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What you need to know for 07/21/2017

DOT building shouldn’t be empty for long

DOT building shouldn’t be empty for long

I remember when Gov. Mario Cuomo adopted a policy of dispersing state offices to depressed cities li

I remember when Gov. Mario Cuomo adopted a policy of dispersing state offices to depressed cities like Schenectady and Troy so they might serve as stimulants to economic growth, which was a fancy way of saying office workers would buy coffee and sandwiches in those needy cities rather than in downtown Albany.

Well, time moves right along. Nine years ago, the state Department of Transportation did move one of its 11 regional offices to downtown Schenectady, and that was greeted with much hullaballoo as the beginning of Schenectady’s turnaround.

But now here we are, nine years later, and guess what? The DOT is “restacking” its offices in order to save money and has announced that it’s going to move out of the four-story building that was custom-built for it in Schenectady.

Yes! From dispersal to restacking, as quick as that. The state-of-the-art, certified-green edifice at the corner of State Street and Broadway, in the very heart of downtown, will soon be empty. Oh me, oh my.

True, the number of employees in the building was never what it was advertised. When the project was being sold, there were going to be 450 people working there, or 500, with some aggressive rounding, which would allow downtown merchants to sell that many more doughnuts and cups of coffee. Schenectady would be on its way.

On move-in day, the number had been reduced to 350. My best information is that the true number of employees came to only about 240.

Downplaying the hurt to Schenectady rather than puffing up the benefit as before, the state now says the number of people working there is “200ish.”

Oh, well, as I say, time moves right along.

I think it says something about where Schenectady has come in the past decade that the emptying out of a four-story office building on a key corner in downtown really doesn’t feel like a disaster. Schenectady has enough downtown employment and enough new and renovated office buildings, theaters and restaurants that it can absorb the blow.

Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority, is confident the building will soon be reoccupied, probably by one or more other state agencies, for the simple reason that the state owns the building, having bought it as part of its original lease arrangement, and its new stated policy is to move people out of expensive leased space and into space that it owns anyway. State officials confirm this likelihood, and one spokesperson said flatly, “We’re going to fill that back up.”

The Department of Transportation may find it more economical to consolidate at its headquarters on Wolf Road, but another agency will find it more economical to move into the vacated building. Or rather, the Office of

General Services will find it more economical on an agency’s behalf, as part of the “restacking.”

What is “restacking?” It’s simply reorganizing office space for maximum use. Vacancy now runs about 20 to 30 percent in state offices, a spokesperson told me, asking not to be identified by name.

So OGS will close some offices and move people around to consolidate.

Of course, the leaders of any municipality that employees will be moved out of can be counted on to raise a ruckus, but that’s how this business works, which is why OGS is keeping its cards close to its vest at this point.

It does strike me as odd to use state employees as vehicles for economic growth. We, the people of New York, hire people to do various hopefully necessary jobs for us, like maintaining roads and bridges. Then we compete to locate those people in our own towns and cities so they will spend with us the money we pay them. I think we should just employ ourselves. Then we would be sure the money would stay at home.

I have a lot of good ideas like this, but no one in Albany ever asks me for them.

They disperse their offices, then they stack them or restack them, but they don’t get to the heart of the matter.

One problem with what I still call the DOT building is that its ground floor does not contain any retail space open to the public. That’s a shame, since the corner that it occupies is prime commercial turf, right across the street from the new movie theater. Gillen says the ground floor is configured in such a way that it would be hard to convert.

If you’re going to have a lively downtown, which Schenectady leaders all desire, you can’t just have blank offices at street level. You’ve got to have coffee shops, X-rated video outlets, bookie joints, that sort of thing.

I joke, of course. You don’t want porn shops, though Another World down on Erie Boulevard has never really been a problem and is probably better than a blank.

As for marketing the building, well, there is its proximity not only to Proctors but also to the scene of the latest murder, just a block away, where a woman was stabbed to death the other day after an argument that began in the Salvation Army soup kitchen. You’ve got culture and you’ve got urban grit, right outside your door, and you can’t ask for more diversity than that. You’ve even got wonderful pastries at Villa Italia practically next door.

If the Office of General Services can’t find an agency to move in to that space quickly, they’re just not trying.

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