During the three years owners Lori Selden and Mark Young spent looking for a place to open a new Mexican Radio location, one downtown building always seemed to be in the mix.
The restaurateurs were close to leasing the former OTB Imperial Racing Center building on State Street in 2010, but a deal to renovate the building never came to fruition. They looked at countless other locations throughout the Capital Region as months turned into years, only to return each time to the idea of buying 325 State St.
“We’ve been looking at this building for a long time,” Selden said Monday. “This one just kind of kept coming back when other things weren’t working out.”
On Friday, the restaurateurs took the plunge and purchased the building for $475,000. Over the next year, they intend to invest more than $3 million in renovating the structure to make way for their third Mexican Radio location.
The restaurant will occupy two of the three floors of the structure, which is three distinct buildings patched together. The third floor will have about 8,000 square feet of space for lease for office or residential use.
The project will rely on $200,000 in funding from the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority to complete preliminary work for the renovation. This includes removing asbestos, stabilizing the building, repairing the facade on State Street and gutting the interior.
Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen praised the project for helping to preserve a significant structure in the downtown streetscape. He said the project to renovate the aging structure is complex, considering its deteriorating condition and the interior layout.
“The building needs a tremendous amount of work,” he said. “It’s a big and complex structure.”
Selden said the couple is steadfast in their resolve to restore the building and have rejected plans to demolish even parts of the existing structure. Work on the building could begin as early as January, and Selden is hoping to have the restaurant open sometime in 2013.
“If all goes well, we’ll be open by the end of next summer,” she said.
The building at 325 State St. once housed the Imperial Cloak Co., an upscale department store that was a centerpiece of Schenectady’s downtown. OTB purchased the structure in the 1980s and transformed the building for betting operations.
The building has remained empty since OTB vacated it about a month ago. OTB has since opened a much smaller betting parlor at its Smith Street headquarters about two blocks away.
“The Imperial building was just too big for our needs and to know that it is now the home of a new, exciting business in downtown Schenectady is gratifying,” said John Signor, the president and chief executive officer of the Capital District Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., in a news release.
Mexican Radio opened its first location in a small storefront in New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood in 1996, but quickly outgrew the location. The eatery became known for its philosophy of using local products and working with area farmers for its produce needs.
In 2003, Selden and Young opened their second location in Hudson. They’ve since created an organization called Columbia County Bounty, which works with farmers and restaurant owners to get local products into local restaurants.
Selden said she plans to utilize Schenectady’s Greenmarket and other local sources for fresh produce and other ingredients.
Selden acknowledged the Imperial building is a lot larger than Mexican Radio’s other locations. She said the additional space, however, will give them room they need to have a devoted banquet space.
“We’ll see what we grow into,” she said. “That’s one thing we always do.”