$10M in state funds coming to Schenectady for ice arena at Mohawk Harbor; For Union hockey, other events

The proposed location, right, and renderings of the facility, left PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE and PROVIDED
The proposed location, right, and renderings of the facility, left PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE and PROVIDED

SCHENECTADY — The newly passed state budget includes $10 million toward a new arena for Union College ice hockey and other events, according to lawmakers and economic development officials involved in the project.

The new facility would be built at the Mohawk Harbor development off Erie Boulevard, home of Rivers Casino, the River House apartment complex and other tenants. 

State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara said he secured the state funding for the arena after he submitted a request in March during the budget-making process. The money was included in the final budget approved over the weekend by state lawmakers.

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The 2,850-seat facility would be located in close proximity to Rivers Casino on five to six acres of land. A final square footage has not been decided. In addition to the ice surface, it would include a standing-room concourse, a strength and conditioning room, men’s and women’s locker rooms, coaches’ offices and a number of suites yet to be determined, according to documents provided by the Galesi Group, the developer of the project, which has also donated the land. 

“It’s Schenectady’s next big endeavor,” Santabarbara said, noting the Harbor has changed a lot over the years and this will only elevate Schenectady. 

Union College hockey would be the primary tenant of the facility. The college is negotiating a long-term lease, said Union College President David Harris. 

“Discussions are not yet finalized,” he said. “We hope to conclude fairly quickly given confirmation of state support. It would be premature to comment on terms.”

Also: Union excited at prospect of new hockey rink at Schenectady’s Mohawk Harbor

With increased costs in construction, Harris said the project could cost anywhere from $40 to $50 million, up from the $35 million previously discussed over the last couple of years, 

“People are often surprised at how much an ice rink costs,” Harris said. “They think ‘$10 million that easily covers it, doesn’t it?’ Not even close.”

Harris said the $10 million is a big step toward getting the project done. Harris said he hopes the project can get under way in two years. 

Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said Union College needs a new facility for its ice-hockey program, which includes a 2014 national title for the men’s team. 

“Their facility on campus is outdated,” he said, noting the hockey programs are Division I where the rest of the sports programs are Division III. The hockey teams can begin awarding hockey scholarships starting this year after it was approved at the NCAA convention in January. 

Gillen said the arena would provide a place to host other sports and events. 

“It’s kind of the next attraction at the Harbor,” said Gillen, Schenectady County’s top economic development official.

The facility could be host to not only hockey games, but other sport tournaments like basketball and also trade shows, said Dave Buicko, the CEO and president of the Galesi Group, which developed Mohawk Harbor.

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“The trade shows we can have at the casino right now, they’re limited to about 1,000 people,” he said.

Plans for the construction of a small arena or dome at Schenectady’s Mohawk Harbor first surfaced in 2020, as developers and economic development officials worked to compile a list of Schenectady Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) projects poised to receive state funding. Rumors circulated at the time that Union hockey would be one of the tenants of the arena, but speculation cooled when the arena project was pulled out of contention for state funding and then mostly disappeared as the coronavirus pandemic pushed into a second year.

“The key is we want to actually be as strong as possible,” Harris said. “Mohawk Harbor is a huge piece of this. The DRI, all the stuff we worked on, the Metroplex. All this is huge because a stronger Schenectady is better for Union. A strong Union is better for Schenectady. So this is a huge piece.”

The current home of Union hockey is the Frank L. Messa Rink at Achilles Center, a facility built in the mid-1970s. Union’s hockey teams played 35 home games during the 2021-22 season, which started in October and ended in March. The majority of those home games take place on Fridays and Saturdays.

Harris said the college is discussing what to use the Achilles Center for next, but said it won’t be an ice rink. 

“It doesn’t make any sense for us to maintain two ice rinks,” he said. 

He also said it wouldn’t be a parking garage. 

“Nope,” he said. “There’s a number of things. I don’t want to go into the kinds of things we think about because it’s still early, but there are some very good uses that would benefit Union and I think actually benefit the broader community.” 

Buicko said they measured the distance of the new facility to the college and areas students live compared to where Messa Rink is located. It’s a shorter walk from Seward Place to the new facility than it would be to Messa Rink, he said. 

The new location would also provide parking, something the college currently struggles with. Not only would there be parking near the facility, but Buicko said they own the Golub Corporation building and that 1,000-spot parking lot is not in use in the evening. 

Buicko said a traffic study had previously been done but that an updated study would be provided for the project. 

