, Zaranko added. In the case of the Governors Motor Inn, the town of Guilderland provided extensive guidance on what the site could and couldn’t be used for.
Jeffrey Gordon, co-owner of the Store Away businesses in East Greenbush and Guilderland Center, has secured most of the approvals needed to build the new facility on the motel site. The sale contract with the Land Bank requires that the motel and house be cleared of hazardous substances and then demolished.