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Race on the River

Some interesting development projects are slated for the Capital Region’s waterfront—which ones will get done, and to whose benefit?

by Michael Bielawski on November 27, 2013

A series of projects, potential and already in the works, along the Capital Region’s Hudson River waterfront are driving the ongoing revitalization of the area’s ‘rust belt’ communities. The projects vary widely in scope from a new mixed-use development in Troy’s Monument Square to a possible casino for the city of Rensselaer. There might even be a Ferris-wheel-war between Albany and Troy.

“I think the last two years have really been remarkable, not just in terms of this city but any 18th century city in the rust belt,” said Bill Dunne, Troy’s commissioner of Planning and Economic Development. “We’ve got a lot of different people working together, we’ve got newcomers, and we’ve got a very strong variety of groups interesting in various things. There’s a group called Transport Troy that is interested in different transportation initiatives, there’s a composting group, and a lot of very active and successful neighborhood groups.”

Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia spoke about the new development at Monument Square where the old city hall once stood, that is currently a razed-over vacant space. “We are excited about this site, it is very transitional and it will really help that downtown area. We hope the developer creates a mixed-use site [residential and commercial] that will benefit many individuals. We want to make it such that it becomes a distinction.”

In mid-November, three developers pitched proposals to a team appointed by the mayor, which will then make recommendations to Rosamilia, he said, hopefully by the end of this year. The three developers were the McCashion Brothers Holding Company LLC, Bonacio Construction and Kirchhoff Properties. The pitch from the McCashion Brothers was disqualified from the process for not adhering to the submission guidelines. This process marked the second time the city tried to get a project approved for the site after a failed attempt earlier this year. Rosamilia said that he cannot yet discuss the specifics of the proposals.

“I think it’s probably about 18 months from start to finish,” said Dunne. “One of the developers has indicated they would like to begin, if they are selected, in this spring with construction. . . . It would be our hope to be in the ground next year once the weather turns nice.”

Rosamilia addressed concerns regarding local traffic during construction. “Once construction commences we’ll make sure that there is as little disruption as possible,” he said, explaining that construction workers can use Front Street (between the river and the back of the buildings) as a staging area to help avoid disrupting local traffic.

However, some local businesses have expressed concerns. John Pendergast, of the Illium Café, an eatery located in the square, said: “There’s going to be some disruption to the traffic and there will also be noise. I think that the best thing that they could do is some sort of mitigation to combat the effects of the construction. Depending on what goes there, it may or may not end up being good overall other business in the area.”

Dunne said, “I think there will be some disruption, but you have to do a cost-benefit analysis. Is a few months of minor disruption greater than the value of the investment in the city, the new commercial space it’s going to be adding and ultimately the new tenants.”

Just down the east side of the river, the residents of the city of Rensselaer could become neighbors to a Las Vegas-style casino. Last week, the Rensselaer city Common Council unanimously passed Resolution 2, a proposal that would allow a casino to be built in the city. “It’ll highlight Rensselaer, it’ll bring Rensselaer into the forefront as far as visitation from people,” the city’s mayor, Daniel Dwyer, told News10. DeLaet’s Landing, located directly on the waterfront, is the propsed site for the project.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated he wants several casinos for upstate New York, but this initiative has not been without opposition. Saratoga Springs also was named as a possible site for a casino, but local residents crowded the town hall in protest. From the group Sustainable Saratoga, a statement read: “Casino gambling is a single-destination activity, which succeeds only by keeping its guests at the casino. They are typically a drain on local businesses.” Voters in Albany and Schenectady counties also rejected the casino proposal on the Nov. 5 General Election, leaving Rensselaer county the only regional area to vote for it. The proposal won statewide approval and passed by a small margin.

In Albany, mayor-elect Kathy Sheehan has also indicated more potential projects for Albany’s waterfront. The idea of bringing an aquarium to Albany was thrown around during the early stages of the mayoral race, but Sheehan seemed less than supportive of the idea. She told AllOverAlbany.com in a September interview that she was hesitant “around feasibility studies for an aquarium,” but earlier this week at the Impact Downtown Albany event, AllOverAlbany.com reported that Sheehan “kept coming back to pushing people to ‘think big’—maybe that’s a giant Ferris Wheel, maybe it’s a monorail to get people from the train station to downtown Albany, maybe it’s an IKEA at Central Warehouse.”

The Ferris wheel idea has been championed by many in Troy. George Ferris, the wheel’s inventor, attended Troy’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and those in favor of the attraction have taken to social media sites such as Twitter to pressure Troy officials to take the idea seriously.