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.”