After sitting vacant and in disrepair for nearly two decades, the historic Foster building in downtown Schenectady is about to undergo a $2.6 million transformation.
Sequence Development, of Troy, has plans to make the once-grand, six-story complex grand again by repairing and preserving its distinctive façade and putting retail space on the ground floor, office space on the second floor and a dozen loft apartments on the four upper floors. The complex of four buildings comprises more than 47,000 square feet and features a courtyard in the middle where they all meet. This will be renovated, as well, and a rooftop deck will be installed on one of the buildings overlooking downtown.
“It’s a very cool, old building, and we like very cool, old buildings,” said Jeff Buell, president of Sequence Development.
He founded the company last spring after leaving the United Group of Companies, also of Troy. The commercial developer has already forged a name for itself as one of the lead developers making over downtown Troy. It’s currently rehabbing 22,000 square feet of vacant, historic buildings on First Street and was picked to redevelop the old city hall site on Monument Square.
Buell grew up in the Capital Region, but discovered Schenectady only as an adult, primarily through his old employer, which was responsible for the new Schenectady County Community College student housing.
“I love it,” he said of the city. “I think there are so many positive things happening in Schenectady. I really love the growing workforce here, and downtown State Street has terrific opportunities. We think the Foster development is going to be a key piece of the puzzle in extending all the revitalization that’s happened past the initial few blocks on State Street.”
Sequence Development will buy the complex from the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority for its appraised value of $475,000. Metroplex announced in April its plans to sell the site, which includes 508, 510 and 512 State St. and 204 Lafayette St. State Public Authorities Law requires it to give 90 days’ notice for any sale of property it owns.
The complex gets its name from the Hotel Foster, which opened in 1907 at 508 State St. The façade was quite distinctive at the time (and still is), as it was done in the Beaux Arts style, a neoclassical architectural style that was taught at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
“The façade is just remarkable,” said Buell. “You could sit there for a week just staring at it and you’d find new stuff every day.”
The building later housed a specialty store and affordable housing for destitute men. It was listed on the federal Register of Historic Places in 1991. It’s unclear how long it’s stood vacant, but it was empty when Craig Alsdorf and Dennis Todd bought it in 1998 with plans to restore it back to a luxury hotel. Those plans never came to fruition and, instead, the building’s condition continued to deteriorate.
Metroplex is responsible for preventing the building from falling into further disrepair. It initiated eminent domain proceedings against the owners in 2009 in an effort to take over the building and fix it up, and just as the case was to go before a state Supreme Court judge, the owners decided to sell the complex to Metroplex for $250,000.
Since then, Metroplex has hired contractors to stabilize the building and remove 596,000 pounds of debris, ranging from asbestos to an old elevator to bird droppings.
BBL Construction Services will perform the upcoming renovation, which includes repairs to the ornate façade. Metroplex will provide a $200,000 grant toward the façade repairs and preservation.
“It’s very unique, and that’s a word I try not to overuse,” said Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen. “This is a very important historical building in the region, and our goal was always to save it.”
Metroplex will also hold a mortgage on the purchase price with a 4 percent interest rate payable over 15 years. It’s currently negotiating a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement on the property, which hasn’t had taxes paid on it since even before Metroplex bought it in 2010.
“The folks who owned it prior to us did not pay taxes and let it run into the ground,” Gillen said. “The building was really poorly managed, poorly run. So we’re very proud of our efforts here to stabilize it and put it in the hands of a really capable team.”
The Foster project will be the first foray into Schenectady development for Buell’s new company, but possibly not the last.
“I will only say that I really, really like Schenectady,” he said. “I like the infrastructure, the buildings and the people. It’s got a good vibe going on, an active downtown, great leadership. I would be very surprised if this was the last project we do in Schenectady.”