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Businesses cope with Schenectady train station construction

Businesses cope with Schenectady train station construction

Katie O'Byrnes among those affected
Businesses cope with Schenectady train station construction
Traffic passes in front of work at the Amtrak station site and Katie O'Byrnes Restaurant on Friday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- Construction of the Schenectady Amtrak station has taken a toll on nearby businesses, including Katie O’Byrnes Irish Pub & Restaurant.

But it’s a toll pub co-owner John Keller said they’re willing to pay.

“We can’t complain one bit,” Keller said. “We’ve been getting weekly emails or phone calls about the big projects and how they’re going to affect us well in advance.”

Construction of the rail station started in January and is expected to be complete by Nov. 1. It is the second phase of the two-phase project, which is being done by Plattsburgh-based Murnane Building Contractors under a $10.4 million contract.

The previous phase was the demolition of the former station, which was done under a $5.4 million contract by Bette & Cring of Latham. That work included repairs to the elevated viaduct that brings the tracks through downtown.

Katie O’Byrnes has seen a drop in its daytime business -- more than 50 percent drop in lunch-hour revenue compared with last year, Keller said.

He blames it on limited parking, with train travelers taking up spaces near the pub. Customers of the neighboring KeyBank and H&R Block locations are also regularly looking for parking near the pub around the lunch hour.

There is also a lot of construction dust in the air and noise, which Keller said has rendered the pub's outdoor patio useless during the day.

On top of that, the pub must also still be accessible to delivery and garbage trucks during the day.

“It creates chaos,” Keller said. “There’s a lot.”

It has unfortunately caused potential pub customers to avoid the area during the day, Keller said. Many people are looking to get a quick bite, either during lunch hour or before a matinee at Proctors on Thursdays. With the construction and tight parking, some opt to go to a different place to eat, Keller said.

“People have an hour, which includes going back and forth [from the pub]. Sometimes, those couple of minutes hurt.”

It has caused the pub to modify its operations. 

Keller has reduced the number of people working during the day. The pub has also reduced the amount of food it buys for some of the more popular lunch items, such as salads, sandwiches and soups.

There has been an uptick in the restaurant’s dinner business, though. Keller said that's because neighboring businesses close in the afternoon and construction work comes to an end, freeing up parking and allowing for outdoor seating.

Keller said he is not at all frustrated by the construction. 

Both the Metroplex Development Authority, which owns the parking lot, and the state Department of Transportation -- the state agency overseeing the train station project -- are in constant contact with the businesses.

“It’s a temporary setback, but they have given us more than enough time to prepare,” Keller said.

Metroplex Executive Director Jayme Lahut said his agency has hired consulting firm T Wilson & Associates, under a $65,000 contract, to sit in on weekly meetings with Murnane and Amtrak officials. 

“When we get the results of the meeting, we contact the tenants, as well as the owner of the building,” Lahut said. “So, we try to manage the expectation of the work going on.”

There are additional parking options operated by Metroplex that Lahut wants the public to know about. They include a lot on Liberty Street behind the former Department of Motor Vehicles building and a lot across the street from the train station, at 221 Liberty St.

Each is monitored by LAZ parking, a management company contracted by Metroplex, that provides an attendant to regulate the flow of traffic in the lots.

The train station project is on schedule, according to DOT spokesman Bryan Viggiani. He said the agency has been doing what it can to accommodate nearby businesses.

“DOT engineers in charge of the project are in continual contact with the neighboring businesses and are always available to talk with business owners,” Viggiani said in an email. “We appreciate the public’s patience while we complete the transformative project in downtown Schenectady,”

Keller understands the improved train station will be beneficial to the city. In fact, he was already talking about plans to expand his outdoor patio -- either on the first level or building another one above the existing patio.

“It absolutely works out better in the long run,” Keller said.

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