Little has changed at the former Draper School since the county struck a deal with the Disabled American Veterans that would allow the organization to redevelop the property into special housing.
The 94,000-square-foot building is still technically owned by the long-defunct and dissolved International Charter School of Schenectady. And county officials haven’t moved to take control of the building because there’s been no indication the veterans organization is ready to accept ownership.
In fact, the only real changes to the towering brick structure have been ones related to its ongoing decay: More graffiti, broken windows, and cracks in the asphalt. Yet the veterans appear no closer to advancing the $25 million project announced when the organization agreed to a tax deal that would give it title to the property.
Now county officials are setting a deadline. In a letter to the veterans last week, Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen asked the organization to offer proof of financing for its project within 90 days and to formally take title to the property within 120 days.
“We like the project. We like the concept. The community likes it,” he said. “But we can’t just continue going on like this.”
Tom Reiter, the veterans’ state representative, assured his organization is still highly interested in the site. But when pressed for details about the project or when the veterans would take control of the property, he declined to discuss the matter further.
“I just can’t comment on it,” he said last week.
Reiter’s comments were a departure from ones he made last year, when he all but assured county officials of the forthcoming project to renovate the school into 120 apartments for disabled combat veterans over the age of 55. After a tax deal was announced that would allow the veterans title to the property for $50,000, he indicated the organization already had a developer ready for the project.
The veterans first expressed interest in buying the defunct school building in 2010, about two years after the failed charter school had vacated the building in advance of its own dissolution. Improvements to the building by the charter school, however, left the property hopelessly mired in debt with First Niagara Bank, the mortgage holder.
In 2009, the charter school offered to surrender its deed to the property in lieu of foreclosure proceedings. But the bank refused to accept the property, instead suggesting the building be sold at an auction funded by the charter school.
The charter school refused, sending the building into legal limbo. Then in 2010, the defunct charter school officially lost its tax-exempt status, meaning the Draper School property valued at roughly $1.55 million started to accrue taxes.
snag in deal
The veterans claimed First Niagara offered them the property for a nominal fee in 2011, but the deal ultimately hit a snag. At the time, Reiter said the veterans were considering another pair of properties elsewhere in the state and his organization needed the bank to move forward aggressively with negotiations if they intend to get rid of the property.
In December 2011, county officials brokered a deal with the veterans to foreclose on the building and partially clear the $163,226 in back taxes that accrued over a three-year period. Metroplex authorized $50,000 to be used toward payment of the outstanding taxes, the veterans agreed to match the amount with $60,000 and the county Legislature agreed to waive the remaining liability.
But so far, nothing has been paid and the burden of maintaining the building has fallen on the county. In the letter, Gillen said the county simply wants assurance that the project is in the works.
“We understand that it takes time to secure financing to acquire and renovate the building,” he stated in the letter.