Schenectady is now looking for a few good entrepreneurs.
City Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard persuaded her colleagues Monday to support her idea for bringing businesses to the city’s neighborhoods.
She wants to place entrepreneurs in the vacant buildings owned by the city, which the city can’t afford to knock down or fix up. The city owns about 80 abandoned houses, including three commercial properties, and many of the buildings line Schenectady’s business districts. They could be filled with new businesses that would use the property rent-free for a year or more before negotiating to buy or pay rent.
The idea got little support when she first suggested it two weeks ago, but this time a majority of the council agreed with her.
The city will now collect business plans from prospective owners, although council members noted that they may choose not to support any of the plans they’re offered.
The council is looking to fill several properties right now, including the former Brandywine Avenue firehouse and a former city office on Crane Street. City officials are also considering bids from prospective buyers for both buildings.
Councilman Joseph Allen said offering the buildings rent-free could spark development in the city’s long-crumbling neighborhood business districts.
“Crane Street needs so much,” he said. “We need to start somewhere. This could start something.”
Councilman Thomas Della Sala agreed. “If it would bring in businesses to the neighborhoods, I think there’s merit there,” he said.
Councilwoman Margaret King also supported the idea.
By state law, the council may be prohibited from simply giving away use of the properties for free. But Zoning Officer Steve Strichman said the buildings would likely require thousands of dollars in renovations, which could be performed by the new tenants.
Councilwoman Denise Brucker, who wants the city to sell the buildings to avoid the cost of maintaining them, said the tenants should also provide liability insurance.
“The person would have to put in something other than sweat-equity,” she said. “What happens if someone gets hurt in the building?” Blanchard argued that the liability is no worse than now, since the city already owns the buildings.
But Brucker said the city is at least keeping people out when it boards up a vacant house.
“There’s so much more likelihood for something to happen when there’s a business — the city isn’t inviting people in,” she said.
Blanchard has already received two business plans. Plans should be sent to Strichman for review.