Since the Alco plant in Schenectady shut its doors in 1969, that site along the river has been an eyesore, a quintessential urban brownfield. Finally, after so many years and false hopes, it is being restored and put to new, productive, mixed uses — just what this struggling city needs.
Last week the first phase of redevelopment plans for the 60-acre site overlooking the Mohawk River was announced. It calls for a 100- to 150-unit hotel run by a major chain, upscale apartments with roughly the same number of units, and lots of green space with a bike-hike trail right along the river. Offices, technology and some retail are possibilities for later stages.
Besides the prospect of new tax revenues and new residents — young professionals, empty-nesters from the suburbs attracted by the city, or even retirees — the most exciting thing about this project is the bike-hike trail. Not only will it serve those living and working at the site, it will give all Schenectadians and all users of the Mohawk-Hudson bike trail access to the river (right now the trail leaves the river for a long stretch, forcing users to navigate busy city streets). A boat launch and dock at the site, something Stockade residents have rejected, would add to the access and attraction of living there.
It’s worth noting that none of this would likely have happened (at least anytime soon) without some of those much-maligned state economic development programs, such as brownfield tax credits and Empire Zones. Although they lost their way with abuses and expansions, they were really designed to help places like Schenectady get projects like these.