The gaping hole left by the 2008 emergency demolition of the Robinson’s Furniture building complex on lower State Street is about to get bigger — but just for a little while.
After a series of dashed hopes for the site, which was home to a family furniture business for 51 years and then a vacant building for 15 years and finally just an empty lot, county officials have a plan for redevelopment of the site that they say is a sure thing.
The Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority wants to demolish the adjacent Olender Mattress building and sell the two vacant parcels to a developer who would construct a mixed-use building on the site. But first, Metroplex board members had to approve the purchase of the Olender building at 254 State St. and the empty lot at 238-248 State St., where the Robinson Furniture Co. used to sit.
“This is currently a hole in the street wall of lower State,” said Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen. “We can’t redevelop lower State Street without developing these significant Robinson and Olender sites with a meaningful project. So this is a major step forward to bringing a major investment to that site.”
The four-story Olender building contains 32,650 square feet next to Thai Thai Bistro, a restaurant that recently opened in the former Bangkok Bistro site at the corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street. Four generations of the local Olender family occupied the site for 109 years before closing up shop in 2011. Since then, it’s stood vacant.
Today, the Olender building not only has an outdated facade, said Gillen, but its interior has suffered severe water damage and structural issues.
“The Robinson building was horribly neglected, and when it came down, it was absolutely an emergency demolition scenario,” he said. “The Olender building next door is not as bad, but it’s in seriously poor condition. We are very careful to always try to preserve buildings before we go to demo. But this building is too far gone and is not in a condition that warrants retention of the building.”
Once the building is demolished, it will create a nearly one-acre, shovel-ready parcel facing both lower State Street and Erie Boulevard.
Gillen declined to disclose the name of the interested developer or any specifics about the plan for the site until a contract is signed, but said Metroplex has a “firm commitment” from the development group wishing to build there and expects to close on the deal within two weeks. He said Metroplex must purchase the two parcels before this deal can be finalized, and that the end product would be a mixed-use building with space for residential, office or retail purposes.
At its monthly board meeting Wednesday night, Metroplex officials approved the two purchases. Metroplex will buy the Olender building for $85,000 from the Olender estate and the Robinson’s lot for $1 from the city under an option agreement reached after the demolition five years ago.
“Metroplex and the [Schenectady Industrial Development Agency] paid for the demolition of the Robinson building,” Gillen said. “We entered this agreement with the city that would allow us to do environmental testing and due diligence on the site, which we just completed recently, and then we would purchase it for $1 with the understanding that we had paid for all the testing and demolition. The city then gets half the proceeds from the eventual sale to a developer.”
Renewed interest in the site is due in large part to the massive Erie Boulevard reconstruction project, said Gillen. The project to tear up and rebuild the thoroughfare has taken longer than anticipated. On Wednesday night, Metroplex Executive Director Jayme Lahut predicted it would be complete in 10 days.
Gillen said county and city officials long ago predicted developers and investors would come forward and express interest in sites near Erie Boulevard once the project neared its end.
“A big key for us was to get this Erie project done to get people to want to invest in the lower State Street area,” he said. “And that is happening. The dominoes are falling on lower State. Building after building is getting rehabbed or bought or fixed up. Our hope is to have that block done up just like the Proctors block, but we needed a nice, beautiful, safe and interesting-looking Erie Boulevard first.”