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Developer building on Hedley’s vision for Troy

James V. Franco , The Record
March 26, 2007

TROY – While a home in Colonie is getting an extreme makeover, there are plans in the works to give a 25-block area surrounding Hedley Park Place and Flanigan Square the same treatment.

Last year, self proclaimed used car salesman and developer John Hedley sold his two buildings and his Cadillac dealership to First Columbia, a major commercial development company from Latham, with the hopes it would take his vision for the area and turn it into a reality.

While nothing is set in stone, the vision First Columbia has for the area between Federal and Jay streets and Seventh Avenue and the Hudson River includes a hotel, an office building, condominiums, a riverfront promenade, a couple of parks and a new parking garage.

All told, it could mean $500 million in direct and indirect investment into the city over 10 years.

One of the first steps, said First Columbia President Kevin Bette, is to build a 1,000-car parking garage on River Street across from Hedley Park Place to consolidate all the parking spots currently scattered about in different parking lots in one spot thereby opening up the lots for development.

“The parking lots strangle future growth in the neighborhood because all you do is park on the land,” Bette said. “Once we get the parking garage built, it will free up the lots and we will start to develop the waterfront.”

The next step is to construct a seven-story, 120-room hotel/conference center between Hedley Park Place and the Collar City Bridge. Bette said the hotel/conference center will take advantage of “the biggest economic engines Troy has now, which are the universities.” Bette has been talking to major hotel chains to get a franchise and hopes to break ground this fall.

“There are three colleges and 20,000 students in Troy, and right now their conference needs are being met outside of the market,” he said, adding the lodging and conference facilities will help support the existing restaurants and retail establishments. “It will bring more student life into that section of town.”

The section of the city open to the public will also get a makeover with two urban parks, one at the end of Jacob Street near the marina and one near where the former Cadillac dealership now stands.

The objective, Bette said, is to get more activity at the marina and still maintain a place for the farmers market and craft fairs.

There are also plans for a 200,000 square-foot mixed use office building for the parking lot to the south of Hedley Park Place. It will feature retail on the ground floor, office on the next six floors and the top floor will be residential.

This section of the city is one of the most underutilized, and critical in the city with 60,000 cars coming across the Collar City Bridge daily and 30,000 coming across the Green Island Bridge, Bette said. Plus there are already 1,500 people working in the area.

“It needs to be an economic and vibrant area for the city to flourish,” Bette said. “We have the jobs here already and we want to add to it.”

The plan, capacity and commitment to carry it out is one reason Hedley sold the two massive former manufacturing buildings he converted into office space to First Columbia. While Troy has had a steady stream of developers promising the moon and sky, Hedley thinks First Columbia can pull it off.

“I personally think he can. When you are of that size and you have the wherewithal and the equipment and people in house already, these things can happen,” Hedley said. “And I think he is very committed, and when someone is that committed and they have already proven they are willing to spend money in the city … why not?

“To put up one or two buildings is one thing but I couldn’t do a 25-block area. I’m just a used car salesman,” Hedley said.

Mayor Harry Tutunjian said the city will work with First Columbia and would consider extending Industrial Development Agency assistance. He did add the company has not said it would not move forward without the assistance either. He compared the scope of the plan to the Congress-Ferry Street corridor project, which Hedley is also involved in, and said construction on the two projects could happen at the same time.

“It is this type of for-profit construction that has been long overdue in the city of Troy,” Tutunjian said. “It is nice to have organic growth and development and not development fueled by public dollars like (Schenectady’s) Metroplex.”

Bette said it would be easier to buy 50 acres of land in Clifton Park and start from scratch, and it would be easier yet to be a major landlord in the city by operating Hedley Park Place and Flanigan Square, but added, “We can’t keep on cutting down trees and building suburban office parks or we will be shooting ourselves in the foot.

“We can’t keep the blinders on and not worry about downtowns. John (Hedley) wanted to help Troy, and that is why he sold us the buildings. Some say we were crazy and things like ‘the neighborhood is no good’ and we do know that, but we feel we are up to the challenge.”

Major development envisioned for Troy

TROY — A Latham developer intends to dramatically remake a section of the city’s waterfront, with plans for new office and condominium buildings, a seven-story hotel and a riverside promenade.

First Columbia has even taken the unusual step of commissioning a master plan for roughly 25 city blocks in an area bordered by Federal Street to the south and Jay Street to the north. The plan, which dubs the area “The Hedley District,” calls for the eventual construction of dozens of buildings in the area just north of downtown and the Green Island Bridge. But Mark Bette, vice president of First Columbia, said his company will concentrate its efforts along the water, and hopes other developers will follow the rest of the master plan. In coming months, Bette said, First Columbia will redevelop Hedley Park Place and Flanigan Square, office buildings on the waterfront. The company wants to build a second office building on the Flanigan Square site.

In late 2007 or 2008, Bette said, First Columbia will turn attention to constructing a hotel on the site of the former Hedley Cadillac dealership on River Street, as well as an office and residential building on the parking lot just south of Hedley Park Place that is now home to the Troy Farmers Market. A parking garage would be built on a parking lot across River Street from Hedley Park Place.

