SCHENECTADY — Developers broke ground Thursday for a $3.5 million project that will transform a formerly blighted stretch of Barrett Street into a community of 15 new townhouse-style homes.
Officials who spoke at the mid-morning ceremony were excited about the prospect of creating a brand-new community in the area, which sits in a gap between development at Mohawk Harbor and projects underway on Union Street.
They also gave credit to a coalition of five banks and 16 investors for providing the financing to make the project, called Live-In Schenectady, happen. The project is not receiving a public subsidy. The Daily Gazette Co. is among the investors.
This architect's rendering shows the planned townhouses on Barrett Street in Schenectady. (Courtesy Re4orm Architecture)
The properties on which Live-In Schenectady will be built were seized over the years by the city for non-payment of taxes. The structures formerly standing there, which included three restaurants and some derelict houses, have since burned and/or were demolished. The street was once part of the city's Little Italy neighborhood and boasted several Italian restaurants, including the landmark Luigi's. Today, North Jay Street, one block west of Barrett, carries an official "Little Italy" designation.
A price range has not been set for the 15 new residences — Mary D’Alessandro-Gilmore and Joseph Farry of Berkshire Hathaway Home Services-Blake Realtors, who will be marketing the properties, said those figures should be available in a few weeks.
David Buicko, CEO of Galesi Group, which is among the investors, said construction contracts need to be awarded before prices can be firmed up, but the prices will be affordable to working-class people.
“We’re creating homes that are affordable, not affordable housing,” he said.
Thursday’s groundbreaking was for 15 residences that will constitute phase I.
Phase II will be 10 more residences on the other side of Barrett Street. The coalition already has purchased the footprint for Phase II of Live-In Schenectady. Two derelict houses will need to be torn down to move forward with construction, but that won’t happen until all of Phase I is sold or under contract to sell, Buicko said.
The final mix of homes is expected to be 23 townhouses and two freestanding homes.
The coalition purchased all 19 properties from the city in 2016 at their assessed values — about $200,000 — which more than one speaker noted Thursday was enough to reduce the city property tax rate by 0.5 percent for one year. The property itself will begin generating property tax revenue after construction is complete.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said the model is an excellent one that should bring dividends to the Barrett Street area and could be duplicated elsewhere in the city. It will have a cumulative effect greater than the sum of its parts, he predicted.
The immediate surroundings of the Barrett Street site are a mix of broken pavement, weeds and timeworn older homes among gleaming new construction. The mayor said the city will help push along revitalization of the neighborhood through code enforcement — in a collaborative manner for those who want to make their properties better, and with citations for those who don’t.
“This is a neighborhood that has a proud history,” he said.
Buicko, too, expressed hope that the presence of two dozen new homes will inspire neighbors to make their own upgrades. He said the new homes will be part of a housing association, which as part of its bylaws will prohibit owners from renting the homes out. This is to keep them invested in the neighborhood as well as in the house itself.
“The backbone of our community is our neighborhoods,” Buicko said to applause. “We need to invite more people to live in this community.”
A leader of one of the financial institutions involved in the project, Bill Faubion, of NBT Bank, said the Live-In Schenectady project can be a model for every city in upstate New York because each one has the same three key elements: Blighted areas, business leaders and community banks.
The project's investors are: HB Housing Group, Friend of the Community, Galesi Management Group, Civco Live in Schenectady, NBT, Neil and Jane Golub, DRL Schenectady Housing, Re4orm Architecture, Precision Industrial Maintenance, Schenectady Hardware & Electric, Jackson Demolition, The Gazette, Capital Region Gaming, Northeastern Fine Jewelry and LeChase Construction. Union College is also supporting the venture, but as a donor rather than an investor.
“I don’t think anyone hesitated when we passed the hat around,” Buicko said. “And these were not small checks.”
The banks supporting the effort are NBT, Capital Bank, Ballston Spa National Bank, Pioneer Bank and Kinderhook Bank.
Daily Gazette Publisher John DeAugustine described the money as an investment in the newspaper’s hometown.
“The Daily Gazette is excited to support an effort to build housing that is affordable and help revitalize a piece of our local community,” he said.