SCHENECTADY — Plans for tens of millions of dollars in renovation and renewal projects for Capital Region downtowns are getting a boost from several state grants.
Four old buildings in downtown Schenectady, performing arts facilities in Albany and Saratoga Springs, and a crumbling former meat-packing plant in Colonie are in line for the funding. Farther west, Canajoharie will get the largest grant in the state — $6 million — to help convert the derelict Beech-Nut baby food factory for reuse, while Johnstown and Gloversville will get lesser amounts to revitalize old buildings in their downtowns.
The grants were announced Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office as part of Round 5 of the Restore New York Communities Initiative. The program will funnel $81 million to 71 communities statewide.
Projects in economically distressed communities were given priority consideration.
Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said four buildings in the heart of downtown Schenectady will benefit from a $1.8 million grant:
- The old Ter Bush and Powell Insurance building at 148 Clinton St. will be turned into retail and residential space.
- The old Masonic temple at the corner of State Street and Erie Boulevard will be vacated by a substance abuse treatment agency and converted into retail-commercial-residential space.
- The former county Department of Motor Vehicles office at 267 State St. will become part of the New York BizLab, a business incubator next door.
- The former Stockade View Apartments at State and Ferry streets, originally Breslaw’s Department Store, is being converted to residential and commercial space as part of the Mill Artisan District.
Metroplex had sought $2 million through the Restore New York program but will split the $1.8 million it received among the four projects. The money will be held by the city of Schenectady and paid out to the various developers when their work nears completion.
Gillen said the $1.8 million grant is a small but important part of the financing for the four projects, which will have a total price tag in excess of $20 million. The grants, he said, will allow the developers to leverage other financing to proceed with their work
To the east, one of the most prominent vacant buildings in the Capital Region — the former Tobin First Prize Center on the Albany-Colonie border — will be demolished with the help of $1 million in Restore New York funds.
A generation of motorists passing on Interstate 90 has seen the hulking plant at Everett Road only as an eyesore, but until 1981, it was a slaughterhouse and meat processing plant with a workforce in the hundreds.
Everything on the 32-acre site will be demolished, said Bill Hoblock, executive vice president of Richbell Capital, which is under contract to buy the site and expects to close within 90 days, now that the grant has been awarded. Crucial cooperative agreements between the city of Albany and the town of Colonie also are in place, allowing the developer to work with just one municipal regulatory body, instead of two.
Hoblock said $1 million won’t cover all or even most of the cost of demolition of the main building, where the concrete walls are 5 feet thick in places. But the grant is an important step toward creating a mixed-use development there.
“There is absolutely nothing worth saving on that site,” he said. “To say it’s a monstrosity is an understatement.”
Hoblock noted the odd coincidence in Monday’s Restore New York grant announcements: Two derelict food production facilities, both hulking along Interstate 90 but 50 miles apart, will benefit from demolition grants.
“Beech-Nut and First Prize — it’s two of the biggest eyesores in the region.”
THE GLOVE CITIES
Ron Peters, president of the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth, said a $750,000 grant will help renovate the old City National building in downtown Gloversville for reuse, possibly as a restaurant.
A $1 million grant will help convert the former Diana Knitting Mill in downtown Johnstown into mixed-used space for a local leather company and future office tenants.
“That’s going to be a nice shot in the arm for downtown Johnstown,” Peters said. “They were two good deals.”
The Beech-Nut grant was hailed by local officials and by state legislators who have sought, often in vain, for assistance for their rural upstate regions.
“Upstate New York has been forgotten, many parts, particularly the Mohawk Valley region,” said Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam.
He is an advocate for smaller government and lower state spending but routinely supports this type of economic development spending in upstate New York. He said he has been working for a decade, starting when he was an assemblyman, to get help for Canajoharie with the factory complex.
“Between easy access to the Thruway, the availability of water and sewer capacities as well as the workforce, it is a big win for the county as well as the local people of Canajoharie,” he said.
Canajoharie’s representative in the Assembly, Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said in a prepared statement that the Canajoharie project and the Restore New York program are both winners.
“Identifying vacant and abandoned properties, and turning them into assets that reinvest in upstate communities is critically important to our success.”
Two Restore New York grants went to arts venues run by Proctors:
- In Saratoga Springs, $750,000 was awarded for redevelopment of the Universal Preservation Hall, a former church-turned-performance-venue/community center. The renovated facility will include an 800-seat theater, community event space, administrative offices and an elevator for increased handicapped accessibility.
- In Albany, $1.8 million was awarded for renovation of a vacant industrial building at 251 N. Pearl St. into the new, permanent home of Capital Repertory Theatre.
“We are genuinely thrilled that the city and Capitalize Albany chose our Capital Repertory Theatre project as a Restore New York candidate, and we are excited to move forward with making the REP a reality at Livingston Square,” Proctors CEO Philip Morris said in a news release.