SCHENECTADY — A landlord and tenant are teaming up to propose a bar and intimate live-music venue on Jay Street across from City Hall.
Noah Smith, who bought and renovated the landmark Seneca Building at 118 Jay St. a half-decade ago, bought the much-smaller building at 116 Jay St. in 2018 and is putting plans in motion after COVID and other delays.
One of his ground-floor commercial tenants at 118 Jay — Mitchell Ramsey, operator of the Jay Street Pub — is heading up the effort to convert 116 Jay into a music venue with drink options, a light menu and a rooftop deck.
The proposal goes before the city Planning Commission on Feb. 16.
“It was kind of his idea to do this thing,” Smith said of Ramsey. “We’re doing it in conjunction.”
If city approval is granted, Smith anticipates a fairly straightforward process. It’s a sturdy building with no need for structural modifications, he said, the only potential hitch being handicapped access to the roof.
The project would go forward even if permission is denied for the roof deck, Smith said.
“We’re probably looking, the whole shebang, 200-250 [thousand] with the roof deck, 150-200 without,” he said.
While 116 Jay now has a nondescript brick facade, photos from the 1920s show a glass-front building with a butcher shop and clothing store side-by-side, Smith said.
The goal is to create something that doesn’t currently exist in that part of downtown, Ramsey said.
“The idea is it’s going to be a small music hall a few nights a week — midlevel bands, some jazz,” he explained.
The downstairs would be called The Station and the roof would be called The Platform.
It would not be in competition with Ramsey’s other venture, the Jay Street Pub, which is too small to host live music.
“We could fit a bigger band on a real stage in a perfectly treated acoustic space,” he said. The acoustic design will not only sound good inside but help limit the spillover of music out into the neighborhood, he said.
Ramsey said Smith offered him more space on the ground floor when he opened the pub in 2018 and he now regrets not taking it. But he was only 25 at the time, and even the small space was an intimidating prospect.
And as events played out, the hesitation was fortuitous. A lengthy shutdown would come 18 months after he opened, as the pandemic arrived.
“Our sales dropped 95%,” Ramsey said. “Hopefully we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Smith said Ramsey’s skills with social media and technology have boosted the Jay Street Pub’s success. Ramsey modestly deflects the suggestion, then promptly describes his plan to record and live-stream the musical acts that perform at The Station.
Ramsey said the city and the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority were immensely helpful in 2018 when he was in the process of getting his approvals for the pub. While he didn’t receive any financial incentives, he got walked all the way through a process he knew nothing about. Each time he forgot a particular piece of information that would have pushed his application back by a month, Metroplex or city officials flagged it for him.
That made the decision to make a new investment, he said.
Metroplex is providing a $25,000 facade grant to Smith to help pay for the work on the front of the building.
Smith is under contract to buy another nearby property: 123-127 Jay St., an eight-unit apartment building with two storefronts facing onto the Jay Street Pedestrian walkway.
He plans to renovate the apartments and bring new retail life in the storefronts.