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What you need to know for 10/17/2017

Developer to buy lower State Street properties

Developer to buy lower State Street properties

Plans to redevelop the vacant Robinson lot and adjacent Olender Mattress building on lower State Str
Developer to buy lower State Street properties
The former Olender site on State Street in Schenectady Wednesday, August 13, 2014.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Plans to redevelop the vacant Robinson lot and adjacent Olender Mattress building on lower State Street have grown to include a fourth property.

The BiMor Army & Navy Store at 232 State St. has been added to the mix and will be packaged with three other parcels of land and sold in 90 days for $315,000 to a developer who’s planning a mixed-use development at the site, said Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen.

As required by state Public Authorities Law, Metroplex must provide 90 days’ notice for the sale of any property it owns. The economic development agency, which now owns all four parcels, gave official notice Wednesday after a board vote. Gillen declined to identify the buyer until the sale is finalized.

“This project will represent a large investment in the downtown area,” he said. “It’s a big footprint that we’ve worked hard to fill.”

The entire site will encompass nearly one acre and will be sold at fair market price, based on appraisals of each parcel. It includes three sites fronting lower State Street (the Olender building, the vacant Robinson lot and the BiMor building) and the tiny, vacant lot where the Silver Diner once sat at 167 Erie Blvd.

Metroplex announced in November a plan to demolish the Olender building and sell the site, along with the Robinson lot next door, to a developer. In December, it added the empty Silver Diner site to the mix. This parcel is barely more than 1,000 square feet and abuts the rear of the Olender and Robinson sites, increasing the amount of developable land for the buyer. The addition of the BiMor parcel further increases the plot.

But demolition of the Olender building is now up in the air, while demolition of the BiMor building, which sits between two other buildings, could now be in the works.

When asked whether the Olender demolition was still going to happen, Gillen said it’s a detail Metroplex is still working on with the developer. He declined to comment further. He also indicated the BiMor building, which has been vacant for at least a few years, is in poor enough condition that it ought to come down.

“We’ve looked at it carefully,” he said. “It’s in extremely poor condition, so it would need to come down. We haven’t approved a demolition contract or anything, but we’ve had people in the building. Our goal is to preserve buildings, like we’ve done. But basically the roof and the back end of the structure are in very poor condition.”

The issue of demolition along this streetscape is a contentious one. The empty Robinson and Silver Diner lots once contained structures local preservationists say were hastily demolished.

The Robinson Furniture Co. was a family furniture business for 51 years before it closed, leaving the four-story structure to sit vacant and deteriorating for 15 years. Two floors of the building collapsed in 2007, prompting what local officials called an emergency that required immediate demolition. Preservationists were upset no one thought to save pieces of the ornate facade.

The Silver Diner, just around the corner, was demolished two years later to much outcry, as well. In that case, preservationists said there had been plenty of time to consider saving the retired 1918 Pullman rail car that opened as a diner in 1936 and was seized for unpaid taxes in 2000.

The still-standing Olender structure is actually two buildings covered by a large, weathered, green aluminum facade. It dates to 1900 and once had a stately facade featuring ornamental stonework and globes jutting up from each roof.

Schenectady Heritage Foundation Chairwoman Gloria Kishton said last fall if the ornate facade still exists under all that aluminum, it should be saved. She also raised concerns about the demolition’s effect on the adjacent Nicholaus building, which is one of the few remaining Schenectady buildings that stood at the towpath of the Erie Canal.

Gillen said he has since examined the space between the aluminum and the building and found no sign of the original facade.

“In our study, we don’t see any evidence of any of the original facade,” he said. “When they modernized the building back in the ’60s, those design features were lost, according to our due diligence on the building.”

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