Harbor plan for old Alco site creates a buzz

SCHENECTADY — Realtors were wowed Thursday as they got a first look at the Mohawk Harbor development.

The project, which will be built on the former Alco property on Erie Boulevard, features a large harbor carved into the land. It will be surrounded by condos and apartments, with retail on the first floor and condo balconies overlooking the harbor.

“When can we start selling?” one man called out as the Realtors watched a video of renderings in the Bowtie Theater.

A bike path will follow the river and circle the three-acre harbor. Galesi Group is also hoping to build a pedestrian walkway from the harbor to the Proctors block of State Street, which is about three-quarters of a mile. The path would likely connect to Little Italy and the Jay Street pedestrian walkway.

“The main thing on this project is that we want to make sure we complement what’s going on in downtown Schenectady, not compete,” said David Buicko, COO of Galesi Group.

The harbor will not only provide a picture-perfect waterfront for residents, but will also reduce the chance of flooding, according to architects.

The harbor was designed for flood-plain mitigation. Galesi Group has applied for permits for it and for a river-widening project, all to create more space for water to go during storms, snow melt and other flooding conditions.

The entire site will also be raised 2 to 4 feet to move it out of the flood zone.

DEC will rule on the permits this summer.

The harbor won’t be visible from Erie Boulevard — it will be blocked by the buildings surrounding it.

On Erie Boulevard, drivers will see a parking lot in front of a hotel. Construction is scheduled to start in September, pending Planning Commission approvals.

Drivers will also see large retail buildings, possibly for big-box stores. They might even see a casino.

Architects have already roughed out a design for a casino, next to the residential harbor area.

But no application for a casino has been filed yet, Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said.

Buicko said several casino operators have met with him and toured the site. If they make a deal with one, that operator would write the application.

It’s not a simple process — that operator would have to pay a $1 million application fee to the state. There’s also a $50 million licensing fee.

Buicko said it’s not the sort of application he could write. The successful application will have a casino operator, he said.

“We’re not casino operators, we’re real estate developers,” he said.

Gillen agreed that an operator is key to winning one of the few licenses that will be given out by the state.

“It’s an ambitious project. It’s a very comprehensive proposal that has to be submitted to the state,” he said, adding that the application would also need a resolution of support from the City Council.

“A strong factor is community support,” he said.

Galesi Group is also in talks with a banquet facility operator, with plans to build the facility overlooking the river. But that building would get wrapped into the casino if it is approved, Buicko said.

The space could instead be used for townhouses in that case.

Right now, Galesi Group is searching for retailers. They want a grocery store, a wine and liquor store, and a clothing store. They’re asking retailers to consider the populace not only of Mohawk Harbor but the entire downtown, where residents have for years asked for a grocery store.

Until now, national chains have told Metroplex that there aren’t enough people living downtown to keep a grocery store open. But Galesi Group is hoping the calculation has changed now.

So far, investors have been impressed by the redeveloped downtown and the plans for Mohawk Harbor, Buicko said.

Also, city officials are working to get the small nuclear reactor at the edge of the Alco site decommissioned. It’s used by RPI students.

“People still think of Schenectady like it was 10 years ago,” he said. “We bring people here [now] and they’re shocked.”

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