“We’re very bullish on the city of Troy,” Bette said. “The city of Albany has been revitalized in a lot of areas. It’s our feeling that Troy is poised to do the same.”

Bette said negotiations with city officials are under way, and left open the possibility the company will request financial assistance from the city. He said he had no estimate of the project’s overall development costs. Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian said no request for assistance has been made, but said the city is committed to the development “and will search many different avenues of funding to make the city’s part of the project happen.” Tutunjian, calling this a special time in Troy’s history, said the developer “plans to transform the entire neighborhood.” He also said city officials are committed to maintaining and increasing public access to the waterfront.

The area is a mix of apartments, parking lots, office buildings and businesses like Brown’s Brewing Co. Some of its buildings have been recently renovated, while others stand empty and boarded up. Last year, First Columbia bought several properties — including Flanigan Square and Hedley Park Place — along the waterfront from car dealer and developer John Hedley. On Monday, Hedley said First Columbia told him of its plans for the area, and the magnitude of the project helped persuade him to sell. Terms of the sale were not disclosed. The site, Hedley said, “needed somebody else who had the wherewithal and the equipment to do a project of that size. I couldn’t have done anything that big.”

First Columbia has created a Web site for the project — http://www.hedleyparkplace.com — though on Monday, Bette said the company was not yet ready to take its plans public. The Web site describes the plan as “a vision for a vibrant waterfront district in downtown Troy” and calls the area “Troy’s riverfront of tomorrow.” It includes detailed renderings, prepared by Saratoga Associates of Saratoga Springs, that show new buildings, the waterfront promenade, dramatically remade streetscapes and even a pedestrian skyway over River Street.

Some of the renderings indicate the hotel would be a Marriott. Bette, however, said that hotel chain is just one of several with which First Columbia is talking. Tutunjian said he has been in discussion with the developers for several months. On Monday, he and other city officials said they are bullish on the development plans.

“First Columbia is a very well-financed and successful organization,” the mayor said. “From everything they’ve expressed to us, they’re ready to go forward with the plan.”

First Columbia built Century Hill Plaza off Route 9 in Latham, a 22-acre office park that is home to Blue Shield of Northeastern New York and the New York State School Boards Association; Riverhill Center, the former CHP/Kaiser Permanente medical complex on Troy-Schenectady Road in Latham, which it is redeveloping as a tech-company campus; and New York International Plaza, 260 acres adjacent to Stewart International Airport in New Windsor, which is being developed into commercial office and industrial space.

The company also has built residential, retail and medical office projects. Last month, First Columbia put its portfolio of nine medical buildings in and around the Capital Region on the market, a sale that observers say could bring in more than $84 million.

City Council member Mark McGrath, a Republican whose district includes part of the development zone, said he first viewed the project plans in the mayor’s office. He said the building formerly occupied by Mooradian’s Furniture, just north of Flanigan Square, also is set for redevelopment, as are several other sites across the city.

“There’s one thing after another right now,” he said. Bette, noting the master plan shows construction on sites occupied by homes and buildings, stressed the plan is only a blueprint. But he said it’s a plan that would stitch together parts of the city, create pedestrian corridors and call for the creation of a lively residential, retail and office district.

“We as a company feel very confident with our investment in Troy, and very confident in the city itself,” Bette said.

Chris Churchill can be reached at 454-5442 or by e-mail at cchurchill@timesunion.com.

Developer Shows Off Plan To Redevelop Troy Waterfront

One local developer has an ambitious plan to revitalize a portion of Troy, believing the Collar City is ready to grow again.
The Latham-based company wants to redevelop a major section of the land on the river, along River Street between Federal and Jay Streets.

The plan involves about a 25-block area along River Street, including the Hedley Park Place building and the old car dealership next door. The developers say their plan is not the end-all/be-all, but a blueprint for the bigger picture. Troy’s waterfront has changed with time and has made something of a comeback in recent years.

Developer Mark Bette wants to make that comeback even bigger. Mark Bette/First Columbia Development: “Waterfront development is primarily we’re doing and the plan is a blueprint of what we think this area can be.” Mark is a vice president with First Columbia Development of Latham, which sees this area and Troy as a whole as primed for redevelopment and an investment that could provide a solid return. To get that return, they are making plans for a hotel, residential and commercial space, and a pedestrian walkway along the river where the Industrial Revolution blossomed and grew.

Mark Bette: “We’ve seen the redevelopment efforts in downtown Albany and felt Troy is really the next in line. It’s got a great infrastructure, a traffic and transportation system. It’s easy to get to.” This plan comes not long after talk that developers were interested in buying Troy City Hall and replacing it with valuable office and other space. Bette says what is needed to do this right is a group effort from various investors, not spot development, and to continue the vision John Hedley had when he began developing the old Cluett, Peabody factory a decade ago.

Mark Bette: “We’d like to attract more people to this area and to this building and the more people we can attract, the more the other sectors of urban infill and urban redevelopment will grow.” Mark Bette says they have had only informal talks with Mayor Harry Tutunjian and other city officials – but they’ve been receptive.

More information on the plans is expecting in the next few weeks, with work hoped to begin in the next 6 to 12 months.