It Happen Here?
by Joe Putrock
or not, Troy welcomes an influx of developers’ high-end visions
started noticing them last fall, popping up all around town,
in restaurants and coffee shops, on light posts and bulletin
boards, bathroom walls and shop windows, on bicycles and even
on the backs of cars: white, oval stickers that read, in simple
black lettering, “enjoy troy.” These understated adhesive
suggestions caught on quickly among a certain crowd of locals
who are notable for their fierce pleasure in all things Troy.
But few people, even those in the know, had the lowdown on
just who was making and distributing the stickers, and it
became a fun guessing game for a couple of days.
Now, the stickers can be purchased around town, and what Linda
Passaretti, the stickers’ creator, wants to do next is put
a big ‘enjoy’ over the stone Troy sign on the hillside of
Prospect Park. “I just haven’t quite figured out how to do
that without getting caught,” she laughs. As for the stickers,
those started out as funky party invites. “Whenever we throw
parties, I make these quick, low-budget invitations. That’s
what they were. And everybody loved them. So then, I started
making stickers at work, giving them out to my friends. And
from there on, they took on a life of their own.” She even
had the logo trademarked.
Passaretti digs Troy, that’s easy to see. Beside creating
the stickers, she works at Emma Willard School; bought a house
in 2002 in downtown Troy; sits on the board of the Farmers’
Market; and shares a widespread optimism about the city’s
future. “The community is awesome,” she says. “All these neighborhoods
are coming back to life: Washington Park and the Pottery District,
Little Italy. . . . There is so much going on.” One particularly
blustery January night, Jim Scully, an owner of the restaurant
Daisy Baker’s, had gotten a hold of a handful of the stickers.
It was late, or early, and everybody at the restaurant’s bar
seemed to be feeling the love. “Do you live in Troy?” he asked.
“Do you like Troy? Do you enjoy Troy?” Correct
responses were rewarded with stickers.
It’s no wonder Scully enjoys Troy: The city has been good
to him. He has lived downtown for 15 years, and six years
ago, in 2000, he bought 33 Second St. for what, he says, so
many other buildings were going for back then: a steal. The
four-story brownstone sits across the street from the world-class
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. It has room for two restaurants—one,
of course, being Daisy Baker’s—and plenty of commercial space
on its upper floors. U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty (D-N.Y.) rents
from him. Unity House operates its headquarters out of his
building. And as other restaurants come and go, Daisy Baker’s
is doing so well, he says, he plans on opening a beer-and-pizza
place in the basement.
thought I was crazy when I bought a building in Troy,” Scully
says. “But I love it. I live right down the street. I don’t
have to drive. I can walk to work. You know, for me, the quality
of life in the city is far better than in the suburbs.” Nowadays,
he says he wouldn’t sell the building for two million bucks.
has been a lot of hype about a rebirth of Troy over the past
few years, if you haven’t noticed, and if you ask any Troy
fanatic why, they will enumerate: amazing architecture, walkable
downtown, rich history, cool, small-city vibe, undeveloped
waterfront, unpretentious people, and plenty of artists. Second,
Third and River streets are gaining ground. Historic buildings
from Washington Park throughout downtown are being purchased
and saved from demolition. And now, Saratoga Springs-based
developers Jeff and Deane Pfeil and Charles Jewett, and Dutch
developer Ad Hereijgers are buying properties like the Mooradians
building on River Street and the Trojan Hotel and the Stanley’s
building on Third Street, with plans to construct dozens of
high-end apartments and condominiums, and offices and retail
of a renaissance has been going on for years; it is easy to
talk about, but we are beginning to see the investments,”
says Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian. “And that is what we want
to see, people investing in the buildings, saving the buildings
and breathing new life into them. New people are coming to
Troy, because of RPI, because of the city’s charm; hope and
prosperity are coming to Troy, and it is starting to show.”
Others don’t see it. “Not in my lifetime,”says Lila Faris,
in reference to a new, high-end development in Troy. Faris
recently closed the doors at the Troy Uniform Shop on Broadway,
where she sold uniforms and lingerie for 36 years. She remembers
the days when downtown Troy was booming. She calls the stories
of a Troy renaissance “talk and smoke.”
have been watching for years,” she says, “hoping that there
would be a resurgence. But there hasn’t been, and there probably
Gary Kiddney, of Capital Cash on Third Street in Troy, tries
to remain guardedly optimistic. He knows about the ups and
downs of running a business in Troy. For seven years, he owned
and operated the Mary Elizabeth boutique at the corner of
Broadway and Third Street. He remembers moving to Troy for
the same reason people are moving there now: the architecture,
the look, the talk that Troy was on the way up. And after
years of the hype, he has heard enough. “I’m not one to be
a skeptic,” he says, “but I have heard too much. I saw a story
from the Record from 1984 about how Troy’s coming back—22
years ago. You have to be optimistic, but you also have to
take some realism with it.”
