The state’s new call center is up and running in ViaPort Rotterdam with hundreds of employees, bringing new activity to the rebounding mall.
About $8 million worth of work on a portion of the former Macy’s store was completed Friday, equipment was moved in Saturday and Sunday, and the employees reported to their new workplace Monday.
The state has relocated approximately 400 workers there from Albany and has room for up to 300 more during seasonal surges. It's a Department of Taxation and Finance call center, but as part of a consolidation of call centers, it will take calls for other agencies as well. The Consolidated Contact Center, as it is dubbed, accounts for about 70,000 square feet of the 120,000-square-foot Macy’s footprint. The other 50,000 square feet, divided into two sections at this point, will be converted to office space as well, when tenants are signed.
In 2015, Macy’s vacated the store, which is physically part of the mall but had been held under different ownership. Turkish-based Via Properties purchased the former Rotterdam Square mall in 2015, bought the Macy’s space in 2016, and set about revitalizing the faded circa-1988 facility as ViaPort Rotterdam.
ViaPort spokesman Alan Fanitzi said malls across the nation are having to reinvent themselves as more than shopping centers, and adding office space is one part of the strategy to make ViaPort Rotterdam a shop-work-play destination.
“We really wanted to make it a community center,” he said. “We were thrilled to have the Macy’s space filled.”
ViaPort added an aquarium and an entertainment venue as part of the strategy, and credits them with helping revitalize the mall. Excluding the big box spaces, the mall stands at 82 percent occupancy.
The mall lost the second of its three big-box anchor stores, Sears, in 2016. It’s actively pursuing uses for that space, as well, either a single big tenant or multiple smaller tenants.
(The third anchor store, a Big Kmart, remains in operation.)
The Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority is helping ViaPort market the two smaller remaining spaces in the former Macy’s footprint as well as the Sears space. It also helped orchestrate the deal for the call center to relocate from the Harriman Office Campus in Albany, and provided a $970,000 subsidy for the renovations that would be needed to make that possible.
Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said a bit of work and salesmanship was needed to make the project happen, but the plan came together very quickly.
The state in 2016 requested proposals for 70,000 to 80,000 square feet of office space with room for 700 employees and adjacent free parking for them. Gillen contacted ViaPort, which readily agreed to the idea but said it had no corporate experience developing office space. So the Galesi Group came on as the developer and took a long-term lease on the space.
“We had the team together in a day,” Gillen said.
After a few pitches, state officials warmed to the idea of office space in a mall. It’s not uncommon -- malls around the nation are being repurposed for things other than shopping, including schools, greenhouses and sports facilities. Ford Motor Company this spring moved 1,800 workers into a mall in suburban Detroit on a 10-year lease as it overhauls its own buildings.
ViaPort installed a new roof and Galesi Group spent about $8 million refitting the space below, including a new ventilation system and a gas-fired emergency generator.
It’s a secure facility, as potentially sensitive tax data is handled by employees inside.
Fanitzi said the mall gains a lot of potential foot traffic from its new tenant, which helps continue its revitalization. “We noticed the change immediately,” he said Wednesday, two days after the new tenants moved in.
Gillen said the state workers gain the popular open-floor environment with easy access to bus service and the interstate highway. For workers driving in from the west, the mall space will provide a shorter, less congested commute than going into Albany.
It also complies with the state’s Smart Growth strategy, which encourages development in areas with existing infrastructure, he said, and he credited the town of Rotterdam with expediting the approval process. With few exterior changes to an existing site for a non-controversial purpose, there was not much to review.
The sign designating the former Macy’s as a new state call center was installed Wednesday.
Taxation and Finance is seeking seasonal full-time employees for the Rotterdam facility, wages for which will be in the $15-per-hour range. The agency will be conducting on-site recruiting from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday.