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Plans emerge for upper Union Street McDonald’s renovation in Schenectady

Plans emerge for upper Union Street McDonald’s renovation in Schenectady

Proposal tweaked following neighborhood feedback
Plans emerge for upper Union Street McDonald’s renovation in Schenectady
Steve Wilson, project engineer, talks about the proposed new McDonald’s restaurant at 1637 Union St.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY — Plans are moving forward for the demolition and replacement of a McDonald's restaurant on upper Union Street that would feature a sleeker, more modern design. 

The proposed 4,000-square-foot location will include a second drive-thru lane and would be located on the site of the existing building housing Mr. Wasabi and Simon’s Mens Wear, which will be demolished.

Project engineer Steven Wilson didn’t have a timeline for work to begin, but said project leaders would submit an application to the city Planning Commission soon.

“It’s an evolving process," Wilson told attendees at a meeting on Thursday designed to glean community feedback. "We haven’t submitted anything to the city yet, and we’re going to get feedback as we move through the process."

A previous meeting in late-September led to planners tweaking the proposal to address noise, traffic and siting concerns, he said.

Questions on Thursday largely revolved around those same issues. 

The proposed location would line up with the sidewalk on Union Street and retain the current ingress and egress on Dean Street.

The upgrade would boost the number of parking spots to 38 from 34, and the second drive-thru lane is expected to reduce idling times. 

“We will make the drive-thru much more efficient and cut down on queuing and stacking,” Wilson said.

Despite the lack of formal plans or renderings, opposition quickly mobilized around the project in June, with neighborhood residents questioning what an expanded McDonald's footprint might mean for the upper Union Street neighborhood, which prides itself on its pedestrian-friendly blend of businesses and restaurants. 

Posters even appeared on utility poles asking residents, “Is this the future you want for your neighborhood?”

Eric Wagner, an area construction manager for McDonald’s, said it’s difficult to pin down potential changes in traffic patterns because each McDonald's location is unique.

“It’s a tough question to answer accurately,” he said. 

But the meeting indicated previous concerns voiced by residents were largely tamped down, and attendees seemed generally accepting of the project.

“It’s certainly clear you took our feedback into consideration,” Alicia S. Deering said. 

Tom Carey, president of Schenectady United Neighborhoods, said neighborhood residents and businesses, including Upper Union Street Business Improvement District, weren't necessarily against the proposal, but rather wanted to ensure project leaders comply with the design standards for the district.

"We're not against business, but we want them to do it our way," he said. 

Laurie Bacheldor said she continued to harbor concerns over pedestrian safety, citing three pedestrian entry points.

“It's more of a risk than it was and that worries me,” Bacheldor said. 

The upgrade comes when McDonald's is in the midst of an aggressive campaign to remodel locations nationwide under a plan called "experience of the future."

In addition to physical changes, tech upgrades include touch-screen kiosks and use of Uber Eats delivery. 

Franchise owners John and Kathie Reeher, who recently completed similar upgrades at their Glenville location, did not deliver comments at the meeting, which was held in a conference room at Ellis Medicine Healthcare and sponsored by the 12309 Neighborhood Association 

Despite the more understated and muted look of the new restaurant, the distinctive McDonald’s golden arch sign will remain following renovations, but will likely need to be replaced at some point because it doesn’t comply with current zoning regulations.

If approved by the city Planning Commission, Wilson estimated construction will take three months.

“We have challenges and opportunities here, but we’ve listened to what you’ve said,” he said. 

The Reehers currently own the building that will be torn down. 

Both Simon’s Mens Wear and Mr. Wasabi remain open. Simon’s owner Michael Bernstein previously said his lease expires in 2020 as part of a long-standing agreement, while Mr. Wasabi will relocate to the site of the former Phillips Hardware, which is located nearby on Union Street.

Carey stressed the importance of residents continuing to share their input.

"The new restaurant will likely be there for two or three decades or more, and the corner of Union and Dean is probably the most important intersection in our community," he said in an email. "If we were a village, this would be the center of town."

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