Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Glens Falls pursues ‘transport hub’-parking garage on current Elm St. lot

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

The City of Glens Falls wants to build a multi-purpose parking garage-“transportation hub” in the current Elm Street parking lot. It would use $2.5-million from its $10-million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant and a $12.8 million grant it has applied for from the Biden Administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal.

Mayor Bill Collins tentatively plans to unveil the full project next month, target date May 21.

“We’ll have the details at a public meeting, and hold meetings after,” the mayor told The Chronicle.

“We are working hard to bring what will be leveraged to a $50 million project across the finish line.”

Elm Street parking lot today — The yellow box approximates a configuration of how a “Transportation Hub” parking structure might be situated, based on a 2004 study by the City. Drone photo/Jake Zanoni for The Chronicle

The transportation hub’s overall price tag? “$15- to $17- million, if it all goes through and we get the grant money.” says Jeff Flagg, Glens Falls Economic Development Director. His office applied for the $12.8 million federal RAISE grant (for “Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity”).

The “transportation hub” would be named for the late Economic Development Corporation President Ed Bartholomew.

It would accommodate 350 to 500 vehicles, with charging stations for electric vehicles, and it would incorporate the Trailways bus station currently at the Empire Pizza on the corner of Elm Street and Hudson Avenue.

It would also serve as a downtown local bus and trolley hub, and include an indoor ticketing and waiting area, rest rooms and possibly retail space and possible car and bike sharing space too.

A parking garage was originally planned on South Street as part of a multi-use building where the Farmers Market pavilion stands now. It earmarked $2-million of the $10-million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant awarded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2016.

Mayor Bill Collins and Mr. Flagg said plans have evolved to include five multi-use retail/residential buildings to be rehabbed or built by Saratoga Springs developer Sonny Bonacio — totalling close to 100 apartments (see sidebar).

They said that housing has emerged as a greater need since the DRI plan was approved, and parking is needed for that and for the “substantial” retail offerings of the DRI projects, “and other development going on downtown.”

With the expected loss of 120 spaces in the current Farmers Market lot, they said they revisited a parking structure proposal floated for the Elm Street lot in 2004, which never materialized.

They expect to use $2.5 million of the DRI grant and another $1.5 million state grant secured for this purpose by the late Mr. Bartholomew.

“There were so many good ideas envisioned back then,” Mr. Flagg says of the 2004 plan, listing: “A multimodal transit home, centralization of transit options, long distance busses and an opportunity for local busses to interact with them in cohesion. The dilemma they faced at the time was financing.”

Now, says Mayor Collins, “There is money in transportation for green solutions.”

He adds, “If the grant does not come through we would scale it back.”

“The fundamental impetus is the need for parking,” Mr. Flagg says. “The City did studies on the Elm Street lot, three times in 30 years. It’s in the history, as we did our research.”

They said they’re in “continuous” communication with state Economic Development, which oversees the DRI grants, “and vetting will always continue.”

Mayor Collins said, “We’ve had calls from some businesses that butt up to Elm Street concerned about access for delivery trucks and emergency vehicles.”

“The engineering of the building has not been done,” he said. “They should know the mayor understands their concerns and is taking their concerns into the building plan.”

Businesses balk at Mayor’s new Elm Street plan

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

“How vehemently and vocally opposed do you want me to be?” asks Journey Kerchner-Pirrone, General Manager of Downtown Hospitality, Inc., which operates two business adjacent to the Elm Street parking lot — Downtown City Tavern and Downtown Social. “About a month ago I reached to the mayor on another matter and he happened to spill the beans that ‘We’ll be in contact about the parking garage.’ I was like, ‘What!?’”

“More than any other business, Downtown City Tavern stands to suffer,” Mr. Kerchner-Pirrone said.

“Our front door is on the parking lot. To have it facing a four-story concrete wall, it’s just outrageous to me. It eliminates our outside dining. That’s 30 percent of our seating capacity, key to our success.”