He doesn’t want to come across as a cynic, he says, but he
thinks false hope is exactly what Troy doesn’t need. He held
onto his store a couple years longer than he should have,
he says, because of the hype surrounding Troy. And the new
round of development seems extremely unrealistic to him. “It
is hard to fathom $3,000-a-month apartments in Troy,” he says,
“knowing that our store couldn’t maintain here.”
You read that right. The developers moving into Troy aren’t
talking about building low- or, for the most part, even middle-income
apartments and condos. These developers’ vision of Troy is
high-end all the way. “Our problem with Mary Elizabeth,” Kiddney
says, “was that it looked too nice. People in Troy wouldn’t
come in. They wouldn’t give us a chance because they felt
we were too upscale. It’s hard to hear about these apartments
and wonder, ‘What do they know that we don’t?’ ”
People moving to downtown is exactly the shot in the arm Troy
needs, says Lee Cohen of the Daily Grind on Third Street.
As it is now, when a new business opens, it just takes the
customers from another business. “Ryan’s Wake might be doing
great right now, but at the expense of who?” he asks. According
to Cohen, there just aren’t enough customers to go around.
Cohen, a native of Troy, says he has an emotional attachment
to the city. He is excited about the talk about new development,
but he isn’t holding his breath. He has heard all the hype
of an up-and-coming Troy before. “Who do you know that bought
a building in downtown Albany?” he asks. “Nobody. You know
why? Because it happens there all the time. But in Troy, it’s
like, ‘Oh my God, there are actually people who see what we
Cohen describes Troy as a diamond in the rough, with an emphasis
on the rough: The taxes are high, the foot traffic is low.
He hopes that the new developments are successful in bringing
people into downtown. “All you have to do is increase my customers
by a dozen,” Cohen says. “I’m not talking about much, an extra
hundred bucks a day, to make a real impact on my business.
If I had opened my Troy store in Albany, we’d be slammin’.
Right now, we are getting by. It needs to be turned around
where you don’t draw people to Troy, but they already live
It is not hard to see it unfolding, Cohen adds. It is just
hard to unfold it.
Cohen and Kiddney agree that the hype is not totally unfounded.
Troy has seen a recent surge of people living in the city.
And the key elements in terms of real dollars are simple economics:
The city’s modest cost of living coupled with the past few
years of the historically low interest rates have attracted
do-it-yourself types, who figured, ‘Why rent when you can
buy,’ and investors bent making their fortunes on the real-estate
bubble. For these groups, cities like Troy, with obvious potential
and decades of depreciation, are very appealing.
In 2003, real-estate speculator (and former film producer)
Sandy Horowitz swooped into town, buying up prime properties—the
Cannon Building, the Hendrick Hudson hotel—in downtown. Many
lauded him as the savior of Troy. He became a media darling
for a day, unintentionally highlighting the much larger grassroots
movement: Troy was getting bought up. (The media have since
turned on Horowitz and so has the city. The city shut off
his water when his bill went unpaid. In a Feb. 28 editorial,
the Times Union’s William M. Dowd gave Horowitz a hefty
thumping, pointing to his allegedly delinquent business dealings
and skyrocketing tax debt, which at last count, according
to the mayor’s office, totals $249,000.)
In October 2003, John Hedley, a car dealer and real-estate
developer, predicted that all the buildings in downtown would
soon be gobbled up by developers: “In the next 18 months,
there won’t be a building in Troy.” He wasn’t exactly right,
but he wasn’t exactly wrong. His prediction was just a little
ambitious. There are still buildings left for sale 34 months
later in downtown Troy, but all the steals are gone.
Ridiculously cheap property in Troy, says David Heer of Heer
Realty, has gotten harder to find.
simple supply and demand,” he says. “There has been such an
influx of people that want to move back into a city, who don’t
want to live in the suburbs, and Troy is a good option. The
city is cleaner, it is a lot safer than it used to be; six
years ago, downtown wasn’t as stable as it is now.”
