SCHENECTADY — The old Schenectady Armory was built a half century before the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.
A few years into its new life as a performance/sports/event venue, it has finally caught up.
Alterations to the building’s exterior have been minimal, and its new name (“The Schenectady Armory Center”) is barely different from the old name, but the 65-foot, $500,000 elevator shaft is an important step toward its future.
“Previously, we really didn’t have a great way to allow people with limited mobility to get into the building,” said Ray Legere, a co-owner of the building through Legere Properties. “This way we now have a grade-level entrance.”
As with any big modification made to a circa-1936 building, there were some surprises during the project, he said. Turns out, alluvial silt from the Mohawk River underlies the entire area. The armory is stable and solid because it sits on massive concrete footings sitting atop hundreds of pilings. But digging out the base of the elevator shaft proved an almost endless task -- the loose soil poured into the hole nearly as quickly as it could be scooped out.
“We expected to use four yards of concrete. We used 14 yards, that’s how much silt came back in,” Legere said.
The roof and the climate control needed to be overhauled when Legere and his cousin Jeff made the winning bid on the armory at a state auction in 2012. But the building, with its 4-inch thick wooden doors and 26-inch thick brick walls, was itself in solid condition.
A harder task was figuring out what to do with the 86,000-square-foot Washington Avenue landmark.
Legere said he’s constrained by two things: He’s a contractor and real estate manager, not an event planner. And he wants to do right by the building and by the neighborhood, and not have the facility become a nuisance.
“Physical damage I can fix, reputation damage I can’t,” he said. “It’s really had to fix reputation. So we really stay involved in the planning process.”
Interest in the armory during the 2017-2018 season — 20,000 people attended events and sports teams ran steady practices on the great open floor through April — grew to the point that the owners hired an event planner.
“I’m really pleasantly surprised by the number of inquiries we’ve gotten in the last two to four months,” Legere said.
The highlight for him was a masquerade event last October to benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Capital Region, featuring among many other things a working 40-foot ferris wheel.
There aren’t many indoor venues with such a combination of height and width, Legere said.
“With a 50-foot ceiling, you can get creative. We have a lot of tricks up our sleeves. … If I don’t get a ‘Wow’ from people, I’ve failed, I really have.”
The armory is wedged in a tight corner against an Interstate 890 off-ramp, and parking on site is very limited, but the lack of space hasn’t been a problem, Legere said — the surrounding area has hundreds of parking spaces, and their owners have made them available in the off hours, when most events are held.
The problem is finding those parking spaces, especially for guests not accustomed to the traffic patterns.
“The parking is rather intricate, and it’s a learning curve to know how to direct people,” Legere said. “So we have our own team that greets people at the intersection.”
The Legeres have secured a liquor license and plan to install a prep kitchen, and they expect both steps to improve its versatility as an event venue. Still in the conceptual stage, waiting for the assistance and guidance of a partner, is a bump-out addition to serve as a gathering place. Such an atrium would provide a better event experience by offering a pre-event space to socialize and network, Legere said.
The basement is extensive but too cut-up and constricted to serve as an event space, he added, plus it simply doesn’t flow into the event space. An atrium would provide a natural flow and intermediate destination between street to main event.
“The pre-event space is critical to the success of the multipurpose event center,” Legere said.