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Downtown Schenectady projects get $9.7M in state funds

SCHENECTADY — A list of nearly $10 million worth of state project grants to improve downtown Schenectady ranging from new street lights to new streets was announced Friday.

The city in November 2019 was awarded one of the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative grants but approval and funding of the actual DRI projects was delayed by the state’s budget crisis and public health crisis in 2020.

The city submitted its wish list in August and received the list of approvals Friday.

They are:

  • $2.75 million toward a $38.7 million project to renovate and repurpose 301 Clinton St. and 501 State St. and build a new building at 500 State St.; all will be mixed-use residential, retail and commercial space.

  • $2 million to extend North Jay Street — currently a dead end past South Avenue — through to Nott Street at Maxon Road.

  • $875,000 to install new LED street lighting and Smart City technology on Clinton Street between State and Franklin streets and North Broadway between State and Union streets.

  • $760,000 to extend the Alco Heritage Trail from River Street to Front Street Park and install an informational kiosk and plaza at the Mohawk Harbor amphitheater to serve as a gateway to the Empire State Trail.

  • $600,000 for facade improvements on Lower State Street, Lafayette Street and the Little Italy section of North Jay Street.

  • $428,000 toward $1.6 million worth of facade and site improvements to the SEAT Workforce Training Center on South Church Street.

  • $425,000 toward the $2.4 million overhaul of 430 Franklin St., a drab office building at the end of the Jay Street Pedestrian Walkway.

  • $425,000 to make public square improvements around City Hall and convert Jay Street to two-way traffic between City Hall and Union Street.

  • $350,000 to reopen the Alco Tunnel Trail under the railroad tracks between North Jay Street and Erie Boulevard.

  • $300,000 toward a $685,000 adaptive reuse of warehouse space at 140 Erie Blvd. as maker spaces for artists.

  • $287,000 to install public art throughout downtown, including murals, interactive art pieces, sculptural seating and a statue of George Westinghouse.

  • $250,000 to improve lighting and drainage and make other upgrades to the Jay Street Pedestrian Walkway.

  • $250,000 for wayfinding features and signage to guide visitors through the downtown area and highlight historical and cultural destinations.

The final $300,000 of the $10 million DRI award was spent to develop the investment plan for the DRI funds.

The big winner in all of this was Jay Street, with more than $4 million worth of projects entirely or partially earmarked for the thousand-yard stretch. The work will create a corridor of travel and remove the dead end unpopular with some people in the Little Italy neighborhood.

“The one component I’m very pleased with is our ability to do the upgrade of Jay Street from downtown over to Nott Street,” Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said Friday.

Eliminating the dead end will require use of land currently owned by Union College. He said the city and college are in advanced discussions on this.

The lighting grant also will let Schenectady continue its Smart City initiative, cutting electrical use by more than 50% and expanding the WiFi network, McCarthy said.

The biggest single grant goes to the latest initiatives by Redburn Development, a major developer of reuse projects in the region’s urban core areas — downtown Albany, Schenectady and Troy.

“Phew,” Redburn principal Jeff Buell said Friday, spelling the word out for emphasis. The work Redburn does often relies on a mixture of public and private funding, and the $38.7 million, three-building project was contingent on the DRI award. The pricetag may be more than $38.7 now, given the increase in cost of supplies, but the project got the entire $2.75 million recommended.

“This is the state of New York declaring vehemently that downtown Schenectady is positioned for a boom in vibrancy in the next 10 years,” Buell said.

These and future projects will extend downtown redevelopment beyond the core downtown, he said, and include aspects not typically part of a Redburn project, such as medical offices.

Brooke Spraragen is one of the principals in the project to turn 430 Franklin St. into The Benjamin, a mixed-use building with extensive glass and a ground-floor restaurant.

The project has been mostly on hold as everyone awaited the DRI award list, she said, with only demolition work completed so far.

In the meantime, the cost of everything to make it reality — lumber, brick and glass — has soared for her project as for the entire construction industry. Not enough to derail The Benjamin, but enough to notice.

She’s excited that The Benjamin will be part of a lot of work happening in a very concentrated area.

“A lot of these projects that got funded, they’re all very complementary to one another,” she said.

John Samutulski has ambitious plans for 136, 138 and 140 Erie Blvd. The DRI grant is strictly for 140 Erie Blvd., where he plans the Alchemy Urban Playground.

It will be a space for artists to create, exhibit and sell their work, and for learning and training.

The space will be geared to low- to moderate income tenants who may have no similar option in the area.

“One goal of the DRI initiative was downtowns for everyone,” Samutulski said.

It will continue the progress he’s made since buying 140 Erie back in 2012, when it was rundown and mostly vacant. He’s since overhauled the facade and filled the space.

The storefront tenants at 140 Erie and — eventually — 136 Erie will not be displaced. Samutulski’s projects are in the tens of thousands of square feet of warehouse space behind the storefronts.

The Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority was closely involved in the 2019 application process, which was the first time the city had applied for it. Chairman Ray Gillen therefore wasn’t surprised by the project list when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced it Friday.

Nonetheless, $10 million has a very nice ring to it.

“It’s a major step forward for our downtown redevelopment efforts,” he said.

Particularly welcome was the money for facades, Gillen said.

“We really wanted to have a facade fund to help with Lower State,” he said.

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