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The continuing evolution of Erie Boulevard

The continuing evolution of Erie Boulevard

Decrepit landmark to be demolished, contaminated site to be auctioned, pedestrian tunnel to reopen
The continuing evolution of Erie Boulevard
View of the tunnel that connects Erie Blvd. to North Jay St. Seen from Erie Blvd. side.
Photographer: Gazette file photograph

SCHENECTADY — One major eyesore on Erie Boulevard is coming down, and judgment day is approaching for another. 

Plans were announced last week to demolish the long-vacant and crumbling building that previously housed Grossman’s Bargain Outlet; the structure dates to the 1880s.

Also this past week, a preview was posted online for a May auction of the long-vacant and crumbling former Coyne Textile Services building, across the boulevard from the former Grossman’s site.

And plans were announced -- also last week -- to knock down a small building between two larger structures and replace it with a pedestrian path linking Mohawk Harbor with the downtown area through a circa-1907 tunnel under the train tracks.

The developments follow $25 million worth of repairs and upgrades in recent years for Erie Boulevard.

Here are details about what's going on:

COYNE BUILDING

The 27,500-square-foot building formerly occupied by Coyne has been vacant for years. It apparently was bought at a bankruptcy liquidation auction when Coyne ceased operations; the owner is Newton Falls Pine Paper Co. LLC, which has a Delaware address.

The building had been offered for sale for some time by Cronin Real Estate NY, a commercial agency based in Latham. It was listed for $650,000 in 2017 and $300,000 earlier this year but apparently drew no viable offers, perhaps due to soil and groundwater contamination from the commercial laundry that Coyne operated there and a gas station that once operated next door.

On Tuesday, Ten-X Commercial listed it for online auction May 29-31, with a minimum bid of $50,000. Martin McDermott, senior vice president of the Syracuse commercial real estate firm, said it will be aggressively marketed in the weeks to come.

The marketing package directly addresses the ground contamination and suggests it won’t be a significant obstacle to redevelopment. Ten-X also suggests the buyer’s best course of action might be demolition.

More than $61,000 in city, county and school property taxes are due from 2016 and 2017 on the main portion of the site, 1435 Erie Blvd. A $3,704.44 quarterly 2018 payment due Jan. 16 went unpaid, and the next is due April 16. A small attached parcel at 318 Front St., which is part of the auction offering, also has two years of unpaid taxes, but each of those bills is only a few hundred dollars.

FREIGHT DEPOT

Across the street from the Coyne site, Massachusetts petroleum company Global Partners will lease 1410 Erie Blvd. from Legere Properties. If the city approves the plan, Global will demolish the 130-year-old railroad freight depot-turned-lumber yard that stands there now and build an Alltown convenience store, with six gas pumps outside, at a cost of several million dollars.

The Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority helped broker the deal after Legere Properties was unable over the course of eight years to sell the building for restoration and reuse.

Co-owner Ray Legere said the long, slender building’s main bearing beams are broken and rotting because the structure was built with a makeshift foundation that started to fail long ago. 

The previous owner did a stopgap repair that is now also failing.

“There’s a forest of stilts, little jacks under there,” Legere said of the crawlspace under the building.

To save the structure, it would need to be lifted off the ground so a new foundation could be built, a hugely expensive proposition that no buyer or tenant wanted to take on.

Legere is a fan of preservation — his company also owns the circa-1936 Schenectady Armory and three large repurposed office buildings on Erie Boulevard near the Grossman’s and Coyne buildings. But each of those is generating cash flow. The former Grossman’s has not for the eight years it has been a Legere property.

TUNNEL TRAIL

Legere, Metroplex and Global are collaborating to build the missing link of what’s being called the Alco Tunnel Trail.

It’s basically a bike-pedestrian route from State Street in the heart of downtown through the Jay Street pedestrian mall and Little Italy on Jay Street, before passing through a circa-1907 pedestrian tunnel behind the Grossman’s Building. The trail would then cross Erie Boulevard at a new crosswalk and continue to the various attractions of Mohawk Harbor.

The 300 or so feet from Jay Street to Erie Boulevard is the missing link: The tunnel is sealed at both ends, with gates and a vacant former upholstery shop the size of a one-family house standing in the way.

Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said the former upholstery shop will be demolished, the gates will be removed, lights will be added in the tunnel, and the pathway will be beautified with greenery.

“We don’t have a dollar figure yet,” he said, but it’s not expected to be a large sum, as most of the work is already done. Lights, signs and landscaping are the major missing pieces.

The tunnel (which may have been a walkway for workers at the Alco locomotive plant) is solid after 111 years, and the new crosswalk was built -- a safe distance from the Nott/Erie roundabout -- as part of the Erie Boulevard reconstruction.

“[City Engineer] Chris Wallin did a great job planning ahead,” Gillen added.

The Alco Tunnel Trail will become part of a growing network of foot and bike paths in the area: The new Alco Heritage Trail runs through Mohawk Harbor (formerly the Alco factory site), and the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Path runs east all the way to Cohoes and Albany. Still on the drawing board is a way to extend trails to the west.

“The goal is to try to connect it to Riverside Park and then go from there into [Schenectady County Community College],” Gillen said. For now, at least, bicyclists can ride between Mohawk Harbor and the bike path entrance at SCCC by following bike-path signs on Stockade streets.