Harris and Buicko both said they will look at what other funding is possible for the project, including naming rights to the arena and state tax credits because the facility would be built on a brownfield. 

“The brownfield credits that’s what makes this site attractive for development,” Santabarbara said. 

A brownfield is a piece of land that is contaminated beyond regulated standards that would require extensive cleanup, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. 

The American Locomotive Company, or Alco, manufactured railway and military equipment from 1849 until it closed in 1969. For the next 40 years, the site was repurposed for other industrial uses. 

“What this was before what it is now, it’s hard to believe if you don’t live here and you didn’t see it for yourself,” Santabarbara said. 

The proposed facility has been a contentious topic since it first surfaced conceptually. In 2020 the Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fairgame issued a letter about the project calling it “concerning” and stating the project would cause economic harm to other organizations. Proctors was one of the organizations to sign off on the letter. 

Proctors CEO Phillip Morris said he’s hopeful the facility wouldn’t impact the theater. 

“We’re thrilled for the college and the Harbor to have a hockey arena, that’s just great, and we also are optimistic that they won’t be competitive with us, which would be harmful,” he said. 

Buicko said the focus is not really music and theater. 

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“We want to complement Proctors,” he said. “We want to complement SPAC. We want to complement other entertainment venues that are here. We don’t want to compete. We want to fill a hole. Schenectady doesn’t have a big events center. It’s got a great facility at Proctors and I know we’re a big advocate of them but we’re not having plays and all that stuff here – it doesn’t work.” 

The hope, Santabarbara said, is to bring more tourism and economic development to Schenectady. 

“This announcement is yet another incredible milestone in the history of Schenectady’s revitalization,” said Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy in a statement. “On behalf of the City of Schenectady, we are truly grateful for Assemblyman Santabarbara’s leadership to secure this critical economic development funding that will continue to enhance our waterfront and strengthen our community.”

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Also: Union excited at prospect of new hockey rink at Schenectady’s Mohawk Harbor

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One Comment

Has anyone else noticed what was promised to be a “tree museum” as a bait to get everyone on board with a casino, has morphed into a hockey rink? Right, same demographic, no?Unfortunately over $100,000 was awarded explicitly for a tree museum, or arboretum, to MiSci and that’s apparently been…reallocated?
It may be a good idea for the DG to follow up on the awards handed out in 2015 for projects under the Regional Economic Development Council awards.
Here are some of the other local projects receiving state funding as part of the REDC awards:
Universal Preservation Hall — $800,000
Universal Preservation Hall, a non-profit community arts organization in Saratoga Springs, received an $800,000 grant in partnership with Proctors to rehabilitate the historic property as a performance venue.
Orchard Park — $354,735
The city of Schenectady received a total of $354,735 for the renovation of Orchard Park in Mont Pleasant. The $1.28 million project will redesign the park and create improved entrances.
As part of the project, the city plans to demolish seven properties around the park: two on Second Avenue, one on Third Avenue and four on Crane Street.
Proctors — $330,000
Proctors was awarded $330,000 to establish a $2 million Arts Lab in partnership with Schenectady County Community College on the third floor of the theater.
The 12,000-square-foot space would include a 90-seat theater, classrooms and media lab, according to Proctors’ CEO Philip Morris.
“We identified the vacant space on the third floor as the perfect place for training and innovation in the different disciplines of theater,” Morris said. “We’re almost there with funding. This helps a lot. I’m pretty confident we’ll have it open by the fall of 2017.”Proctors — $153,000
Proctors was awarded a total of $153,000 for an American Acoustic Television Series, a partnership between Proctors and Barrelhouse Pictures, a New York City-based production company.
The funding will go toward constructing a set at Proctors and purchasing production equipment. Morris said acoustic shows would be produced this summer “that would celebrate the community.”
Museum of Innovation and Science — $100,000
In partnership with Proctors and the Galesi Group, the Museum of Innovation and Science received $100,000 for a New York Arboretum at the Mohawk Harbor site off Erie Boulevard in Schenectady.
MiSci and Proctors applied for a total of $240,000 in state funding for the tree museum on the old Alco site, which is being developed by the Galesi Group with housing, hotels, office and retail, a harbor and one of the state’s first commercial casinos.
The $1.2 million arboretum would include as many as 450 trees of a wide variety of species on the 60-acre brownfield property. The project is expected to attract 20,000 additional visitors and 6,000 students.

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