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Former Edison Tech Center to be cleaned up, redeveloped

Former Edison Tech Center to be cleaned up, redeveloped

Distinctive facade is crumbling, expansive exterior is filled with junk
Former Edison Tech Center to be cleaned up, redeveloped
The exterior of the former Edison Tech Club at 132 Broadway in Schenectady is shown.
Photographer: John Cropley/Gazette Business Editor

SCHENECTADY — Two more time-worn pieces of the downtown Schenectady landscape are in line for facelifts and new purpose.

The former Skypes Carpet building at 136 Broadway and the former Daily Gazette printing press building at 132 Broadway most recently held the Edison Tech Center and Electric City Bike Rescue. 

Both buildings had been owned by Edison Tech, which has relocated its collection of artifacts to The Daily Gazette building on Maxon Road Extension. The Bike Rescue is still looking for a new home.

Ownership of the two Broadway buildings reverted to the city in late July, and the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority is leading the effort to redevelop them on the city’s behalf.

Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said the buildings' rundown facades are a detriment to the downtown streetscape. The immediate area around them has benefited from tens of millions of dollars worth of improvements over the past 10 to 15 years, while no apparent work was done on the Edison Tech properties.

The distinctive — and locally uncommon — pressed zinc facade of 132 Broadway was a particular concern, as it continued to deteriorate.

“We feel much better about the future of the building, now that it’s in our hands,” Gillen said. “The goal is to get the facade fixed up as soon as possible.”

Schenectady firefighters in July removed a piece of the metal facade that was judged to be at risk of falling. An inspection of the remainder -- performed on Tuesday with an elevated lift -- determined it is stable, Gillen said.

Along with the facades, a lot of work remains to be done inside.

Tons of debris and mostly broken historic items that never went on display litter every level and will have to be hauled out. Gillen said there is asbestos and mold, and possibly also some contamination in the ground from fluids leaked by the old printing press.

The windows will be papered over, the facade will be fixed up, and then options for redevelopment will be studied and proposals sought, Gillen said. With the large windows, abundant natural light and high ceilings, the upstairs space would be an ideal candidate for commercial or residential space in the popular industrial chic style, he said. 

The ground-floor storefronts are just a few steps to the thriving downtown State Street strip.

Extensive modifications will be needed in at least part of the building: The two-story well where the old printing press stood, behind street-level plate-glass windows, is still a gaping maw. The old warehouse areas upstairs are much closer to usable space.

TROUBLED HISTORY

The city sold the buildings to the Edison Tech Center in 2005 for $1 each.

Bill Kornrumpf, treasurer of the organization, said the buildings were in terrible condition at the time, unsecured with leaking roofs, standing water in the basement and infiltration by vagrants, birds and animals. He said Edison Tech spent nearly $1 million improving and repairing the structures, and the assessed value of the buildings reflects this. 

The 2018 assessment roll puts 132 Broadway at $697,700, while the much-smaller 136 Broadway was valued at $265,100 — or nearly $1 million combined. 

Nonetheless, even a casual glance from the street reveals the buildings are not in great shape, and that is the heart of the matter: The impact on the downtown landscape. Most surrounding structures are distinctly new and shiny in comparison.

Gillen said Edison Tech declined a Metroplex offer of a facade improvement grant. Under that offer, rather than the usual 50-50 split with property owners, Metroplex would have covered 75 percent of the project cost.

The city became disenchanted with Edison Tech and eventually sued to get the buildings back, saying the organization had not lived up to the terms of the purchase agreement, which called for the buildings to be brought up to code. 

As part of a settlement, Kornrumpf said, the city gave Edison Tech two months to vacate and $250,000 to move out.

That wasn’t enough time or money, he said, and the large amount of junk cluttering the buildings reflects this.

“We told the city how long it would take to get out and how much money it would take to do the job, and they thought our estimate was incorrect,” he said. “They didn’t ask us for a clean building — they just wanted us out.”

So instead of clean buildings, the city got buildings cluttered with castoffs.

Some of the material heaped up — a lawn chair, pallets, pieces of drywall — are garden-variety junk. Some things — such as the box for a Hello Kitty Bonus Set, contents unknown — have no obvious connection to historic technology. 

But some items — an antique round-screen television, old ovens and console radios — might seem odd choices to discard, as they are historic artifacts.

Kornrumpf explained that some of those items are duplicates of other, better examples of the tech in the collection, or they were stripped for parts or are tangential to the mission of the museum, which is to show what electricity has done for society and how it changed people’s lives.

As for Hello Kitty … that’s an unintentional illustration of the scientific principle that matter expands to fill the space available to it.

A lot of unwanted donations that should have been discarded were not, Kornrumpf acknowledged. But because the Edison Tech Center had so much storage space upstairs from the display area, he said, donated items were stowed rather than thrown away.

Also contributing to the clutter, he said, a number of projects were started and never finished, and the parts also never got thrown away.

Where the organization goes from here is uncertain, Kornrumpf said. He said the new space at The Daily Gazette building is a better home than he might have expected to find, but it’s not ideal, and may not be permanent. 

However, the configuration of the L-shaped space could support limited displays, he said, once the organization sorts through its hastily packed and relocated collection.

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