Also, investors don’t always care about location. More than
half of his customers are from out of town, some from even
out of state. They want to buy 20, 30, 40 units, and they
want to buy them in the same city, so they can hire a property
manager to maintain them, he says. “Its a business for them.
It’s how they make their money.” And a city like Troy has
large amounts of cheap properties—or at least, he says, it
For young couples like Marc Coud ert and Melissa Barry, both
in their early 30s, Troy is ideal. Coudert is an intern architect
at Saratoga Associates and Barry is the community planner
at Behan Planning Associates. Both wanted to invest in a home,
but neither wanted to live in the suburbs.
were living in San Francisco, and we liked the urban setting,”
says Coudert. “The ability to walk anywhere, the ability to
interact with people, having a coffee shop a block away. And
we couldn’t afford San Francisco; what we wanted was a smaller,
urban place that is more affordable. And Melissa grew up here
and we realized that this is what we really wanted.”
What they wanted, too, was a place that wasn’t done. And that
is what they found, a 200-year-old brownstone on Third Street.
“We wanted to live in a place where we thought we could have
an impact,” Barry says. “We didn’t want a building that was
completely done. We wanted to do it ourselves, to live somewhere
we could make a difference.”
better to buy an old building and fix it up than build a new
building,” Coudert adds. “In so many ways, we have become
a wasteful society. We build, we live, we tear it down and
we build something new. Its better for the environment to
find adaptive uses for older buildings. Now we build buildings
that have a shelf life of 20 years. These homeowners show
up, they take a picture of themselves in front of a big, new
house, say ‘Hey mom, I got a big house,’ and then they leave.
There is no investment in the community, in your neighbors
couple spend most at their free time, they say, working on
their building or at Home Depot. They are restoring the apartments
on the top three floors and the commercial space on the first.
The first floor space is 900 square feet, with large windows.
They say the space has the potential to become a lot of things
and are open to ideas. They are taking a break from their
work, sitting and chatting about moving to Troy inside the
empty space of their first floor when a middle-aged man, drinking
a beer out of a paper bag, steps, uninvited, through the half-open
door. It is 5:30 on a Saturday afternoon.
this, a market?” the man asks, referring to their first floor.
Coudert responds. “It’s a commercial space.”
You look real busy,” he says, even though they don’t. Everyone
long as we look busy, that’s all that matters.”
The man mutters good-bye and heads back out onto the street.
Coudert says proudly, “That would never happen in the suburbs,
a complete stranger wandering into your house.”
Yes, but isn’t that why people move to the suburbs? To feel
think safety is a question of perception,” Coudert says.
we first moved here, I was a little bit, you know, always
looking over my shoulder, didn’t want to leave at night without
Marc,” Barry says. “You know how you kind of get used to something
when you’ve been around it long enough and you get comfortable
in it? That’s how I’ve gotten now. I know what reputation
Troy has, and when my friends come and visit me here they
kind of have that look of fear in their eyes. I don’t get
a place starts to fly, it’s contagious,” says John Hedley,
though he agrees that predictions of Troy’s resurgence are
a cliché. “You know how many times I have seen this here-we-go-again’
routine?” he asks. “I’ve been here 46 years.” But this time
he thinks it’s different. You can see it, he says, in the
or four years ago, you could buy any building in town,” he
says. “There were bargains galore. But now, there really isn’t
anything for sale downtown. I know that’s hard to believe.
There are more developers in Troy now than we’ve ever had.
I haven’t seen it this good in decades.”
Of course, his optimism might have something to do with his
own successes. His Market Block, a group of buildings at the
River and Third streets’ entrance to downtown, is in the process
of being restored, and is slowly but surely attracting new
clients. Market Block Books, an enterprise of Susan Novotny,
owner of the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, is a successful
anchor, Hedley says, and has helped reinvigorate that block.
He is also working with the Troy Housing Authority, Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute, the city of Troy and Rensselaer County
on the $160 million, 14-acre development of the corridor below
Eighth Street between Ferry and Congress. Construction is
slated to begin there, he says, at the end of the year. Plus,
he is sealing the deal this week to sell two of his most notable
holdings in Troy, former factories turned offices, Flanigan
Square and Hedley Park Place, to large developers.
a shoe clerk compared to these guys,” he says. “They have
got deep pockets.”
