All that remains of Schenectady’s iconic Nicholaus Building is a small pile of rubble, but what will replace it is up to the property owners who declined to fix it over the past year.
The city demolished the Nicholaus Building last Friday evening after it was deemed a threat to collapse. Though pending lawsuits remain, the future of the property lies in the hands of owners Viroj and Malinee Chompupong, who have not made clear what their intentions are. Meanwhile, previously delayed construction next door is set to move forward soon.
Viroj Chompupong said Monday in an interview that he does not have an idea yet of what he will do with the property, and that he is working with his lawyer to figure it out. Asked about the city’s plans to recoup $168,000 in demolition costs from him, Chompupong said “I have no idea,” and again indicated he’d be talking with his lawyer.
Chompupong is being represented by New York City-based attorney Anthony Dougherty. A request for comment from Dougherty was returned with an autoreply indicating that he would be out of the office until next week.
“It’s the owners’ property, and they have the right to do with it what they want,” said Carl Falotico, corporation counsel for the city of Schenectady. “But given their track record of doing nothing to the property for a year, I don’t anticipate they’ll be making use of it.”
On April 1, 2016, the owner of the Thai Thai Bistro, a tenant at the time, reported the 200-year-old Nicholaus Building was shaking and that the walls and ceiling were cracking. The building was evacuated, stabilized, cordoned off, then left untouched until last Friday.
At that point, an engineering firm hired by the city of Schenectady to monitor the building reported that the structure could collapse and posed an immediate threat to public safety. Within hours, the streets were blocked off, demolition equipment was brought in and a prominent piece of the city’s skyline came crashing down.
With the Nicholaus Building lying in ruins, work on the Electric City Apartments is ready to move forward, unaffected by pending litigation. An exact start date for construction is still being determined.
The $20 million undertaking will put 105 luxury apartments and 9,900 square feet of ground floor retail space on the property next to the Nicholaus Building site. The Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority is backing the project, which is being built by Highbridge/Prime Development.
“They held off out of respect for the Nicholaus Building with the hope that the building owner would make repairs,” said Ray Gillen, chairman of Metroplex. “They have all the approvals in place, and plan to move forward expeditiously.”
The Nicholaus Building owners allege in a lawsuit filed in December that prep work being done for the Electric City Apartments caused the damage to their property.
The lawsuit seeks $2 million in damages, and names Metroplex, Highbridge/Prime Development, C2 Design Architecture and other construction companies affiliated with the apartment project.
The apartments, and a series of other developments planned along that corridor of downtown, will provide a stark contrast to the Nicholaus Building, which stood for more than 100 years at the corner of State Street and Erie Boulevard.
It housed a popular German restaurant in the early 1900s, before being replaced by other eateries, right up to the Thai Thai Bistro that occupied the ground-floor space until the building’s destabilization last year.
The turret, the big block letters with the building name and its location at the intersection of two of Schenectady’s busiest streets made the structure a landmark for many residents, said Mary Zawacki, curator for the Schenectady County Historical Society.
“Because it was a restaurant, a lot of people went in there and then had stories about it,” she said. “A lot of people really connected to it over the years.”
The historical society saw an outpouring of memories and support for the old structure in the hours and days after it came down, Zawacki said, with some expressing frustration that it had deteriorated to that point.
“We would wish that we never lost the building, but it’s good to see people in the community care about preserving the architectural character of the city,” she said. “We have a lot of that history preserved, so the silver lining is that the history isn’t lost.”
WHO'S SUING WHO
Though the Nicholaus Building exists in memory only, the lawsuits associated with it still live on. Here’s a breakdown of what could play out in court:
- The Nicholaus Building owners are suing the construction and development companies associated with the Electric City Apartments, alleging work on that project led to damage at the Nicholaus Building.
- The Thai Thai Bistro owners are suing the city of Schenectady, the Nicholaus Building owners and construction companies from the apartment project, claiming negligence and breach of contract.
- The city of Schenectady began prosecuting the Nichoalus Building owners for code violations after they did not fix the structure for many months last year. The city does not plan to continue the prosecution now that the building is gone, but is seeking $168,000 to cover demolition costs.