Eastern Avenue is about to get a makeover.
Three vacant and blighted buildings along the commercial corridor near Vale Park have been targeted for demolition and future development, while an existing business is slated for a facade upgrade this year and another renovation is currently under way. Still more blighted buildings along the corridor are being eyed for demolition, too.
The Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority announced the projects Wednesday. Chairman Ray Gillen said Metroplex has wanted to expand its development efforts into Schenectady’s neighborhoods for a while, but has been limited by a statute that only allows work on commercial buildings and residential buildings that house at least three families. Metroplex is partnering with the Capital Region’s land bank to spruce up chunks of Eastern Avenue that are a mix of commercial and residential properties.
“It’s part of our plan,” said Gillen. “We’ve been pushing development to lower State Street and making great progress, but we always talked, too, about going up the corridors that lead out of downtown. We did a tremendous amount of work on Upper Union Street, which is in great shape. And Eastern is just one road over, so it’s kind of the logical progression of where we’re going.”
The Metroplex board approved a slate of projects at its monthly board meeting Wednesday, including the purchase of buildings at 722, 803 and 868 Eastern Ave. for demolition. These buildings have been vacant for a long time and contribute to blight in the neighborhood, Gillen said.
The three-story building at 722 Eastern Ave. has sat as an eyesore next to the 10-story Schaffer Heights apartment building at the corner of Eastern and Nott Terrace. Schaffer Heights recently decided to invest $1.3 million in upgrades to its building.
“Some of these buildings are just eyesores and rundown,” said Gillen. “Their condition brings down neighboring properties. We only just got in to board up 722 with the owner’s permission. It was in horrible shape.”
The owner has agreed to sell the building to Metroplex for $1. Metroplex will then pay outstanding taxes of about $4,000 on the building, demolish it and donate the vacant site to the land bank for future development.
The board also approved the purchase of 803 Eastern Ave., a long-vacant building that once housed Kilgore’s Tavern. The city identified this structure as ideal for demolition when Brian Stratton was still mayor. Metroplex will buy it from American Tax Funding for $5,000 and pay $5,000 in back taxes before demolishing the building and donating the vacant site to the land bank.
The former Latimer’s Tavern at 868 Eastern Ave. will soon come down, too. Metroplex will purchase a $3,000 outstanding tax lien on the building so the city can complete foreclosure. Metroplex will demolish it and donate it to the land bank, as well.
A site next to Latimer’s — at 866 Eastern Ave. — also will go to the land bank, so the two sites can be packaged as one large parcel for future development. The land bank is currently under contract to buy a third adjoining parcel at 870 Eastern Ave.
Metroplex will advertise for the demolition of all three properties as one bid package. Once these sites are demolished and part of the Capital Region land bank, Gillen said, they may be targeted for development or even just green space, since they’re right next to Vale Park.
“The key is to remove the blight that exists now because it’s a drag on the neighborhood,” he said.
Eastern Avenue Neighborhood Association Vice President Bob Harvey said transforming blight into green space is a great idea for the community, which has the historic Vale Park and Vale Cemetery in its backyard.
“It’s great news,” he said. “We made a list with the city of deteriorated buildings around the neighborhood that needed work. Anytime you can get rid of a deteriorated property, the property values of the whole neighborhood go up. These are issues we’ve been talking about with the city, county and Metroplex for a while.”
The Metroplex board also approved a $60,000 facade grant to upgrade two buildings owned by Arket Electric, an electrical contractor that provides residential and commercial services to the Capital Region’s building and construction industry. The upgrade will be for Arket’s office and warehouse at 827-831 Eastern.
“Our company is pleased to work with Metroplex to improve our two buildings,” said company President Michael Arket. “We are also very excited about the other improvements planned for the Eastern Avenue community.”
Metroplex hinted last year the Eastern Avenue business corridor may be its next target for development. In August, Metroplex announced a $22,000 matching facade grant for 813-815 Eastern Ave. A local businessman is renovating the first floor of the building into a machine shop and the second floor into residential space. And then, in September, a Troy artist and entrepreneur won approval from the City Planning Commission to repair, renovate and restore the former St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church at 828 Eastern Ave.
Metroplex and land bank officials also have their eyes on other Eastern Avenue properties, though nothing has been finalized. These properties include the former Copper Keg at 846 Eastern Ave., the former Ras Furniture store at 823 Eastern Ave. and an adjoining building at 821 Eastern Ave.
They are also trying to get a foreclosed property at 839 Eastern Ave. into the land bank.
“We have asked the bank that is foreclosing on the property to consider donation of the property to the land bank or sale at a nominal price so this building can be added to the list of properties where improvements are planned or underway,” Gillen said.
Rehabbing Eastern Avenue’s business corridor would help connect the neighborhood with nearby communities like Union College and Upper Union Street, he added.
“It’s an older neighborhood, but a key gateway to downtown,” he said. “It’s got tremendous amount of potential with a lot of building blocks, like St. John the Evangelist right there. We’re hoping by removing some of these long-vacant properties and fixing others that we create a sense of momentum.”
Harvey, who has lived in the county for 37 years and in the city for 25 years, said the neighborhoods have long wanted Metroplex to focus more attention on their business corridors.
“We asked Metroplex to look beyond downtown,” he said. “This is a step in the right direction.”