SCHENECTADY — The cattle call is over for the scrum of private developers, non-profits, quasi-governmental agencies and city residents chomping at the bit for a chunk of $10 million in state economic development grant funding.
Proposals now being weighed by consultants and a panel of local decision-makers as part of the Schenectady Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) include requests for smaller, community-oriented public art projects like murals and statues.
But private developers have also offered several high-octane proposals that could potentially reshape downtown, including a proposal by Highbridge Prime Development — the players behind Electric City Apartments — for a “Lower State Street Parking Initiative,” which would raze buildings at 224-230 State Street and build a five-story mixed-use building with 17 apartments and 274 parking spaces.
Highbridge is seeking $3 million in state funding for the $8.2 million effort, according to project materials.
A coalition of government agencies and private developers are also seeking $550,000 for new lighting, sound equipment and bathroom facilities as part of a coordinated effort to boost outdoor events at Proctors, the Mill Artisan District and Mohawk Harbor.
The concepts presented last week by the consultants leading the Schenectady DRI were among the 16 received during an open submission process that ended Jan. 24.
Others requests include:
- Urban Initiatives Group LLC is seeking $300,000 for a $680,000 “Alchemy Urban Playground” which would repurpose structures along Erie Boulevard into four urban art studios, a retail gallery, event space and two maker spaces.
- L & S Realty wants $600,000 as part of a $2.4 million project to renovate the Cohn Building across from City Hall.
- Seasons Hospitality LLC and Redburn Development Partners are seeking $100,000 for a rooftop event space at the former Gazette Press Building on Broadway.
- Electric City Food Co-op wants $1.5 million for a proposed $4.2 million community-owned grocery market.
- The Irish Kids Restaurant Corporation (Katie O' Brynes) envisions using vacant space to build two commercial sport simulators and an outdoor deck complete with a stage, dining area and bar as part of a proposed “Family Entertainment Center.” They’re asking for $225,000 for the $300,000 project.
- Empire Edison Development LLC is seeking $400,000 to construct ADA-compliant elevators for improved access to the second floor of the same Wall Street Building and internal infrastructure improvements. The total project cost ranges between $703,000 and $868,000.
- Clarkson University is asking for $33,000 for signs and banners to promote their Capital Region Campus on Nott Terrace.
- First United Methodist Church and Stracher-Roth-Gilmore Architects are seeking $78,000 for a $107,618 project that would outfit the church spire with LED lights that change seasonally.
- Albany Barn wants $147,000 to cover the full scope of four large-scale art projects.
- The Chamber of Commerce and three residents have applied for $80,000 for a statue of inventor George Westinghouse at the corner of South Ferry Street and Erie Boulevard.
- 440 State St Inc, The Schenectady Foundation, Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation (DSIC) and others are asking for $60,000 for public art installations around Mohawk Harbor, Gateway Plaza and the Jay Street Marketplace, with total costs at $90,000.
The projects have a collective price tag of $19.4 million and seek $7.9 million in state subsidies.
The proposals mark the third batch of potential projects that will compete for Schenectady DRI funding, which was announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo at Proctors last November.
On the table are also several city-sponsored infrastructure projects, including re-opening the shuttered North Jay Street through Little Italy and mothballed Alco Tunnel Trail.
Both are designed to facilitate traffic between downtown and the Mohawk Harbor/Rivers Casino complex, a key element of the effort.
Schenectady DRI’s application also contains several projects by private developers that officials have flagged as potential funding opportunities, including a proposed aquatic center and separate retail complex at Mohawk Harbor — each have $30 million price tags — and redevelopment of the former Citizens Bank on State Street, the former Masonic Temple and the Coyne Textile Building on Erie Boulevard.
Planners are in the process of determining how much money developers can leverage from other sources and how much state funding will be required to further those efforts.
“On some of these, we’re very much there,” Steve Kearney, a consultant with the Boston-based branch of Stantec who is guiding the process. “Some of these we are racing to the finish to get as much information as we can.”
