SCHENECTADY — Redburn Development Partners has pulled back its plans to convert the Stockade Inn into an 23-unit apartment building, citing community pushback.
“It has become clear that neighbors in the Stockade prefer a restaurant and hotel at this location, not new apartments,” said Redburn principal Jeff Buell in a statement on Wednesday. “While we doubt the financial viability of such an endeavor, we wish them luck in their efforts to save this building.”
The developers pulled the project hours before they were to appear before the city Zoning Board of Appeals to request a use variance.
The proposal received a setback last month when the project fell one vote short of the four needed to move the project forward.
Redburn has rapidly expanded its portfolio in the city, undertaking numerous restoration projects and using historic tax credits to renovate vacant and sometimes deteriorating downtown buildings, including the Foster, Fitzgerald and former Gazette Press building on Broadway.
But those projects were all undertaken downtown in a rapidly-changing landscape without neighborhood associations.
Redburn was met with a dramatically different environment in the city’s Stockade neighborhood when it announced plans to buy the boutique hotel and event space, which has been closed since a kitchen fire in January.
The Stockade Association put up stiff resistance from the onset, contending the current owner, Gregor Hotels, hadn’t met the bar to prove hardship or that operating the venue as an inn would be unfeasible, and that the venue’s decline was not a result of shifting industry trends, but rather mismanagement.
Opponents also questioned the broader impact on a neighborhood where as many as 80 percent of the housing stock is made up of rental units. They also questioned Redburn's track record on property maintenance after the company purchased 26 properties containing 91 units in the neighborhood.
Turnover was also a concern.
In a petition to the ZBA co-signed by 123 residents, opponents said the turnover rate for one-bedroom apartments is higher than for any other rental category and wondered about the ramifications for the “sense of a cohesive community and civic pride and belonging which is both the hallmark of the Stockade and the reason that this district attracts many visitors.”
Critics also were concerned about losing a community institution from the neighborhood fabric.
“It’s been an anchor for so long,” said Stockade resident Joan Mikalson as she walked her dog on Wednesday.
Redburn had contended the apartments would have a less-intense effect on the neighborhood than the 18-room hotel and banquet space.
By Wednesday the opposition posted signs throughout the neighborhood decrying “corporate overreach” and “apartment overload.”
“Chop! Chop! Chop!” read one. “Stop subdividing our history.”
The Stockade Association welcomed Redburn’s decision.
“We appreciate that they recognized that residents want to see other alternatives explored before a final decision is made on the future of the inn,” said Suzanne Unger, association president.
The Stockade Association is ready to work with the owner, the city and other interested parties to explore uses and identify potential buyers, Unger said.
“Our first choice is to see the inn remain a center of hospitality as it has been in one form or another for over 100 years,” Unger said. “We believe the inn can serve as a key component of a future Stockade that attracts visitors from near and far.”
Redburn's planned purchase of the building from owners Robert and Nerisha Gregor for $545,000 was contingent upon obtaining the variance and converting the property.
Doing so would have prevented the building from being foreclosed upon by the mortgage holder and to “make sure that a historic property is maintained rather than falling to vacancy and disrepair,” Redburn stated in its application.
The McDonalds owned and operated the venue from 2003 until last year, when they sold to the Gregors, who operated the venue for just six months before a kitchen fire prompted its closure in January.
Jeff McDonald said he was disappointed in the decision and the leadership of the Stockade Association for their steadfast opposition.
"Personally, I feel residential use is the best use of the facility at this time,” McDonald said.
Amid the ongoing pandemic, and future economic recovery that will likely see the hospitality industry and business travel slow to rebound, hotels are unlikely to be financially feasible, McDonald said.
"Now the building will sit vacant for many years now, most likely," McDonald said.
The Stockade Association countered that the current economic climate instead bodes unfavorably for the rental market, particularly when paired with the rapid growth of apartment units downtown and at Mohawk Harbor.
“Couple this with the very uncertain times in which we are now existing, and the Redburn plan, in addition to not making good community sense, most likely does not make sound fiscal sense,” residents wrote in the petition.
Buell said Redburn remains bullish on the downtown rental market, and numerous projects are moving forward, including renovation of the former Gazette Press building, which is now under rehabilitation.
The 13-unit apartment complex and retail space is on track to be complete by the end of the year, Buell said.
Demolition of the former Citizens Bank at 501 State St. had largely been completed on Wednesday, with just debris and a large concrete grid remaining.
Construction of a 49-unit apartment building with retail space will begin this fall and be complete by spring, Buell said.
The former OTB building, located two blocks southwest on Clinton Street, has a comparable timeline.
“We’ve committed years and millions of dollars to helping rebuild the city of Schenectady, we love it here and are in for the long haul,” Buell said.