CAPITAL REGION — A potentially transformative housing project on Eastern Avenue in Schenectady and new apartments in Saratoga Springs have been awarded state funding that will allow construction to begin this year.
However, developers of the largest project proposed in decades in the city of Amsterdam didn’t get the tax credits they sought, and now must find another source of funding.
The Renaissance Square project in Schenectady will bring 30 new apartments to Eastern Avenue and put 25 units in a long-disused parochial school a stone’s throw away on Irving Street, at a combined cost of $19 million. The $4.37 million in state funding announced Friday was the critical piece of the financing package that allows the project to go forward; groundbreaking is planned later this year.
Rochester-based Home Leasing is the developer of the project, in cooperation with the city, Schenectady County, county Metroplex Development Authority, Better Neighborhoods Inc. and the Capital Region Land Bank.
Land Bank Chairman Richard Ruzzo was effusive Friday after the state Homes & Community Renewal’s 2018 Unified Funding awards were made public.
“What a fantastic announcement that is!” he said. “Thank you, Gov. Cuomo!”
Soon after its formation in 2013, he said, the Land Bank began working to improve the Eastern Avenue corridor and has since completed multiple demolitions of derelict properties. This has created some momentum that has triggered private-sector investments.
“For sure this is the largest development project so far,” Ruzzo said of Renaissance Square.
The project is named for Renaissance Hall, the imposing former St. Mary’s Church repurposed as an event venue by Sandi Vardine. Ruzzo and other development officials have said Renaissance Hall was a critical first step in revitalization of the corridor.
Vardine also put a new roof on the St. Mary’s School while pursuing plans [since dropped] to buy it and renovate it herself. The roof quite likely saved the historic school building from irreversible decay, Ruzzo said. It shows the effects of vandalism and neglect but remains a sturdy structure.
All local approvals are in place for Renaissance Square. It will entail demolition of three vacant buildings across Eastern Avenue from Renaissance Hall and will include a small amount of commercial space along with the 55 affordable apartments.
Meanwhile, a few blocks down Eastern Avenue, conversion of the former Annie Schaffer Center into 30 market-rate apartments at a cost of $6 million is nearly complete. Further up Eastern Avenue, a developer that has converted former school buildings in Rotterdam and Averill Park to apartments is proposing a similar project at the vacant Elmer Avenue School.
The Promenade at Saratoga is the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority’s plan to build 63 rental units next door to the authority’s Stonequist Apartments at a cost of $14 million to $15 million.
The project would not have been possible without the $3.98 million in state funding. Groundbreaking may happen as early as October.
Paul Feldman, executive director of the Housing Authority, on Friday said the planning is essentially complete but architectural and site plans still must be finalized, now that the grants are secured. He had expected to hear about the grants in April, which would have allowed an October groundbreaking.
“That still may be the case, I’ll know for sure in the coming weeks when we get together with our development partners,” he said. “We would not have been doing this project without these grants.”
The housing authority has two other major initiatives underway, Feldman said: It’s adding 24 units at Jefferson Terrance and Vanderbilt Terrace with $3.2 million from the state’s HOME program and is preparing to renovate its existing housing units in partnership with the private sector under a rental assistance demonstration program with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“There’s a lot going on,” he said. “It’s a good thing for Saratoga.”
In Amsterdam, the Chalmers Mill Lofts project is proposed on the Mohawk River’s south bank where the hulking textile factory of the same name once stood. The commercial/retail project would create 120 housing units at a cost of $34 million.
More than that, it would attempt to bring new life and economic activity to the South Side neighborhood, sitting as it would at the foot of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge.
A spokesman for developer KCG Companies said the company had been seeking $1.8 million a year in affordable housing tax credits for 10 years. Sale of these credits to investors would have been an important part of the financing package, and that gap must now be filled if the project is to proceed.
“We are so proud of all that we’ve accomplished over the past year to bring awareness and drive community support for Chalmers Mill Lofts,” Stacy Kaplowitz, KCG’s vice president of development, said via email Friday. “This was a highly competitive process, and while we didn’t get the funding we had worked so hard for, our efforts are far from done. We remain committed to the project, the community and being good partners to all stakeholders involved. We will use the coming weeks to assess our financial options and ways to attract the needed support to deliver this quality, transformative environment.”
Along with the Saratoga and Schenectady projects, funding was announced Friday for two other Capital Region projects: $2.4 million for a 28-unit project in the Albany County town of Coeymans and $4.5 million for a 72-unit project in Glens Falls.
Statewide, $175.4 million is being provided to build or preserve about 2,200 affordable apartments and, in the process, revitalize the surrounding communities.
It is all part of the state’s Housing Plan, a five-year, $20 billion effort to build or preserve 100,000 units of affordable housing and 6,000 units of supportive housing.
“These critical investments will strengthen communities in every corner of the state by creating and preserving affordable homes for families, veterans, seniors and some of our most vulnerable neighbors,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a news release. “By strategically revitalizing neighborhoods throughout New York, we can breathe new life into these communities, making them more vibrant places to live for generations to come.”