A group of 16 local decision-makers known as the Local Planning Committee (LPC) will be required to winnow down their preferred projects by March 20 and submit a list to the state Department of State for approval by April 24.
The LPC will ultimately vote on a package of “priority projects” totaling $15 million.
Officials expect at least $128 million in outside funding will be leveraged through the state investment, which will be $9.7 million after consulting fees.
“We work very hard, though, to make sure as a committee together we’re making decisions together,” Kearney said. “What our job is now is to assess and investigate all projects identified to date.”
Ideal projects are those that could be completed or get underway within a two-year time period.
Stantec’s research will determine which are at the stage where they can be successfully implemented and if red flags arise that make them unfeasible.
Afterwards, his team will make formal comments and prepare spreadsheets to help panelists reach a decision.
The next public meeting is scheduled for Thursday at SUNY Schenectady at 6 p.m. and the LPC will next meet on March 12.
Community feedback will be considered. But there are no guarantees that the portfolio of lighting, public art and historical concepts that struck a chord with attendees at last month’s public session will be included in the final package.
Mayor Gary McCarthy, the panel’s co-chair, said some projects inevitably won’t make the cut.
“It doesn’t mean that they’re not good ideas, or worthwhile endeavors that we should not pursue either through the city, the county or other state funding,” McCarthy said.
One member of the public spoke at the meeting.
Tom Carey asked stakeholders to consider the environmental impact of each project, and noted more than half of the city’s children live in poverty.
“Any facilities built with these funds should directly benefit residents,” Carey said in written comments. “When looking to improve downtown connectivity, the committee should consider connections between downtown and nearby neighborhoods such as Eastern Avenue, Vale, Hamilton Hill and Mont Pleasant, as well as connections to the Mohawk Harbor development.”
Proctors hopes to get a significant cut of the available funding.
The non-profit is seeking $600,000 for two projects, including $200,000 to convert unused space into two 30-seat basement screening rooms, renovations the theater estimates would accommodate 28,000 visitors and 1,000 additional screenings annually.
They're also seeking $400,000 to purchase, maintain and operate outdoor festival equipment that the Proctors Collaborative believes will provide an additional 40 events annually at Mohawk Harbor, Gateway Plaza and the proposed Jay Street Corridor.
They’re also part of the broader coalition seeking the $550,000 designed to bolster outdoor events. Partners on that proposal include DSIC, Rivers Casino & Resort, Schenectady Country Metroplex Development Authority, Discover Schenectady, the city and county, according to project materials.
Morris on Monday said the coalition currently works together on event planning and additional funding would help streamline and better those efforts.
Members of the LPC were chosen by the state Department of State based on input from local officials.
Proctors CEO Phillip Morris sits on the panel tasked with ultimately selecting which projects will be funded, as do high-ranking officials from fellow project sponsors Metroplex, DSIC and Rivers Casino & Resort.
Joining McCarthy as co-chair is David Buicko, president and CEO of the Galesi Group, the developer behind Rivers Casino and Mohawk Harbor.
The state acknowledges the potential for conflicts of interest and requires all members to disclose potential conflicts.
While guidelines don’t appear to restrict panelists from suggesting projects, the guidelines do require participants to recuse themselves from “any discussion or vote about that project.”
“It’s our goal to get as close to unanimous support of the DRI priority list as we can given understandings of conflicts of interest and other pieces,” Kearney said.
Morris acknowledged the need to recuse himself from future discussions.
“I assume there will be discussions I would have to leave the room for,” Morris said on Monday. “We haven’t got to that point yet.”
Kearney had to prompt several members into flagging potential conflicts at last week's meeting.
Project sponsors for the newly-submitted projects were not made immediately available to LPC members during the meeting, and several LPC members interrupted Kearney to ask for that information.
State officials monitoring the discussion pledged afterwards to send all materials to the LPC before the meetings.
McCarthy said he hoped all could be bundled into one vote.
“My goal would be to have a package that we can vote on as one package with a number of projects in it that would look to commit the $10 million,” McCarthy said.