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Apartments at Schenectady's most prominent intersection welcome first tenant

Apartments at Schenectady's most prominent intersection welcome first tenant

Electric City project has transformed corner of key intersection
Apartments at Schenectady's most prominent intersection welcome first tenant
The new Electric City Apartments is shown in downtown Schenectady at dusk on Thursday.
Photographer: John Cropley/Gazette Business Editor

SCHENECTADY — The first tenant moved into the Electric City apartments on Wednesday, three and a half years after work began on a project that’s transforming one corner of one of the most prominent intersections in Schenectady.

The final details are being completed in the residential portion of the $20 million building at State Street and Erie Boulevard, which includes 104 upscale apartments and a 117-space basement garage. Apartments on the Erie Boulevard side are in move-in condition in floors 2 through 4, and the ground-floor units will be ready later this month. Apartments on the State Street side will be done in 60 to 90 days.

There’s also 10,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space facing onto State Street, which will take longer to complete, as it must be customized for a tenant or tenants who’ve yet to be signed.

The project was a joint venture of Highbridge Development and Prime Companies; Prime is now handling the rental management, and had completed advanced leasing of about 10 percent of the units as of Thursday.

“We’re doing [the] punch list right now,” said John Roth, CEO of Highbridge. “There’s a lot of little odds and ends, some cleanup, some touchup that we’ll do over the next month. Because it’s a very big building.”

ENERGY EFFICIENT

Roth is also CEO of Plank Construction Services, which is the construction manager for the 145,000-square-foot project. He and Dean DeVito, senior partner of Prime, jointly led the project. They poured a lot of technology into it, particularly on energy-saving components.

Photos: Images from inside - and outside - of the new Electric City Apartments in Schenectady, April 7, 2019

One of the most noticeable of these is climate control: Each apartment has at least one wall-mounted ductless heating/cooling unit, most have two, and some have three. The slender white boxes run whisper-quiet and can be zoned and timed to heat or cool the bedrooms only when the occupants are asleep and the living areas only when they are awake.

Electric City Apartments/Downtown Schenectady Landmarks 05/05/19

“When you have ductwork in an apartment, you have to build soffits all over the place,” Roth said. “It really changes the look a little bit. By not having ductwork, you don’t have to move your utilities around, your light fixtures, your sprinklers. It is an easier solution to build.”

But the efficiency of operation was the bigger selling point than convenience of installation, he said.

“We looked at it, and we thought the heating units we put in are a more efficient system than the old systems.”

Electric heat has traditionally been more expensive than gas or oil, but Prime Companies Vice President Todd Curley said new technology has closed that cost gap.

“Some people, not knowing that technology, cringe when you mention it. And then you have to remind them not to think of the 1970s — it’s newer technology. We have a property in Cohoes, Hudson Square, we’ve had that technology there for two years. We haven’t had complaints about it, and I’ve been involved over there from the beginning.”

QUIET

Effort was also made to prevent one of the common problems of apartment living: noise intrusion.

Multiple sound-insulation measures are installed between each apartment, between floors, and even between rooms within apartments. Carpets are installed to provide additional sound deadening in every unit except the first-floor apartments, which are optimized for tenants with allergies (and which don’t have tenants below whose sounds need to be muffled).

Some other details: Washers and dryers are installed in every unit and there is a communal kitchen/clubhouse where tenants can host parties too large for their apartments.

Photos: Images from inside - and outside - of the new Electric City Apartments in Schenectady, April 7, 2019

It’s a pet-friendly property, and the canine residents were given consideration in the planning process: A rooftop dog patio is finished in artificial turf with two layers of drainage fabric below it to channel away rain, melted snow, and any other liquid that should happen to fall on it. (A scoop and bucket are provided for solid waste, and a hose for periodically freshening up the turf.)

There’s recreational space for the human residents, too: The clubhouse, an exercise room and an interior courtyard that will have fire pits, lounge chairs and a large-screen TV.

Apartments range from studio to two-bedroom, measure 683 to 2,583 square feet, and cost $1,245 to $2,995 a month. Rent includes one parking space, a mid-level cable TV package and WiFi service. Residents pay their own electric bill; there is no gas bill. Up to two pets are allowed per apartment, with a $600 damage deposit for each but no monthly surcharge. A handful of extra parking spaces will be available at $100 a month.

