The news about the state Department of Transportation’s regional headquarters leaving downtown Schenectady seemed much less grim yesterday than it did the day before. That’s because it looks as if the state will replace this agency with another one, or ones. Not only would this make practical sense, it would continue a policy started by Govs. Carey and the first Cuomo, and continued by Pataki: locate state agencies in urban downtowns to boost their economies.
The DOT has clearly done that since it moved into a brand-new building at State Street and Broadway, the heart of downtown, in 2003. And the impact went far beyond the hundreds of new bodies downtown, because Gov. Pataki’s 1998 promise to move DOT here was the catalyst for the creation of Metroplex, which has been the engine for downtown’s revival. Thanks to the new businesses and life Metroplex has helped create, losing those DOT jobs wouldn’t be as devastating a blow as it would have been years before.
And it might not be a blow at all; Schenectady could actually wind up better off, with more state workers in the building (the 450 or 500 originally expected turned out to be more like 200 or 250). That’s because DOT’s departure is part of a massive reshuffling of state agencies aimed at making better use of space and saving state taxpayers money.
This will be done by giving up expensive private leases and moving state agencies into state-owned buildings, and by moving agencies among state-owned buildings. Under the terms of the original lease purchase agreement, the DOT building in Schenectady is now owned by the state, one of its newest and most energy-efficient buildings.
Metroplex and city officials say they’ve been in discussions with the Office of General Services, the state’s leasing agent, about bringing in other agencies, and state officials say they’re committed to filling the building. That will be done as leases expire — which, with a myriad of state agencies around the Capital Region, is happening all the time. Some of those leases are in buildings located in areas such as Colonie, Latham and North Greenbush, places where the state should not be encouraging more sprawl and that do not need the state’s help.
The only thing better for Schenectady than refilling the DOT building quickly would be to allow ground-floor retail there, which the Gazette pushed for at the beginning but OGS would not allow. That would make for not only more jobs and economic activity, but a more vibrant, interesting street and downtown.