New construction, new tenants and new property made 2013 another banner year for Galesi Group, one of the region’s largest commercial developers. But it will be 2014 when one of their most buzzworthy projects will break ground.
On a recent winter day, David Buicko explained how the Rotterdam-based Galesi Group quite literally laid the groundwork in 2013 for a massive redevelopment of the old American Locomotive Company site in Schenectady that will serve as “the poster child for upstate New York development.” Galesi owns the 60-acre brownfield site between the Mohawk River and Erie Boulevard and has plans to turn it into a mixed-use waterfront community that would attract young professionals downtown and create jobs.
The Alco plant shut its doors in 1969, and over the years its vacant and obsolete industrial buildings were considered one of Schenectady’s biggest eyesores. In 2011, the crumbling hulks were demolished and environmental remediation began on the site. The mixed-use plans for the site, which could eventually total $200 million, are grand and will come in phases. As a result, infrastructure work has taken longer than expected, but the pace of work has not slowed. The project got a shot in the arm in late 2013 when Galesi won $5 million in a statewide economic development competition for the project.
“We’re moving full speed ahead,” said Buicko, Galesi’s chief operating officer. “We’re full speed ahead on designing the harbor. We’re full speed ahead on the utilities, the roads and all the infrastructure needed for this site. A lot of times when you see things happening, things are happening underground because before you can build, you’ve got to design.”
Ready to go
In 2013, Galesi toiled behind the scenes to prepare the site for its first phase of development, expected to break ground this summer on the north end of the parcel by Freemans Bridge Road. This phase will include a national chain hotel, a 184-unit apartment complex, a block of condominiums, retail space and a banquet facility.
“We’re going to be able to announce very shortly what hotel we’re putting there,” said Buicko. “We’re designing the apartments right now. We’re designing the condominiums right now and the retail space. All this stuff is happening. We’re going to break ground on four projects at once because nobody wants to live on a construction site. We’ve been making sure we get our water lines, sewer lines, electric lines and roads all designed so those things are ready to go.”
Eventually, the site will include a grocery store, office space, a bike path, a marina and probably, he added, a nice sit-down restaurant. The site could even be home to a $68.9 million film studio.
California-based Pacifica Ventures announced last year it wanted to put one on the site, but it was dependent on state funding to get it off the ground. When a $15 million state funding request was denied in December 2013, hopes for the studio grew dim. Galesi is still setting aside space for it if Pacifica Ventures decides it still wants to pursue the project, Buicko said.
One potential monkey wrench in the works is the tiny nuclear reactor Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute maintains on site for teaching and research purposes. City officials want it removed to make the site easier to market, but no decision on its fate had been announced as of earlier this month.
Apart from its big win at December’s Regional Economic Development Council awards, Galesi Group barely saw a month go by in 2013 without some big news. Much of this news came out of its industrial parks.
Galesi Group, founded in 1969, owns and operates Rotterdam Corporate Park, Glenville Business and Technology Park, Northeastern Industrial Park in Guilderland, and Island Park in Green Island. In 2013, Galesi invested $2 million in renovations at the old state bakery and warehouse in the Rotterdam park. The 260,000-square-foot building is now 70 percent full. Captech Logistics, a warehousing and distribution company, also joined the park last year.
Galesi’s park in Glenville had a busy year, too. Old Dominion Freight Line invested $8.3 million to build a 40,000-square-foot distribution facility on a 13-acre site in the park. The North Carolina-based global shipping company is bringing more than 120 jobs to the region. Pond and Lucier LLC, a company that offers gas turbine services, also joined the park last year.
“We see Glenville as untapped a little bit because people don’t realize it’s one of the best locations in the Capital District,” said Buicko. “You’re about a half-mile away from the Thruway.”
So Galesi decided to boost the park itself. In November, the developer announced it would build a 150,000-square-foot warehouse distribution facility next to Old Dominion Freight Line’s facility. The warehouse was to be built on speculation, meaning no tenant had been identified yet, but Galesi was confident someone would want to lease the space once it was built.
That turned out to be partly correct: A tenant was actually secured before construction began in earnest. A telecommunication service firm late last month agreed to lease 130,000 square feet and take an option on most of the remaining space.
“The industrial market is strong,” said Buicko. “We’ve got four industrial parks, and our occupancies are as high as they have been in recent years.”
While Galesi is best known for its work in Schenectady, the company has also seen success in Saratoga Springs in recent years. In particular, its partnership with Bonacio Construction to develop a mixed-use residential and retail building at Railroad Place and Division Street, called Market Center, saw continued success last year.
The development boasts Price Chopper Limited as an anchor on the first floor and apartments on the upper floors. In February 2013, SpoT Coffee opened in the building and gained an immediate following. A few months later, email marketing firm Informz moved its headquarters into the building and Greenhouse Salad Co. opened a second location there.
One of the most-hyped developments of the year — the Bow-Tie Cinemas that opened downtown in October 2013 — was another Galesi/Bonacio partnership.
“I see Saratoga continuing to be a strong market for us in 2014,” said Buicko. “We tend to invest where we already have assets. We’re still bullish on Schenectady, though. It’s got a great base now that we can build off of. We’ve invested over $150 million in Schenectady, so the more we do to complement that, that strengthens the assets we already have.”
Aside from Alco, another Schenectady redevelopment will pass a significant milestone this year. Galesi, in partnership with Bonacio, toiled away in 2013 on renovations to the future home of Schenectady YMCA’s housing program at 845 Broadway. Built in 1915, the 96,000-square-foot building needed a lot of work but is well on its way toward a spring opening.
Galesi Group has a foothold all over the country. It owns and operates more than 20 oil and gas fields in California, Texas and Louisiana. It’s building massive mixed-use developments in Texas and is redeveloping an old Penn Central Railroad site in the Bronx.
But of all the projects the developer is pursuing, the YMCA project is one Buicko considers the most meaningful.
“Think about where the YMCA is now,” he said. “Think about the guys that have to live there. There are over 150 men living there right now, and they each get 90 square feet of space. It’s a closet. They have community showers, community bathrooms, community kitchens, no air conditioning. So what we’re doing is taking a building that’s been dormant and vacant for God knows how long and converting it into very nice living quarters for people who are trying to get back on their feet.”
It’s par for the course for developers in urban areas, he said.
“If you’re in Clifton Park, you don’t have to deal with the homeless,” he said, “you don’t have to deal with people in need of social services functions. We’ve got a responsibility in the city to deal with these people.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bethany Bump at 395-3107 or email@example.com.