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Hamilton Hill demolitions to resume

Hamilton Hill demolitions to resume

Work will clear sites for $40M in housing construction later this year
Hamilton Hill demolitions to resume
The former St. Columba's School is part of The Community Builders' revitalization project.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — An intermission for the $62 million Community Builders residential project in Schenectady’s Hamilton Hill neighborhood will end later this month, as demolition of blighted properties resumes.

It’s not cold weather or snow that put the work on hiatus, but navigating the complicated web of financing that underlies the whole project.

Phase I of the redevelopment by The Community Builders cost $22 million, the major portion of which went for conversion of the Horace Mann and St. Columba’s school buildings into the Hillside View Apartments and Electric City Barn.

Phase II entails demolition of 22 buildings and construction of 85 housing units at cost of $40 million.

Construction of Phase I is done, and it is fully occupied. Construction of Phase II has yet to start.

Jennica Huff, senior project manager for the Boston-based nonprofit housing developer, said only about a third of the structures Community Builders targeted in Phase II have been demolished, while financing was being lined up and due diligence performed on the properties. However, that has now progressed to the point where demolition should resume by the end of February.

Huff said balancing the high cost of the Phase II construction with the low rents that will be charged to many of the intended residents requires no fewer than 13 sources of financing.

“There are a lot of moving pieces,” she said. “We have assembled quite a bit of the financing to date. We’re working on the last pieces of the finances, and we are looking at having a complete finance assembly by June and starting construction by June-July.”

With $1 million here and $1 million  there, the money adds up. M&T Bank this week announced it would sponsor a $2 million grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York Affordable Housing Program. The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s Homeless Housing Assistance Program announced a $3.3 million grant in December.

One might look at a work site and think construction is the hardest part of a project. And it is, physically. But Huff said lining up money and complying with the requirements attached to it has been a major undertaking -- one that has to be completed before the physical work can begin.

One of the structures The Community Builders had to acquire was a zombie property, she said.

“Clearing the title alone took an extraordinary amount of effort and time," she said.

Combining all of the necessary parcels under singular ownership was another marathon task.

By contrast, demolition of a large and prominent eyesore at the corner of Albany and Paige streets last summer was a bit of finality that brought a moment of great satisfaction, she said, because “our neighbors were cheering us on.”

Huff said another point of pride for her and The Community Builders is playing a role in the construction of a new $13 million Boys & Girls Club facility — the company bought the old clubhouse on Craig Street (the St. Columba’s building) as part of the Hamilton Hill project and contributed tax credits toward construction of its replacement.

“The Boys & Girls Club represents the largest investment in the youth of Schenectady ever,” she said.

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