Despite a funding gap for the proposed $400 million Albany Convention Center, an archaeological dig continues at the site of the proposed center to explore the city’s past.
The Convention Center Authority is awaiting results of an independent feasibility study for the project and approval of an additional $190 million in state aid. Without the additional money, the project will not be built.
But those hurdles didn’t stop the dig. On Monday morning, an archaeologist shoveled piles of dirt from a trench into white pails. Nearby a couple others slowly sifted the dirt through mesh screens searching for any artifacts.
Hartgen Associates excavated a trench measuring 6.6 feet by 6.6 feet within Liberty Park at the corner of Hudson Avenue and Dallius Street.
“Liberty Park, in the heart of a well developed portion of the Capital City, appears to hold a wealth of archeological information,” said Matthew Kirk of Hartgen Associates.
He said the most striking thing is distinct layers that have been unearthed that show discrete periods of time in the city’s history.
Under the first few inches of soil, Hartgen recovered a variety of 18th and 19th century remnants.
“Numerous pieces of bone, ceramic, tobacco pipe stems, bricks and other materials testify to the economic circles of the surrounding neighborhood,” said Kirk.
Fine imported porcelain teacups and tea pots from the 18th century suggest the homes were occupied by the city’s more affluent members. Later deposits from the middle 19th century, are likely from the boarding houses and working class families that came to the area, Kirk said.
He also said that a few pieces of Delft ceramics, from the 17th century, and Native American material suggest that deeper and older deposits may be from the time of the initial Dutch colonization and are still waiting to be unearthed in the area.
Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, who also serves on the authority, led a news conference at the excavation site on Monday and said it’s mandatory to dig 2,900 feet linear feet of trench and examine it.
He said he hadn’t spoke to Gov. David Paterson about the additional $190 million in funding needed. He said part of the delay is that Paterson has only been in office for three months, and he also pointed to a poor economy.
Duncan Stewart, executive director of the Albany Convention Center Authority, said that an archaeological dig will have to be done for any development on the property and that this makes it one more step to being shovel ready.
Mayor Jerry Jennings, who has been a vocal supporter of the proposed convention center, said it’s important to stay focused and that “building the convention center is the right thing to do.”
“I unequivocally support this,” said Jennings. “Yes, these are difficult times, but this is a priority for the capital. We understand the importance of this transformational project.”
The city-owned park, a couple blocks from the Hudson River, was chosen for the initial dig, because the land has been minimally disturbed over time and it can provide information about the soils, the flood plain deposits and the original elevations of the surrounding area before it was developed.
A more extensive excavation project will begin in early July with a series of trenches located in the project area that have been approved by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
These trenches would be 30 inches wide and will vary from 4 feet to 10 feet deep.
The area for the proposed construction center is bounded by South Pearl Street, Broadway, Hudson and Madison avenues.
Every day the start of construction is delayed costs the project $40,000, officials said.