For first time in decades, optimism at First Prize Center


ALBANY - There’s reason for optimism at the former Tobin First Prize plant. It only took 35 years.

On Thursday, state and local officials met at the plant to unveil plans for a mixed-use commercial and housing project at the facility, which since 1981 has routinely changed owners and perplexed local developers.

The details were light; the sighs of relief visible in the frigid December air.

 

“I almost had to pinch myself,” Assemblyman John T. McDonald said of the plans, which are being spearheaded by Richbell Capital with significant help from state development agencies.

For years, the vacant plant and crumbling signage has protruded into the west Albany skyline, greeting Interstate 90 drivers commuting into the heart of the Capital Region. The former hotdog plant is in a prime location, sitting on the southern edge of Colonie and only minutes away from downtown Albany. Yet the plant has consistently been among the most difficult sites to redevelop, Colonie Supervisor Paula Mahan said.

Part of that is location: The 32-acre property straddles the borders of Albany and Colonie, making it a maze of zoning requirements.

The other is usage: Wal-Mart, Whole Foods and Lowe’s have all mulled the site for potential stores to no avail. A 2014 proposal to turn the site into a casino was met with little local interest.

With the newest proposal, Richbell Capital tackles both issues.

The First Prize name and property “means a lot of things to a lot of people,“ Richbell Capital Executive President Bill Hoblock told reporters.

By merging residential and commercial components, he said, the property will meet neighborhood wants and needs, while hopefully bringing more jobs to the area and deterring the disinterest that befell his predecessors.

“Wal-Mart is not a part of west Albany,” he said. “A casino is not a part of west Albany.”

Hoblock was light on details — despite the optimism, the plan, which will use a combination of private and public funds, is far from finalized — but he did say his company has been talking with officials since October 2015, when the Capital Region Economic Development Council designated the site as one of four local “catalyst projects” for revitalization. The Albany Convention Center and a project to revamp downtown Glens Falls also received such designation.

Before Richbell Capital can start an estimated $1.5 million demolition of the property and clear it of asbestos, the company will need Colonie and Albany planning officials to develop a special zoning district overlaying the property, to be overseen by a consolidated board. An oft-used state statute allows as much, though it has rarely been used in Albany County. To his memory, the most recent use of the provision was for Crossgates Mall, which straddles Guilderland and Albany, County Executive Dan McCoy said. 

Either way, officials seem happy to oblige if it means bringing the property that Albany Treasurer Darius Shahinfar called “contemptible” back to city and county tax rolls. 

Even with myriad local Industrial Development Agency tax breaks that Holbrock said his company will pursue, the property “will still be a net benefit” to Colonie and Albany, Shahinfar said.


Source: http://www.timesunion.com/7dayarchive/article/For-first-time-in-decades-optimism-at-First-10798537.php

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