April 18, 2013
By: Larry Rulison and Jordan Carleo-Evangelist
Source: Times Union
Goal is to establish high-tech incubator
ALBANY — The
UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering plans to buy
Kiernan Plaza — downtown Albany's historic former train station —
through eminent domain so it can more quickly turn the property into a
The NanoCollege has been poised to acquire
the building on Broadway after being awarded a $4 million grant from the
state to fund the project. Clough Harbour & Associates, a
Colonie-based engineering firm, agreed to move its headquarters and
executive management to Kiernan Plaza to become the anchor tenant of the
incubator, which hopes to become a model of urban revitalization
through technology. But there are obstacles to acquiring the plaza,
which is why eminent domain, a process by which the government acquires
private property for the civic good, is being considered.
building, built in 1899 and assessed by the city at $5.5 million, is
collateral in a complex real estate financing deal unrelated to the
NanoCollege project. Covenants in that loan prevent Kiernan Plaza's sale
until 2019 under normal circumstances.
School officials say the
building's owners, who run a large real estate investment fund, do not
oppose the school's purchase of the building. The NanoCollege estimates
the building's market value is about $3 million.
has asked the Albany Industrial Development Agency to acquire the
property through eminent domain. The investment fund owning the building
would be paid a fair market value.
"The idea is that we want to
get companies and people working downtown as soon as possible,"
NanoCollege spokesman Steve Janack said.
incubator, known as the Smart Cities Technology Innovation Center, or
SCiTI Center, was a centerpiece of Mayor Jerry Jennings' State of the
City address and will represent a symbolic expansion of the
NanoCollege's footprint from the outskirts of the city into downtown.
114-year-old former Union Station — vacant since Bank of America pulled
out in 2009 — was the backdrop for Jennings' speech in January.
filed with the IDA say SCiTI would create 150 jobs in the city over
five years as it attracts between 10 and 14 tenants. The project would
cost a total of $10 million, $6 million of which would come from
corporate partners of the NanoCollege who are interested in "smart city"
technologies. Albany is expected to be a "test-bed" for these new
technologies. Clough Harbour, which now goes by CHA, began as a civil
engineering business and has a deep interest in urban engineering and
municipal revitalization. The company says it plans to move into Kiernan
Plaza by the fall.
Under the proposed Kiernan Plaza deal, the
NanoCollege would make payments to the city equal to the amount of real
estate taxes that would otherwise be owed on it, meaning there would be
no loss to the city, county or schools. That agreement is proposed to
last for 15 years.
Michael Yevoli, the city's planning
commissioner and IDA's CEO, said that while he could not guarantee there
would be no resistance to the eminent domain plan, he did not expect
it. Yevoli also said there's no doubt in his mind that putting the
downtown landmark back to productive use serves a legitimate public good
that would justify using eminent domain — a sometimes controversial