Some of the apartments will be offered as short-term or extended-stay residences with optional furnishings.

The target demographic?

“What we’re probably looking at here is a lot of empty-nesters and young professionals,” Curley said.

That first tenant matches this profile: He’s a thirty-something professional who moved here from another state for work and liked the idea of being in the heart of a walkable area with a lot going on nearby.

UNEXPECTED DELAY

As the project nears completion, there remains a very noticeable gap: A wedge of dirt formerly occupied by the landmark Nicholaus Building. The structure became unstable in April 2016 during demolition of a building next door to make way for Electric City and it sat cordoned off for safety purposes for a full year. 

In April 2017, it was determined to have further destabilized and the city ordered  it demolished on an emergency basis.

The restaurateurs who owned the turreted corner building charged that the demolitions for the Electric City project weakened the Nicholaus Building, which had stood for more than 150 years. They filed state and federal lawsuits against the city, the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority and multiple companies involved in the demolition.

Roth declined to comment on the matter because it is still in court.

The situation caused the Electric City project to drag out for more than three years: Six months of demolition and site prep, a 12-month hiatus while the fate of Nicholaus was debated, then about 20 months of actual construction.

“Other than that, it’s been a fantastic project,” Roth said.

“One thing that was difficult on this project is, we built property line to property line.”

So there was nowhere to stage supplies.

That shortage of space eased when the garage was complete, creating plenty of secure short-term storage. Pedestrians on State Street will notice some supplies sitting in the future storefront, which Prime and Highbridge are in negotiations to fill.

IMPACT ON NEIGHBORHOOD

The apartment house benefited from a $2.35 million state economic development grant and takes its place among a growing number of construction and renovation projects on lower State Street.

“We’re really happy with what’s going on down here,” Roth said. “With the brand-new train station, with [the Mill Artisan District] up the road, with what the guys did with the old MVP building, it’s really turned a corner. And I’ve been down here since 1999. I was one of the first investors.”

Gary Hughes, a longtime Schenectady resident and chairman of the County Legislature's Economic Development and Planning Committee, said the impact of Electric City and the other new apartment buildings in the heart of downtown could be considerable.

Photos: Images from inside - and outside - of the new Electric City Apartments in Schenectady, April 7, 2019

"I think having people living in significant number living downtown is going to be a remarkable thing for Schenectady," he said.

"I think there's a lot of us that were surprised that there was that much demand. Now that there is ... I think that's going to alter what happens downtown quite a bit."

Retail development could follow residential, he added.

Electric City occupies land where multiple businesses once stood. Standing across State Street, in front of the old Department of Motor Vehicles office, one would have seen, from left to right, the Olender mattress store, the former Robinson's Furniture building, and a smaller structure with BiMor Army & Navy on the ground floor.

Electric City was designed with a varied and staggered facade on State Street to give the appearance of a traditional downtown streetscape. It was given a second facade on the south side to present a better picture to motorists approaching downtown from Interstate 890.

THE NEXT STEP

Roth said Highbridge and Prime are gearing up for two more major projects just across the street from Electric City that will transform a second corner of the critical intersection, plus a smaller third project right next door to Electric City.

He’s preparing to close on the purchase of the former New Choices building at State and Erie and already owns several adjacent buildings stretching east on State Street toward the railroad bridge. He also owns a stretch of Erie Boulevard property that includes the derelict former Sears Roebuck building and the long-vacant Pentagon restaurant. 

Engineering and architectural proposals will be sought for both strips.

Just recently, he acquired two small buildings at 224 and 230 State St., adjacent to Electric City. They’ll be demolished and replaced with a standalone mixed-used structure.

Highbridge and Prime have an idea what they want to do with the site and already have received the proposals for it.

“This one here is going to be the first one that we do, because it’s the easiest and the smallest. I think we’re going to try to make the [design] award by the end of April,” Roth said Friday, standing on the sidewalk outside 230 State St.

“This building here is going to be a really cool, unique building.”

Photos: Images from inside - and outside - of the new Electric City Apartments in Schenectady, April 7, 2019

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