THE BOULEVARD

Erie Boulevard itself, from Interstate 890 to the Mohawk River, has undergone an extensive upgrade over the past decade. 

Wallin estimated that just the three most recent segments totaled $25 million: The stretch from I-890 to State Street cost $15 million to overhaul. The Nott/Erie roundabout and associated work cost $4 million, and the 2017 reconstruction between Union and Nott Streets cost $6 million, including water and sewer work.

The other two segments — Union Street to State Street and Nott Street to the Mohawk River — also have been repaved.

Wallin said the work is mostly done, but for some finishing touches.

“We have the permanent striping [to do],” he said. Also, the crosswalk needs to be finished, the bases where the old street lights stood need to be touched up, and the new plantings need to be checked on, if spring ever begins."

In other developments, the city has illuminated the sidewalks under the Erie Boulevard railroad bridge. It is still in the planning stage for decorative lighting on the steelwork above. The side streets around Morette’s Steakhouse will get the repaving they badly need, but not until the demolition work and construction work are done on the former Grossman’s site. And the old retaining wall near the railroad bridge may be rebuilt, if its ownership can ever be established.

Wallin has contacted four railroads, and none will claim it. One of them is likely the corporate successor to the railroad company that built the wall. 

“I’ve kind of gotten the runaround from these companies,” he said.

In the interim, Wallin organized a project to push the hillside back where it had sloughed onto the sidewalk. It’s a nuisance, not a danger, he said, but if it ever becomes a danger, the city would take a harder stance to get one of the railroads to stabilize it.

Otherwise, the smooth pavement, improved traffic engineering and decorative lighting on Erie Boulevard all are part of the larger picture of an improving city, he said.

“Schenectady has got a lot of momentum right now.”

THE APARTMENTS

Next door to the Coyne Building — cheek-to-jowl with it, in fact — a new 52-unit apartment building is all but complete.

Developer Dennis Fusco said Colonial Commons will be done May 1, and the first tenants will move in June 1. Topsoil was laid down last week, and landscaping will be done over the next week or two. The project price tag has totaled $5 million.

He’s had interest from prospective tenants but hasn’t been signing leases until he can guarantee a move-in date. He’s at that point now and will begin leasing shortly.

The apartments are in eight different configurations, ranging from 735 to 1,125 square feet. Rents start at $1,150 a month for one-bedroom units to $1,400 for two-bedroom units.

Fusco is very close to the new Mohawk Harbor development and said all the development there has exceeded his hopes.

“I’m very impressed with the job they did.”

He’s also greatly pleased with the roadwork that has been done — “I love the Erie Boulevard streetscape” — notwithstanding his dispute with the city over the limitations the streetwork's design puts on access to his new apartment building. 

And he thinks the demolition of the former Grossman’s building will be a huge improvement.

There’s just one problem remaining:

“We have to do something with the Coyne building,” Fusco said. He might even buy it himself, if he doesn't have to pay for the mess there.

“I have interest in it if I can get some public funding for the cleanup as well as the demolition.”

He added: “Our goal is just to get it down. I don’t have any intentions of building anything.”

The building itself is beyond saving, he added. 

“It’s an odd shape, it’s kind of Z-shaped. The building covers the whole lot. It’s a hard shape to do anything with.”

THE OFFICES

Legere Properties also has a history of being in the right place at the right time.

Along with the former Grossman’s building, it owns two warehouse buildings off Front Street, just west of Rivers Casino, and it owns three office buildings at 1462, 1473 and 1482 Erie Blvd. A distinctive pedestrian bridge over Erie Boulevard connects 1473 and 1482.

The three office buildings total about 100,000 square feet, and with the relocation of the Wink customer support center from Center City to 1482 Erie Blvd., the complex is 90 percent occupied. There remains the normal ebb and flow of tenants — 8,000 square feet will soon be vacated — but there is also a lot of interest in the space.

“Some X factor makes them want to come here,” said Ray Legere, adding that he and his cousin Jeff Legere began to acquire all that property long before Mohawk Harbor was even conceived, in the belief that it would be a good investment.

“Before Mohawk Harbor, we had moderate interest. Things were coming back across the board -- in the country, in the county, in the city. I’d like to take credit for great insight, but it’s dumb luck.”

Legere, too, is a fan of the Erie Boulevard overhaul.

“I met people today from out of town and they were shocked,” he said Tuesday.

The revised traffic pattern has been a give-and-take that Legere has been happy to make. He now has to drive an extra 60 seconds to the roundabout if he wants to go west from his office at 1462 Erie Blvd. But he also gained a small new parking lot and lost a source of traffic congestion when the north end of North Jay Street was permanently walled off.

“We made a lot of concessions that I’m not sure anyone appreciates, in terms of traffic flow,” Legere said. “I’m not whining; I did it happily.”

THE FUTURE

Other major projects on Erie Boulevard still in the works include the new train station and the new Electric City Apartments, both under construction now at or near State Street.

The old Masonic Temple, also at State and Erie, will be redeveloped as well.

“We have more coming,” said Metroplex Chairman Gillen. “Deals are close for investments.”

The stretch between I-890 and State Street is still ripe for redevelopment, he added. “We certainly have some work to do there.”

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