Demolition to launch former Alco site rehab

09-05-2010

Demolition to launch former Alco site rehab

emolition to launch former Alco site rehab

The Daily Gazette

One of the most ambitious economic redevelopment projects in Schenectady County’s recent history is about to begin at the site of the former American Locomotive Co. on Erie Boulevard.

The Galesi Group, which owns the 60-acre parcel along the Mohawk River, expects this month to begin demolishing many of the structures — some call them landmarks, some call them eyesores — on the property, once the heart of the city’s booming locomotive manufacturing industry. The buildings scheduled to be demolished include the foundries, boiler shops and forge, the machine and erecting shops.

The demolition will launch a proposed $200 million rehabilitation of one of the oldest industrial sites in the county. The $200 million represents a maximum build-out investment over many years.

Thousands of locomotives — steam, diesel and electric — were built at the site beginning in the mid-1800s. So many, in fact, that Schenectady was once known as the “City that Lights and Hauls the World.” (General Electric did the lighting.) Now, these buildings themselves will be hauled away.

As envisioned by the Galesi Group, this prime land along 1.5 miles of Mohawk River waterfront will contain condominiums, office space with space for research and development companies and a marina.

The cleanup will involve the removal of thousands of tons of contaminated soil and debris. Galesi will use the state’s brownfield program to help pay for the work; the program provides tax credits to redevelop blighted properties. The amount Galesi will receive is yet to be determined.

Supporters say the project has the potential to greatly expand the local tax base, increase sales tax revenues and create jobs, in addition to cleaning up a site contaminated by years of heavy manufacturing.

It also will erase a significant legacy of Schenectady’s industrial past, according to the Alco Historical and Technical Society, which wants to build a museum to commemorate the achievements of the locomotive manufacturer.

STS worries
It will also land-lock a thriving steel fabricator, STS Steel, which has operated at the site for more than 20 years, said company owners worried about their future. Once the project is completed, STS Steel will be surrounded by zoned mixed-used development with no ability to expand beyond its present footprint in Building 304, which the company owns.

Glenn Talbolt and Jim Stori, owners of STS Steel, said they are concerned about the future of their company on the Alco site. “The question is, ‘Can we grow?’ That is in limbo,” Stori said.

The company had been leasing an adjacent building on the Alco property, Building 322, which stretches the length of Erie Boulevard, to handle an overflow of work. Galesi did not renew the lease when it bought the property earlier this year for $500,000 from the Schenectady Industrial Corp. Galesi also agreed to pay back taxes amounting to approximately $1 million on the property. “Without that building, that hurts our growth,” Talbolt said.

STS also has a long-term lease on a strip of land in front of Building 322. It recently acquired a prime contract to provide steel for the Fulton Street Transit Station in New York City. The company employs 65 people.

Stori and Talbolt said they have assurances from Galesi that their company is welcome to remain at the site. “We will trust that Metroplex and Galesi will recognize the significant contribution we make to the economy,” Talbolt said. “They always said, ‘you are important and a good employer.’ ”

The owners said no other existing building in the Capital Region meets their needs, which is a large building containing cranes capable of lifting up to 75 tons, and they definitely want to remain in Schenectady County. “Our business needs to grow, and we are waiting to see what happens,” Talbolt said.

Big potential
David Buicko, chief operating officer for the Galesi Group, has high hopes for the Alco redevelopment project, calling it a huge transformation for the county. “All of the sudden you have waterfront living in the city with the benefits of Proctors, restaurants and easy access to work. It will be one of most premiere locations in the Capital Region,” he said.

Some of the larger employers in Schenectady County — Ellis Medicine, Golub Corp., General Electric, MVP, Union College, among others — are within several miles. “If people want to live on the water, it is not a bad commute. You can walk or bike to work,” he said.

Buicko also thinks the development could be home to some of the people expected to be working at the GlobalFoundries chip manufacturing plant in Saratoga County once it is up and operating. “It’s only 20 minutes away.”

