ALBANY — The deteriorated cold storage warehouse towering over North Albany has flaked off chunks of concrete, prompting a suspension of Amtrak passenger service west of the Hudson River.
City officials declared a state of emergency Friday after an inspection found significant new deterioration in the old Central Warehouse, which has sat vacant for decades.
East-west passenger rail traffic passes by on an elevated right of way that almost touches the building — a rail siding once brought freight cars right inside, in fact.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan told reporters Friday that the pieces of the building that had fallen had not hit the tracks, but if a larger section of the wall gave way, a train below would be in danger, as would its passengers. So the city notified Amtrak, which decided to suspend service on the tracks, which carry trains to and from Schenectady, Amsterdam and points west.
The railroad said it would waive charges for travelers who needed to change their reservations because of the suspension. It said service from Chicago would terminate in Schenectady through Aug. 5, with bus service continuing to points as far east as Boston.
The 11-story, 95-year-old Central Warehouse is one of the most memorable landmarks in the area, thanks to its size, decrepit appearance, and location near Interstate 787. It’s a white elephant, figuratively if not so much literally, given the grime, soot and graffiti on its once-white walls — no one has succeeded in repurposing its half-million square feet of floor space.
In 2010, scrappers cutting refrigerant pipe sparked a fire that burned for three days. I-787 and the tracks were shut down, but the fire didn’t cause any damage to the structure, with its massive concrete construction.
Sheehan told WAMC Friday that an engineering assessment was still underway, but the early indication is that structural integrity is not compromised.
“One of the things that’s important to stress is that the building itself at this point in time does not appear to be at risk of collapse,” she said. “The walls are actually attached to the building via rebar so they are independent structures. So the center of the building, the main building itself, does not appear to be in any imminent danger.”
Sheehan voiced frustration at the situation. A New York City-based architectural salvage dealer bought the building in 2017 with grand plans but has done nothing with it, and has fought the county’s foreclosure attempts.
“What we are seeing with respect to safety concerns at the Central Warehouse and the temporary suspension of Amtrak service is a real world consequence of ongoing frivolous litigation carried out by the owner, the Phoenix of Albany LLC, which is solely owned by Evan Blum,” County Executive Daniel McCoy said in a prepared statement. “For over a year now, Blum has repeatedly attempted to use the courts to disingenuously prevent the transfer of title to the Central Warehouse to Albany County and ultimately tied our hands in this regard.”
Given how long the building had sat unattended, and how long the litigation had dragged on, the city ran a codes inspection earlier this week, Sheehan told WAMC, and found significant deterioration of the south wall above the train tracks, possibly due to a harsh winter with repeated freeze-thaw cycles.
“The city of Albany is in receipt of a structural engineering report that states in part ‘collapse of portions of the exterior southerly wall’ of Central Warehouse is considered ‘imminent,'” she said in a prepared statement.
“As a result, I have declared a state of emergency and we are working closely with local, state, and federal partners and engineering experts to determine the extent of the structural failure and develop a plan to ensure the safety of our residents and businesses.”
If it can successfully wrest the Central Warehouse away from Blum, the county has a development team waiting in the wings with a revitalization plan: Columbia Development Companies of Albany and Redburn Development Partners of Schenectady, which has an extensive track record redeveloping decayed or obsolete urban properties across the Capital Region.
Redburn Principal Jeffrey Buell told The Daily Gazette on Friday that the latest problem with the building does not alter the plans to buy or to rehab the Central Warehouse, but he had little further comment.
“I will only say I’m not surprised,” he said.