November 16, 2011
By: Chris Churchill, Business Writer
Source: Times Union
ALBANY -- The rapidly expanding College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany wants to use a landmark former train station as incubator space for smaller technology companies.
Under the plan, the NanoCollege would partner with Capitalize Albany, the city's economic development arm, to purchase the former Union Station, now known as Kiernan Plaza.
The landmark at 575 Broadway in downtown Albany has been vacant since early 2010, when Bank of America -- the only tenant -- moved employees out of the building, which was converted to office space in 1986.
Alain Kaloyeros, chief executive at the NanoCollege, on Tuesday said the plan calls for the creation of a fund to buy and retrofit the station. The state would kick in $4 million and additional money would come from private companies, including some who have already committed to locating at the building.
Capitalize Albany would own Kiernan Plaza, under the plan outlined by Kaloyeros, but the NanoCollege would direct smaller private companies to the building, which is about six miles from the school's Fuller Road campus.
Kaloyeros envisions a three-point plan that would have smaller companies incubating at Kiernan Plaza then moving to the Harriman State Office Campus in uptown Albany when they grow larger.
The hope, Kaloyeros said, is that companies will eventually outgrow existing Harriman space and construct their own buildings on the campus, fulfilling a long-stated state and city goal to make the 330-acre property a hub for private high-tech companies.
Kaloyeros said state support for the project, which was requested in a Capital Region Economic Development Council plan submitted this week to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is key.
"We need the $4 million as the anchor," Kaloyeros said, adding that the money will let "people know this is real and this is serious."
Although Kiernan Plaza presumably would be taken off the tax rolls under the plan, a NanoCollege presence in downtown Albany would answer critics who have said the school's growth on the city's western fringe has done little to benefit Albany's core.
And in some respects, high-tech companies at Kiernan Plaza would nicely symbolize an ongoing changing of the guard in the region's economy.
Downtown Albany, after all, for decades depended on financial institutions to fill office space -- and take on projects of civic benefit. It was Norstar Bank, then run by Peter Kiernan, that took an abandoned Union Station and made it one of the great comeback stories of Albany architecture.
But the Capital Region's financial sector has been in retreat, as waves of consolidation moved bank corporate headquarters to other parts of the country.
Now, though, the emerging high-tech economy could bring new life downtown. Kaloyeros said the NanoCollege, which is building a $300 million expansion north of Washington Avenue Extension, is already considering other downtown sites for additional incubator space.
Michael Yevoli, commissioner of economic development for Albany, noted that city officials began marketing Union Station to potential tenants "long before Bank of America vacated the structure."
But the building has drawbacks, including higher-than-average heating bills. Those costs, Yevoli said, mean the incubator project "has to come with some sort of subsidy to make it happen."
The $4 million requested for the incubator by the Capital Region Economic Development Council is now part of a state competition for economic development dollars. The state has said it could decide on funding for projects by December.
Union Station opened to passenger travel in 1900. The Beaux Arts-style building, with an impressive interior hall, is owned by Gramercy Capital Corp., a New York City real estate investment group.
Gramercy executives could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
"The concept is to basically take a landmark and keep it a landmark," Kaloyeros said, "while turning the inside into a hub for innovation and business development."
Read more: http://www.timesunion.com/business/article/NanoCollege-wants-to-pull-into-station-2271300.php#ixzz1dtTx8jMC