Schenectady County’s most power economic development agency has delivered an ultimatum to the owners of the deteriorating Foster Building on State Street: Sell the historic building for a reasonable price or face eminent domain.
The Metroplex Development Authority’s board took action at its meeting Wednesday night to begin the legal process to seize the building at 508 State St. from owners Craig G. Alsdorf and Dennis Todd. Alsdorf and Todd were not available for comment.
Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said Metroplex has negotiated for years with the owners to purchase the building, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
“This is a historic building that must be preserved. It is in the community’s best interest to preserve it,” he said.
Metroplex has authority to conduct eminent domain proceedings under the state legislation that created it. Metroplex is funded by county sales tax receipts.
Citing its failing condition, Gillen said the building requires immediate action to protect it from further damage from the elements.
“Our whole goal is to button up the building, to fix the roof, to board up the broken windows and to prevent any more water damage from occurring. We will not get into a situation where it is destabilized, requiring demolition,” Gillen said.
The Metroplex board also took action to begin a review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, a precondition to eminent domain, Gillen said, and to seek a $200,000 loan from the state’s Upstate Regional Blue Print Fund. The loan will support renovations on the Foster Building. Metroplex will conduct a public hearing on its eminent domain proposal as well.
“We want to gut it and restore it a floor at a time. This is one of the last buildings on the Proctors block that hasn’t been renovated, built new or upgraded. We want to take action before next winter,” Gillen said.
Metroplex would lease space in the restored building to retail or commercial tenants, Gillen said.
Schenectady Heritage Foundation Chairwoman Gloria Kishton supports Metroplex’s efforts to preserve the building, which opened in 1907.
“We have been advocating for restoration of the building for years now, and we are happy there are tools left to accomplish the restoration,” she said.
Calling the Foster Building “one of few buildings downtown on the register and one of our most ornate buildings left downtown,” Kishton said of the building, “in its present state, it is sticking out like a sore thumb. We are at a point where everyone is frustrated as to why the owners are not going one way or another.”
Kishton said the Foster Building “is an example of why it is so important to require owners to properly secure and mothball their buildings until they can be rehabilitated. This prevents demolition by neglect until an appropriate resolution can be found.”
Eminent domain, Kishton said, should be used as a last resort to save historic buildings.
The Foster Building was listed on the register in 1991 for its distinctive architectural style, called beaux arts. Beaux arts is an neoclassical architectural style taught at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. It heavily influenced American architecture between 1890 and 1920.
The building’s six-story facade, for example, is covered with intricate bouquets, leaves and other designs, which weave around the Roman arches and columns.
The Foster Building opened as Hotel Foster and later became a specialty store and a facility offering low-rent housing to destitute men. Alsdorf and Todd bought the long-vacant building in 1998 for approximately $50,000. They planned to convert it into apartments but never made any significant investment in the property.
Alsdorf and Todd also failed to pay taxes on the property for several years, and American Tax Funding, a private tax collections company contracting with the city, was preparing to auction off the building when the two men paid their debts. Alsdorf, who led the Schenectady Rental Property Owners Association from 1999 to 2004, also did not pay taxes on other properties he owned. In 2008, he sold three of his rental properties to pay off tax bills and lost three others to foreclosure. The proceedings were one of ATF’s first major actions in Schenectady, where it has rarely had to foreclose because so many owners have been willing to pay when the private tax-collection company comes knocking.
Over the past 10 years, downtown has staged a comeback in its appearance and in activity, thanks to efforts by Metroplex and private investors.