Schenectady County and Niskayuna officials are talking about incorporating the long-struggling St. James Square shopping center into the Metroplex “corridor” so the development authority can do more — i.e. provide financial assistance — to help it find tenants. Not a great idea, really, for several reasons.
First of all, while the St. James property may be distressed — it is largely vacant — its buildings are in fine, nearly new condition and are perfectly habitable. Furthermore, the town of Niskayuna is the wealthiest in Schenectady County. The main premise behind the creation of Metroplex was to help areas of the county that needed it and specific projects that wouldn’t get done without it. This one doesn’t seem to qualify — at least not comparatively speaking.
Its landlord, which acquired the property for a song through a bankruptcy sale two years ago, probably just needs to cut rents a bit.
While much of the county’s commercial property does lie within the Metroplex zone — loosely defined as the area between Routes 7 and Route 5 — not all of it does. How would developers of that new medical office building on River Road, less than a mile away, feel if Metroplex provided a rent subsidy to lure tenants to the office space in St. James Square? How about the owners of the half-vacant Hollywood Video strip mall on Balltown Road, or merchants along Van Vranken Avenue in Schenectady? Metroplex can’t go about expanding its geographic scope haphazardly whenever it, or some county interest, wants it to. And it can’t afford the alternative — enveloping all commercial property within the county.
Metroplex’s focus should remain on job creation — good job creation — in its primary target area. That means industrial and office jobs, more so than retail, in the heart of Schenectady.
We have no problem with the authority referring prospective tenants to St. James Square or even showing the property, as its officials have already been doing. But financial help, even small amounts for short periods of time, is another matter.