Jeff Mirel sees genuine potential where there is, quite frankly, urban decay. On a recent tour of the former St. Joseph’s Academy in the Arbor Hill neighborhood here, the 29-year-old Mirel seems to see beyond the broken windows, the water dripping through ceilings, the pigeons flying about or the piles of bird dung that litter the floor of this former, long-vacant school. For the past two years, Mirel has had the vision of turning an unused urban space into a breathing, multifaceted arts venue with affordable live/work space for artists. His mission has led him to form a nonprofit called Albany Barn. Besides the organization’s other efforts to support the region’s arts scene, its most ambitious objective by far is to create an arts incubator out of the ashes of the old St. Joseph’s Academy.
Darren Scott, left, and Jeff Mirel stand in the gym of the former St. Joseph’s Academy in Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood. Scott, coordinator for the Albany Housing Authority’s Hope VI program, and Mirel, founder of Albany Barn, discuss plans to turn the dilapidated school into an arts incubator. The plans detail how the gym will be turned into a performance space and stage for live music and theater.
Under a plan to renovate the former St. Joseph’s Academy at the corner of North Swan and 2nd streets in Albany, the Albany Barn nonprofit will turn this long-vacant building into live/work loft apartments for artists, as well as performance and studio space.
For now, broken glass is common in the old St. Joseph’s Academy in Albany. But under Albany Barn’s plan to turn the long-vacant building into an arts incubator, former classrooms will become live/work space for artists. Here, a view of downtown Albany from one of those former classrooms.
Under the renovation plans, architectural and design details in this former school will be retained. Here, Treacy Sayres, a consultant for the Albany Housing Authority, and Jeff Mirel, founder of Albany Barn, show how the old chalkboards fold away to reveal closet space behind. Albany Barn’s plan would keep this feature as it hopes to turn the former classroom — and several others — into a live/work loft for artists.
Many of the old equipment from the former school remains in the building. Those involved in the proposed, estimated $9.5 million rehab admit that the building is in rough shape, but point out that it’s structurally sound. Nonetheless, broken windows have exposed the interior of the building to the elements — along with an untold number of pigeons whose waste litters the floor.
Darren Scott, coordinator for the Albany Housing Authority’s Hope VI program, left, talks about the renovation plans for the former St. Joseph’s Academy. Under the plan, this classroom — and many others — would be turned into live/work loft space geared toward the artist.
Twenty-nine-year-old Jeff Mirel has an ambitious plan to turn a long-vacant, dilapidated former school in a rough neighborhood into an arts incubator. The way he sees it, the project could help revitalize the neighborhood around North Swan and 2nd streets in Albany. "It’s all about the lens you’re looking through. I don’t see the broken glass. I don’t see the rust. . . . I see what it could be. That’s why blight is so devastating. If all you see is the rust, the holes, the weeds, it’s very demoralizing. We need to see beyond that, what all this could be, he said. A view of downtown Albany can be seen through the window behind him.
“Welcome to Miracles” — the chalkboard in one of the former classrooms says it all. The message is apparently left over from the days when the building was still a Catholic school. It underscores the uphill struggle that the nonprofit Albany Barn faces as it seeks to turn the long-vacant, nearly 40,000-square-foot building into an arts incubator. Those involved with the project, nonetheless, believe it can happen.