From the outside, the hulking former Chalmers Knitting Co. buildings on the city’s South Side are eyesores. Inside, the view isn’t much better; broken glass and debris litter rotted floorboards, the result of leaking roofs at the abandoned mill complex. But developer Uri Kaufman sees the structures differently.
Kaufman, of the Harmony Mills Group, sees stable steel beams, historic architecture, reuse and a way to make money.
Kaufman and his partners want to redevelop the buildings, which were slated for demolition, into luxury apartments with sprawling views of the Mohawk Valley.
Kaufman presented his plans to the site’s neighbors and local officials Tuesday and offered a tour of the property before making a formal presentation to the Common Council, where he asked for an option to purchase. The council discussed the proposal in executive session, but took no action.
Mayor Ann Thane said she is excited about Kaufman’s proposal.
“It’s about time someone came to Amsterdam with great vision and a proven track record,” Thane said.
Kaufman has developed 96 luxury apartments at the former Harmony Mills in Cohoes and is in the process of developing 141 more. He has since purchased the former Victory Specialty Packaging plant in the Saratoga County village of Victory and has expressed interest in developing apartments at the former American Locomotive Co. site in Schenectady.
Kaufman said Harmony Mills was not in much better condition than the Chalmers site. He said the Chalmers project would need environmental remediation, for which the city has already obtained some funding.
Thane said the city is already working with representatives from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to determine the types of hazardous materials in the building and steps needed for their removal.
Kaufman said the Chalmers buildings are in sound condition. He said he believes brick facade and concrete inside the building could mostly be preserved. Most of the wood floors would have to be replaced though, he said.
“What you have here is Greek temple construction,” he said. “This structure will last for thousands of years; it was built to last.”
Kaufman compared his work upstate with redevelopment projects in old mill sections of New York City, which have transformed into the thriving neighborhoods of Soho and Tribeca.
“People moved into those neighborhoods that city officials once thought had moved to the suburbs and were never coming back,” he said. “This project will bring back a demographic that you have lost.”
He also said that once the upscale residents had moved into those New York City neighborhoods, the jobs followed.
“People don’t always follow the jobs,” he said. “Sometimes the jobs follow the people.”
City officials said if the Chalmers site is redeveloped instead of demolished, it would not affect other planned South Side projects, including redevelopment of Bridge Street and the construction of a pedestrian bridge. The city has obtained state funding for both projects.
Thane said Kaufman’s redevelopment project would include space for retail and commercial businesses on the first floors with apartments on the upper floors.
Some South Side residents thought the plan was a good one for the neighborhood but worried that with the city’s track record it might be overly ambitious.
“I think it’s good. It’s better to preserve the building’s history than knock it down,” Barbara Weldon said. “I am a little skeptical because a lot of good ideas in this city get shot down and progress is slowed.”
Kaufman said his development group wouldn’t know whether the project is feasible for at least a year and by that time the group would have put hundreds of thousands of dollars into planning.
“So, we’re going to do everything we can to get this done,” he said.
Kaufman said that despite the Harmony Mills redevelopment project being called a success, the Harmony Mills Group still lost about $15,000 in the venture.
Despite his losses, Kaufman said he continues to invest in the area because he believes in its future.
“I’m positive this town and every other struggling town in this area will come roaring back,” he said. “This area will skyrocket in value and we are going to be here when it does.”