Parking structure had been planned at South Street lot, behind the current Farmers Market, which will move a block west. Planned for the front part of the parcel is a multi-use building, with an apartment building behind it and the former Sandy’s Clam Bar building seen at left. Parking lots to the rear and right of the current city lot are privately owned, including a large lot by Glens Falls National Bank. Drone photo/Jake Zanoni for The Chronicle

“In my humble opinion,” says Mr. Kerchner-Pirrone, “the City flubbed this. They accommodated an out of town developer at the expense of its own businesses…

“Frankly, I don’t think we have a parking problem. The Civic Center (now Cool Insuring Arena) has a parking problem, when they have a 4,000 person event.”

“I’ve been asking for plans and some formal review with the Mayor’s office for over a month and they haven’t responded.”

“They haven’t talked to us since that” chance conversation a month ago, says Mr. Kerchner-Pirrone. “My first question is, there’s been no Planning Board meeting or anything yet?”

Tenee Casaccio, president of JMZ Architects in the B.B. Fowler Building that contains Downtown Social on its first floor, said, “It feels like the City put the cart before the horse.

“I am not in favor of the project as presented. I remain open and hope that all the property owners could be part of the discussion in the challenge to create something that is good for everybody.”

Ms. Casaccio said she was speaking in her role as managing member of the Fowler Building Associates, “I am disappointed that the City proceeded with a significant grant application for the parking garage project without consulting with the adjacent properties. I was disappointed that we only learned about it through the grapevine.”

She questioned “the validity” of using a 2004 study to support the grant application, when so much has changed — including the addition of three parking garages downtown. “It could be misleading.”

“There’s already a parking garage on the other side of Elm Street. I’m not sure that having opposing parking garages adds to the appearance and functionality of that space.”

While the DRI project aims to improve South Street, she said, “If you pop a parking garage in the middle of Elm Street, you detract from the property values of those existing buildings around it. It’s ironic.”

Ms. Casaccio notes too, “The City just spent a million dollars on a green infrastructure project in the Elm Street lot. That would go away if they do this.”

Chuck Gohn of Associates of Glens Falls insurance, which has just done a major rehab of 220 Glen that backs on to the Elm Street lot, e-mailed The Chronicle, “What’s been interesting is City officials have not sought input from the majority of the business owners or tenants that would be impacted.”

“I feel the location is poor,” he wrote. “So many of the businesses that border this Parking Lot have entrances onto the parking lot.

“How would a garage impact visibility, access, safety, fire truck access, deliveries (i.e. Bullpen, Downtown City Tavern, Downtown Social, etc.)?

“In addition, the City just spent a significant amount of money digging up the parking lot to fix drainage, sewer lines, redirecting power, etc. Will those taxpayer dollars be thrown down the proverbial toilet?”

Mr. Gohn said, “I’ve driven around to various city lots and the main streets… on different days and at different times. Very rarely have I seen everything full. In fact one day I walked the entire Park Street parking garage at 1 p.m. and counted over 200 empty parking spots.”

Since Covid, he adds, “The Hybrid work model has taken hold, and I don’t see it changing for the professional service firms that are downtown.” His own company has gone from 30 to 15 employees in the office on any day, he said.

Ed Moore, owner of the Queensbury Hotel, said even though the proposed structure doesn’t directly impact the Q, “I’m for the $10 million, but I don’t necessarily think the way they are spending it is the right way. I would like to see a study on how much the parking garages we have are being used now.

“I’m for a parking garage if it’s needed, but I’m not for it there. It would be a conglomerated mess. People have apartments upstairs in a lot of the buildings. Who would want to look out into a parking garage with busses and cars going in there all night. You have events now with 5,000 people and they’re finding places to park. It’s food for thinking.”

Developer Elizabeth Miller, who owns the Park Theater building and is renovating the multi-use building directly across Park Street from the Theater, said, “I believe we need to verify the need for another parking garage at this time before burdening Glens Falls taxpayers.”

She said, “I also believe a transportation hub needs to be located in a much less congested area of the community. To put buses on a narrow street such as Elm Street seems ill conceived.”

Tom Murphy, CEO of Glens Falls National Bank and Arrow Financial Corporation, said, “I don’t have enough information” to form an opinion on the project.

