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Which Way to the River?

A public meeting on Albany’s ongoing Local Waterfront Revitalization Program elicits a variety of ideas

by Erin Pihlaja on December 13, 2012

It’s pretty easy to hate on Interstate 787, but the “monstrosity,” as it was described during a public hearing on the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program in Albany, is just one of many impediments that will create a challenge to the project that aims to redefine Albany’s beleaguered waterfront.

Nancy Templeton of Wallace Roberts and Todd, a firm hired by the city of Albany to consult on the LWRP, hosted the presentation and subsequent discussion at the main branch of the Albany Public Library on Tuesday (Dec. 11). Templeton outlined the process, which represents an update to the city’s plan that was last laid out in 1991.

This plan, Templeton explained, will address issues that were not addressed by the prior one, such as access to the waterfront, vacant or abandoned properties, and how climate change might affect the “vulnerability” of the region that stretches along the Hudson River and includes the port, the South End, parts of downtown Albany, the Corning Preserve, and northern Broadway.

Some of the additional barriers, she outlined, were the railroad bridge (which was later brought up by someone in the crowd as a potential asset to the area), vacant or underutilized properties, and a lease agreement between New York state and the Port of Albany that prohibits commercial services in the Corning Preserve.

During a brief comment period, the crowd brought up many different points. The lack of directional signage in both the downtown district and leading into the waterfront areas was pointed out. Many people suggested that more recreational activities be made available, including a covered pavilion with fresh water and electricity; bike and kayak rental; promotion of bike and pedestrian trails; and repair of the outdoor fitness circuit that once existed along the running trail.

Some speakers wanted to see more commercial entities, such as additional restaurants and retailers, while others made the plea to preserve the area as a natural resource and green space. Rich Nicholson, senior planner for Albany, explained that commercial development will be determined by that existing lease agreement. “If we can do it at all, that’s what’s being worked out,” he said.

The issue of safety was highlighted when one speaker said that if something bad happened to someone on the preserve, no one would know “until you were that body found by a jogger the next day.” That same person wanted lights and call boxes, while another said that more people in the area would make things safer than anything else.

Comparisons to the recent redevelopments on the Beacon and Newburgh waterfronts were made throughout the meeting. Another topic that kept popping up in the discussion was Interstate 787. There was no one who spoke kindly of the thoroughfare, and one frustrated man said, in response to the suggestion that parts of it be torn down, “It’s not going to happen.”

Templeton ended this part of the discussion when she said, “[Interstate] 787 is a hot topic. It has to be addressed. There might be some short term strategies but we also need to consider a longer-term vision.”

While demolition was being discussed, one woman said that she’d like to see the long vacant and recently fire-damaged Central Warehouse destroyed. She suggested either to “sink it” or to “implode it.”

Templeton highlighted some of the projects that the existing LWRP had accomplished: landscaping of lower Patroon Island; rehab of the Corning Preserve comfort station; establishment of the Island Creek Waterfront Park and the pedestrian walkway; and work on the Mohawk-Hudson Bike Trail. The new program, she said, was being overseen by the city of Albany, the New York State Department of State (Office of Communities and Waterfronts), Wallace Roberts and Todd, and the Waterfront Advisory Committee. The WAC is made up of “local stakeholders” including the city of Albany, Albany County, the Albany Port District Commission, the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Riverfront Bar and Grill, and the Downtown Albany BID.

She explained that the process to establish the new LWRP would take a total of nine months, and she expected it to be finished sometime in April 2013. Prior to that, there will be two more public hearings.

The LWRP is a local initiative, but is ultimately a program of the state. “The city does the planning process for the state,” Nicholson said.

While Templeton said that this part of the process was operating on a $50,000 budget, the costs to implement the plan are yet to be determined.

“There is not a huge pot of money,” warned Nicholson.