Bringing a new public safety facility to the old Grand Union property would bring renewed vibrancy to the struggling commercial corridor, residents and business owners told their elected officials Monday.
Roughly 100 residents turned out to the Hamburg Street Merchants Association meeting at the Rotterdam Senior Center Monday to voice support for a plan that would convert the defunct former supermarket into a 40,000-square-foot police and court facility. The building would also house Schenectady County’s dispatch center. Many of them believe the new building and its 155 workers would help revitalize Hamburg Street, which has struggled to attract commercial development for decades.
“Now is the time and this is the project,” said Skip Renaud, the president of the merchants association and one of the Grand Union building’s owners. “We’re at a critical time now and if the town acts promptly, we have a chance to revitalize Hamburg Street.”
Many people in the audience wore buttons that read “now or never.” Renaud and co-owner Dave Simmons distributed yellow fliers bearing the same words, urging people to support a combined public safety and centralized dispatch facility on Hamburg Street.
Highbridge Commercial Development is offering an estimated $8.3 million renovation of the building and the construction of a 5,000-square-foot warehouse the Police Department could use for evidence storage.
Town officials estimate they could save about $160,000 in costs by building a modern facility to replace the old building on Princetown Road. The former Jefferson School building now occupied by the police and justice court has long been a source of ire because of its size, layout and condition.
But using the Grand Union would also meaning pulling the property off the tax rolls. About $6,229 was paid in combined school, county, town and special district taxes in 2011, according to county records.
The town could benefit from county revenue by providing the space for the dispatch center. The county will pay an estimated $100,000 annually to lease a facility that must be at least 4,500 square feet.
“We see this as a unique approach for us to finally do something,” Supervisor Harry Buffardi told the crowd.
County Legislator Tony Jasenski said only three companies submitted proposals to build the facility. He said the Grand Union owners weren’t asked to submit a proposal because the property seemed too big for their needs.
“This is unique and this is a late arrival,” he said of the Grand Union plans during the meeting.
County officials are expected to select a location for the dispatch center later this month. Meanwhile, town officials are still trying to figure out whether they can afford to replace the police and courts building without causing an undue burden on taxpayers.
Another proposal for combined public safety and centralized dispatch facility was submitted by the Galesi Group last week. The company is offering to renovate a wing of Building 50 — a sprawling office space off Westcott Road that once housed the regional headquarters of the Department of Environmental Conservation — at no cost and then lease the space back to the town over 20 years.
Both Buffardi and Deputy Supervisor Wayne Calder seemed to favor the Hamburg Street proposal over leasing. Calder said the real question remains whether it can be done without leaving taxpayers in a hole.
“Personally, I’d really like to see it here. I don’t think it belongs anywhere else,” he said. “But to tie the town up for 30 years … it’s a tough decision.”