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What you need to know for 07/26/2017

McLoughlin: Troy has long history of odd city halls

McLoughlin: Troy has long history of odd city halls

How can you sit there and say that you do not love the people who run the city of Troy ?

How can you sit there and say that you do not love the people who run the city of Troy ?

I mean, you've got all these cities, like Schenectady and Albany and the like, with their fancy-schmancy city halls while the Trojans dismiss these spendthrift impulses with a "we don't need no stinkin' architectural masterpieces to run our government."

Schenectady has its lovely Federal Revival city hall complete with gold dome and Albany has its imposing H.H. Richardson Romanesque edifice with carillon tower. What does Troy have? Well, by end of summer, Troy City Hall will comprise the first and fourth floors of a former shirt factory north of downtown. Not the first THROUGH fourth floors, but the first AND fourth. Remember how artist Len Tantillo did that swell painting of Schenectady City Hall a while back? What does Troy tell Tantillo about drawing its city hall? Look, Len, try to disregard, if you will, floors two and three and just paint in the load-bearing columns, not the concrete walls, okay? (A rumor suggests the city is trying to consolidate everything on a single floor of the old Cluett, Peabody shirt building, but nothing public so far.)

Whatever happens, mark this as yet another chapter in Troy 's less than wonderful experience with city halls. The last time the city had a seat of government worthy of a postcard was nearly a century ago at the corner of State and Third streets. That landmark burned to the ground in 1938; the site became Barker Park, and city offices were moved to the Central Fire Station, second floor, thank you.

You would think that the clanging of the fire bell and the shrill sirens would have been disruptive. Mayor Edward "Dynamite" Fitzgerald, who served from 1951-55, did not think so. "Dynamite" would be conducting a meeting with several well-suited Wall Street lawyers, trying to sell them some city bonds, when the alarm would ring. "Dynamite" would drop everything, grab his giant fedora and bolt his short, rotund body out the door, nary a word to the legal eagles. He had no idea if it was a false alarm, a grass fire or a three-alarmer. Dammit, he was the mayor, and if he wanted to chase the fire engines, then he would!

By the '70s, some of Troy 's politicians thought it would be nice to have a stand-alone, architecturally impressive city hall like Schenectady's or Albany's, the kind of building that inspires schoolkids and makes a community proud of itself. Instead, Troy taxpayers got this concrete-block, triangular thing that resembled a bank branch. Joe Casey, the former Rensselaer County Republican chairman until he had a little run-in with the law, had promised Troy citizens while chairman that he would build them a new city hall. He did. He was foreman of the work crew.

Fast forward to Mayor Harry Tutunjian, who announced, several years ago, that he had discovered that the Hudson River was located on the other side of this aesthetically challenged city hall and therefore it would make a peachy tear-down to make way for a transformative redevelopment project to include residential, office and commercial space. At the announcement, you were led to believe that this Troy City Center would be akin to Baltimore's Inner Harbor project of upscale condos and businesses and restaurants.

It ain't. After Tutunjian left office in December, someone read the fine print and discovered that 60 percent of the residential would be low- or moderate-income housing. The new mayor wants that modified, so the project now is delayed. Did Tutunjian purposely conceal the lower-scaled housing? He told a newspaper reporter: "I don't believe so. Not to my knowledge, no."

So Troy 's last stand-alone city hall lasted just 38 years. Schenectady's classically inspired building is 79 and still serves. Albany's is 129 years old.

There are vague mentions of a brand-new Troy City Hall (the lease at the shirt factory-turned-office building has two-year "outs"), but when someone asks how the city will afford it, the topic usually goes away. Tutunjian, now a county legislator, comforted taxpayers by assuring them that they have no need for one of those fancy-schmancy city halls that cost a fortune, just something functional.

Memo to Len Tantillo: We'll get back to you on that city hall portrait, OK?

John McLoughlin is a veteran Capital Region journalist, now at NewsChannel 13. Reach him by email at JMcLoughlin@WNYT.com.

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