The Troy rebound is real this time, Hedley says, because it
isn’t just one or two investors riding into town. It isn’t
just him slugging it out. There are many people with a lot
of money and good reputations who are willing to bank on Troy’s
future: People like Ad Hereijgers, principal with New Amsterdam
Development Corp., and his partner Pietro Costa, with Costa
Properties Group, who purchased the Mooradians building with
plans to revamp the 120-year-old building as high-end apartments
and retail space. People like Larry Schepici, the former executive
chef at Sargo’s, the restaurant at the Saratoga National Golf
Club, who recently bought the Illium Café (at the corner of
Broadway and Second Street, in the Cannon Building) from Horowitz.
Schepici is planning to reopen the restaurant on the first
floor of the Hendrick Hudson Hotel on Broadway as an upscale
eatery, calling it Tosca Grille. He is polishing the brass
and wrapping the walls in African mahogany, cleaning the terrazzo
floors of the large ballroom and is installing a grand fish
tank. He plans on offering upscale food and upscale service,
he says, with a piano player and jazz bands, and Sunday brunches.
State Sen. Joseph Bruno, one of Troy’s biggest cheerleaders,
has been asking him to open a restaurant in Troy for years,
he says, and now is the right time. “This is going to be the
restaurant of the Capital Region, and a wake-up for Troy.”
Charles Jewett made his reputation in Saratoga Springs, doing
restoration work on buildings such as the Algonquin, the Adirondack
Trust Company building, and Saratoga Arms. Together with with
his daughter and son-in-law, Jewett bought the Brown Building
across the street from the Hendrick Hudson at 207 Broadway.
“When I first went in, there was six inches of pigeon guano
on the floors,” he says. The building had to be completely
gutted. “I like working on buildings that are on life support,”
he says. He also purchased the Trojan Hotel on Third Street
and has ultra-high-end visions for both. The Brown Building
will have retail space and 18 to 21 apartments. The Trojan
Hotel will either be a classy hotel—doorman, valet parking—or
think there is a lot of that high-end clientele in downtown
Troy just waiting for something like this,” Jewett says.
Deane and Jeff Pfeil agree. They recently purchased and have
started reconstruction on the Stanley’s Building at 65 Third
St. The five-story, 100-year-old building, Jeff Pfeil says,
will play a vital role in the reconstruction of downtown.
They are planning to fill the building’s top four floors with
19 high-end apartments, including a 3,000-square-foot penthouse,
with parking in the basement and commercial space on the first
The Pfeils, who played key roles in the revitalization of
downtown Saratoga Springs and Stuyvesant Plaza, think that
investing in Troy is the next sure thing. “We have been watching
Troy since 1988,” says Deane Pfeil, a Troy native. “We have
done a really careful study to be certain that we will make
money. We don’t do this out of the goodness of our hearts.
And we do not take risks lightly. We studied a lot. We did
our pricing very, very carefully. We never operate on the
‘Build it and they will come’ principle. We already have a
list of people that want to be in Stanley’s. And we haven’t
even started advertising. This is just through word of mouth,
through the grapevine. This is going to be successful.”
She has good reason to believe that, she says. Their first
project in Troy, the Powers Park Lofts, high-end condominiums
in North Troy, have sold 16 of the 18 available units, which
started at $161,500, topping out for the penthouse at $282,000.
“Much to our surprise,” she says, “we sold from the top down.
The most expensive lofts went first. I would never have predicted
When all the talk and smoke clears, one thing is certain:
Stores and restaurants will open and some will close their
doors, but some people, like Dana Rudolph, will always seem
to have a knack for being at the right place at the right
time. She opened a store on Lark Street back in 1977 and remembers
the street when it was “26 antiques stores, some bars,” she
says, “a bakery, and me.”
In 2003, she opened her shop on River Street, after visiting
the young antiques district. “The street charmed me.” she
says. “I thought it was magical. It was beautiful. It was
really clean. The layout of the brick in the street, the curve
of the road, the curve of the buildings.” Her experiences
so far on River Street parallels her time on Lark Street,
she says. Both are grassroots movements, and both are merchant-driven.
She is not surprised by the development of downtown Troy.
People come from all over the area, she says, to shop on River
Street. Many of those people are like her and fall in love
with the quaint downtown. They want to know where to buy.
has been this influx of people in downtown,” she says. “All
the people that I knew in Albany, the creative people I knew,
a lot of them seem to be showing up in Troy. And it’s not
like we got together and talked about it. It just seems to
happen. And there is an excitement and a creative energy here
that I have never felt anywhere. I think it is happening here.
There are just so many people here that just want to do what
they want to do and be able to grow. And I never, ever, in
my wildest dreams thought this would be happening in Troy,