Site of deadly Schenectady fire to become accessible park

The site left from a deadly Jay Street fire seven years ago across from City Hall is to be converted into a playground.

The site left from a deadly Jay Street fire seven years ago across from City Hall is to be converted into a playground.

SCHENECTADY — Seven years after a deadly fire destroyed a pair of apartment buildings across from City Hall, the vacant site will be converted into an accessible park.

The City Council’s Development & Planning Committee on Monday advanced a five-year no-cost lease agreement with the Metroplex Development Authority to turn the property at 100-104 Jay St. into a small park. The city took ownership of the property following a fire that tore through an apartment building that once stood on the property in 2015.

Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said there’s a growing need for additional green space in the downtown area, pointing to a number of housing develpments that have come online in recent years.

“Urban green space in a growing downtown where a lot more residential units are happening — it’s important for people to have a space to go,” he said.

The project will be paid for using a $20,000 grant awarded to the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. (DSIC) earlier this year by AARP to create accessible green space in urban areas. Metroplex, which has been maintaining the vacant property, will add an additional $20,000 toward the project.

The site has been vacant and fenced off since a fire ripped through a pair of apartment buildings in 2015, killing four and hospitalizing seven others. Dozens more were displaced. The chain-link fence that surrounds the property is adorned by various art displays and tributes to the victims.

The incident brought to light issues with the city’s codes department, which failed to act on more than a dozen reports about the building filed by the city’s Fire Department. The building’s manager, Jason Sacks, would later plead guilty to four counts of negligent homicide for failing to maintain the building’s fire-detection system.

Jim Salengo, chairman of the DSCI, said the site will include a memorial for the victims, but details are still being worked out.

“We feel this use is very respectful to the people and what happened there,” he said.

Salengo said final plans for the site are still being developed, but noted the site will be in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and will include accessible picnic tables, benches and flower beds. The public will also have an opportunity to weigh in on a final design.

He envisions the property as a gathering place for visitors downtown, and believes the space will benefit business in the area. The Schenectady Greenmarket, which hosts its weekly market around City Hall from April to November, will also benefit, Salengo said.

“We’re really in the beginning stages of talking about what the design will be, but as we all know it’s an extremely prominent place right across from City Hall and I know businesses in the community would really appreciate having the space,” he said.

Gillen said the lease agreement, which includes an option for an additional five years, will include provisions that will allow the property to be redeveloped should plans be presented.

He added that Metroplex has marketed the site in recent years but hasn’t had any luck finding a developer, an issue he blamed on the size of the parcels.

“We really haven’t had a lot of interest in it because it is very small and you can only do a handful of units there,” Gillen said. “We’re really excited about greening it up and having a place where people can go.”

The full City Council is expected to approve the lease agreement next week.

Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.  

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