Supporting the project is Robin Barkenhagen, proprietor of 42 Degrees in the Colvin Building that backs onto the Elm Street lot. “I did sign a letter of support for the $13 million project because I like the mixed use, particularly the transportation hub is much needed. I also like the facade.”

South Street, west of Elm Street — OTB lot, former Hotshots building (right) and so-called Incubator building (behind Hotshots). The planned Market Center with farmers market, kitchen and other uses, would attach to the back of the Incubator building, with a stage in the top left of this picture. The South Street frontage would be landscaped as a “pocket park.” Drone photo/Jake Zanoni for The Chronicle

Elected officials’ split view of Elm St. project

The Chronicle reached out to numerous elected officials on Monday about Mayor Bill Collins’s plan for a parking garage/transportation hub to be built on the current Elm Street parking lot.

Here’s some we heard back from.

Councilman at Large Jim Clark said, “I think locating it in the heart of the Central Business District makes sense….If done correctly this transportation hub should meet the ever changing transportation needs of our downtown businesses, residents and visitors, alike.”

Ward 4 Councilman Ben Lapham said, “I like the idea of a multi-modal transit hub.”

Mr. Lapham continued, “I also think it is a benefit that out of the changes that have happened with the DRI, that there is a greater sense of getting some lower-cost housing integrated into the proposal. I do say that it is important to get some public feedback and involvement as it seems to me plans have changed quite a bit.”

Ward 2 Councilman Bob Landry said, “There is not enough information on whether what they are doing is the right thing. I’m not a big fan of parking garages. Drive through the ones we have now and they are not anywhere near full. If you are going to do it, it’s preferably on the periphery of the business district.”

Mr. Landry said, “I do think the City has to get the private sector involved. They are the ones with skin in the game. We also have to know about the effect on residential tax base. People are already tax stressed.”

Dan Bruno, county supervisor for Glens Falls Ward 4, said he was not aware the project had shifted location from South Street. Mr. Bruno said, “The talk of developing that as a transportation hub goes back a long way. I believe it is a good idea. I have to see the details. I do think parking does become a problem many times in downtown.” — Cathy DeDe

DRI plan for Elm & South Streets with Sonny Bonacio

The City of Glens Falls selected Sonny Bonacio of Saratoga Springs as its partner on the South Street portion of the projects receiving funding from the state’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant to the city.

Glens Falls Economic Development Director Jeff Flagg described the agreement, which he said is not signed yet:

Mr. Bonacio will purchase the former Hotshots bar building on the northwest corner of South and Elm Streets and the white so-called “Incubator” building just to its north on Elm.

The purchase prices, from the Glens Falls Local Development Corporation, will be their assessed values of $175,000 and $220,000 respectively.

Mr. Bonacio will purchase the now cleared former Juicin’ Jar footprint — next to Hotshots — from the City for $40,000, and has an option to buy the current Farmers Market lot on South Street for $250,000, pending grants or incentives he is seeking independently.

The agreement is for Mr. Bonacio to lease the first floor of the incubator building back to the City on a long term contract, with price and terms still to be negotiated, Mr. Flagg said.

The first floor of the Incubator building will tie into the planned Market Center in the former OTB lot, now cleared behind the incubator building.

It will include indoor vendor/events spaces and a community kitchen available for events, cooking demos and other commercial uses.

The Market Center, scaled back due to cost constraints, will be built by the City. It was budgeted for $3 million in DRI funds.

It will be open air, with flexible closures for weather, and a stage in the back corner. Funds first allocated for a “pocket park” will be used to landscape the front of the lot, facing South Street.

Hotshots and the upper floors of the Incubator building will be renovated by Mr. Bonacio for mixed retail/office/apartment use. He’ll do the same with the former Sandy’s Clam Bar building, across Elm, which he already bought and is not part of the DRI plan.

Mr. Bonacio plans a mixed use building at the current farmer’s market lot facing South Street, with a potentially five-story, 90-unit apartment building behind it, possibly with some parking spaces in the site plan, Mr. Flagg said. — Cathy DeDe

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