Buicko said STS will remain on the site, and Galesi will establish a buffer to screen it from the rest of the redevelopment.
Ray Gillen, chairman of the Metroplex Development Authority, fully supports the redevelopment. “The site is dirty. Cleaning it will improve the environment and health in Schenectady County and will protect our water supply as the site is in an aquifer recharge zone.”

Gillen cites the Galesi Group’s track record in Schenectady County — it owns several industrial parks as well as property in the city’s downtown — and the cleanup and redevelopment of the former Big N plaza at Maxon Road and Nott Street as proof the Erie Boulevard project can be accomplished.

“Look at what we did at Big N, look at that site today,” Gillen said. The site is home to the Golub Corp. headquarters, which houses 725 employees in a state-of-the-art building.

The Big N site once was part of the sprawling Alco complex, which covered land between the Mohawk River to an area slightly beyond Maxon Road. The area also includes the former Ramada Inn, which Union College purchased and converted into student housing.

Industrial history
Using state brownfield program funding, Galesi processed some 10,000 tons of contaminated material on the nine-acre former Big N site. The project took about three years.

Schenectady is not alone in having to deal with former Alco properties. Alco formed in 1901 with the merger of eight smaller locomotive manufacturers, including the Schenectady Locomotive Works, which had built locomotives at the Erie Boulevard site since the mid-1800s. Alco disappeared in 1985 with the sale of its remaining assets.

The Schenectady plant closed in 1969 and was purchased by a private consortium, which leased it to General Electric for many years. In its final years, the site was called the Nott Street Industrial Park.

In the mid-1900s, Alco had plants in several states in addition to one other site in New York. It was the second-largest steam locomotive builder in the United States for years and for a while was the pre-eminent diesel locomotive builder.
Some communities, like Richmond, home to the former Richmond Locomotive Works, one of the core companies to create Alco, have successfully converted former Alco sites into business parks. The Richmond site houses a Bowtie Cinema, which also operates on State Street in Schenectady.

Some are still seeking to find a use for their former Alco sites. In Providence, R.I., a developer in 2006 proposed a $333 million project to convert the former Rhode Island Locomotive Works, another of the original companies to form Alco, into a mixed-use development. It withdrew from the project several years later, and a second developer took it up and has since scaled it back. The new developer recently secured financing from Rhode Island’s housing agency, helping make the project more affordable.
Galesi, with support from the county and Metroplex, has secured state grants to help with the Erie Boulevard project, including a $4 million grant from the Restore New York program.

Schenectady County is also seeking funding from the Capital District Transportation Authority to expand the bike-hike trail through the Alco site. The site is also eligible for inclusion in the state’s Excelsior Program, the successor to the Empire Zone Program. The Excelsior Program provides incentives to firms that create jobs and promote investment in key industries like biotechnology, pharmaceutical, high-tech, clean-technology, green technology, financial services, agriculture and manufacturing.

HOPES FOR MUSEUM
James Cesare, a member of the Alco Historical and Technical Society, laments the impending loss of the Alco buildings. “It is a significant part of Schenectady’s history, dating back over a 100 years. What would you rather have, a huge chunk of history or a bunch of condos?” he asked. His answer: “Condos you can put anywhere. You get one shot at this [preserving the buildings], and once it’s gone, it is gone forever,” he said.

An architect by profession, Cesare said the buildings “can be restored, and will cost money to do that.” The society has little or no money for such a restoration project and would have to raise money through drives, grants and other sources, and restoration would take years to accomplish.

The society unsuccessfully tried to acquire a building on the Alco site for its proposed museum, which Cesare said would attract up to 50,000 people per year. “We tried to see if we could negotiate something with [Galesi], and it did not work out,” he said. The society is searching for an alternative site in the city for the proposed museum dedicated to Alco and to the Schenectady Locomotive Works.