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Falling Through

Ownership and safety issues at Troy’s 444 River St. leave seven businesses and two independent artists in limbo

by Erin Pihlaja on June 27, 2012

Charlie and Kathleen Tesnakis photographed by Erin Pihlaja

‘Half off of everything! Everything has to go,” Al Smith, owner of Dealer’s Den, a thrift store at 444 River St. in Troy, called out to the dispersing crowd in front of the building. It was Friday, June 22, just before noon, and the giant brick building, separated from the Hudson River by only a parking lot, had just been auctioned off. Mark Bethel, of New Look Properties LLC, had won the bidding at $182,000 just minutes before.

Previously owned by Sandy Horowitz, the building is currently home to seven businesses and two independent artists. Kathleen Tesnakis, owner of `e-ko logic, which recycles materials to manufacture new fashion pieces, has been at this address for 10 years. She travels across the country to exhibit her garments, but spends the summer manufacturing her inventory. “I’m already looking for a new studio in Troy, but I may have relocate completely,” she said. “I would hate to leave a city I have a [sense of] community in but feel that I may have to unless something changes in the next few days.”

The sale of the building came as a surprise to many. Nathan Meltz, an artist who also resides in Troy, has had his studio in the building for two years. “I found out the night before the auction, while at dinner with a friend,” he said. “I rushed down there and immediately started disassembling my gear.” While Meltz planned to vacate the property within a few days, he estimated that it will take him a couple of months to rebuild it, when he finally finds a new space.

Bill Dunne, Troy’s commissioner of planning and economic development, was as surprised as anyone that the building was set to change hands. He spotted an auction sign on the building about a week before the auction was scheduled. When he returned to his office, he pulled the code violations for the building. “They dated back to 2010 and there were four pages of them,” he said. Dunne had assumed that the city would gain control of the property because Horowitz owed $104,000 in back taxes and penalties, and the transfer of the building to the city was scheduled for early July.

Dunne and the city performed a visual inspection of the building at 444 River St., and the issues were serious. “In the southeast quadrant of the building the fourth and fifth floor are entirely missing, they are rotted out,” said Dunne. “If you walked in you could fall from the fifth floor to the third. The roof structure is bowed and buckled. It needs a new roof. With all of the structural work, it would be easy to spend a half a million dollars to get the building back in occupational condition.”

He also added that for the building to fall into such a state of disrepair, “there would have to be years and years of neglect.”

It was after that visual inspection that Sanford Mirling and Colin Boyd were notified that they would probably have to leave. The two men are on the board of the Collar Works Gallery, a nonprofit that has been on the third floor for three years. They have put a tremendous amount of work into refurbishing the space, and have already booked exhibitions for the next 12 months. “It’s sad. This place has a lot of potential,” said Boyd.

Mirling added, “We’re baffled. We’re struggling to figure out our next step and how quickly that step needs to happen. I don’t think we’ll have a choice.”

They don’t really, unless something happens very fast. “If the issues are corrected by the end of the month, the tenants can stay. If not, they have to leave,” said Dunne.

Bethel will have his work cut out for him should all go well with finalizing the purchase of the building. “I’m not afraid of it, it’s a long-term thing,” he said. “I don’t really have plans for it. I didn’t think I’d get it but I’m happy with the price.”

“We are not going to condemn it, it would be far cheaper to stabilize it than to demolish it,” said Dunne. “The city will work with Bethel to stabilize it, but he’s got to close by July 10, or the city will be in court to take back the building.”