St. Francis project takes a step forward – Hasso Hering

HASSO HERING

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St. Francis project takes a step forward

Written January 15th, 2020 by Hasso Hering

Marc Manley and Bill Ryals explain their ideas for the old St. Francis Hotel before the CARA board Wednesday.

It will take a few years and millions of dollars, but if things happen as intended, the former St. Francis Hotel and adjacent Rhodes Building in Albany will become a downtown showplace once again.

The city urban renewal agency has an option to buy the property for $650,000. On Wednesday the council, acting as the Albany Revitalization Agency or ARA, agreed to an offer by developer Marc Manley to buy it for $700,000 subject to the terms of a development agreement that’s to be negotiated over the next four months.

Once the agreement is reached and signed, the city will exercise its option and immediately complete the sale to Manley’s company, MMVentures.

Manley and his wife, Anni, redeveloped the historic Flinn Block and adjacent Ames Building on First Avenue over several years starting in 2005 to house restaurants, retail shops and an upstairs event center or ballroom.

Manley and Albany architect Bill Ryals outlined their plans for the separate but connected St. Francis and Rhodes buildings at Ferry Street and First Avenue before the advisory board of the Central Albany Revitalization Area, the city’s urban renewal district.

There are no details yet. But the concept is to restore the St. Francis’s tall ground floor windows and restore that floor as retail, restaurant and “co-working” space. On the upper floors, now vacant, they envision two-bedroom apartments. Above that, perhaps a rooftop cafe.

In the Rhodes Building, which was part of the hotel in its day but has different levels and fewer floors, they are thinking of a bed and breakfast.

Why did the city take an option and then look for buyer and developer? Because the building had found no buyers when it was listed, CARA wants it to be redeveloped to contribute to the vitality of downtown, and CARA wants some control over how the redevelopment is done. That control is what the agreement will be negotiated to provide.

Manley’s approach is to rebuild the infrastructure to support full occupancy, but then to proceed in phases, ground floor first, then work upward. He can’t say how long this will take, but it may be a few years. As for estimates of the overall cost, all anybody would say was “millions.”

CARA will be asked for financial assistance under the urban renewal program as the project moves forward.

Manley and Ryals have thoroughly inspected the buildings. The back of the Rhodes section has issues, according to Ryals, but the rest of the complex is in surprisingly good shape.

The fate of the St. Francis, which was built around 1915, has been a topic since at least the 1970s as one after another of the other multistory structures in central Albany were pulled down.  Manley and Ryals say the goal now is to preserve its history while making the building ready for today and for the future.

On Wednesday, both the CARA board and then the council voted unanimously to let them try. (hh)

The alley behind the St. Francis on Feb.23, 2019. This space too is due for some restoration.



18 responses to “St. Francis project takes a step forward”

  1. DAVE says:

    Thank you, Mr. Hering, for what reads to me as fact based, objective reporting. I could not make the meeting due to work so was really hoping for a report. You did not disappoint.
    This sets the stage (at least for me) to watch how the process unfolds from here. I simply cannot believe, that others have asserted, that everything CARA does is somehow not on the level. It simply defies the odds.
    For starters, that would mean that the entire CARA council is corrupt and every builder/renovator and/or entrepreneur/business person who has worked with with CARA over the last 20 years is also corrupt or corrupted by them. Further, as council members come and go, the corruption would have to pass from council person to council person, presumably with a contorted secret handshake or the old “nudge nudge, wink, wink.”
    Somewhere, sometime someone would have blown the whistle when he or she was disrespected, overruled or simply didn’t get what was promised. Has that happened? The whole CARA house of cards would have collapsed, would it not? Again, it simply defies the odds to have been so well choreographed for nearly two decades.
    Some who read this post might think that I’m going into this with a preconceived notion. No! My background is in the sciences; I need proof, not conjecture. I have no dog in the fight, unless truth is a cocker spaniel. I may be a noob, but I’m no a rube. I know “shady” deals are made, even locally. I also know sometimes they’re exposed to sunlight…Central School…Councilor Olsen…Google it.
    So just what developmental control will CARA require in return for its “financial assistance?” Forgive my boldness when I suggest that we all keep a collective, objective eye on this “test case” going forward. Read, watch, listen, attend, question, report. Favor factual posts over emotional ones and don’t get sucked in by the bumper sticker gang.
    Cheers!

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Ryals is also the vice chair of the infamous Landmarks Commission. Will he recuse himself from future commission rulings, or resign, given the obvious conflict of interest?

    And why would any smart businessman pay $50,000 more than a property’s value AND subject himself to city control?

    I presume the quid pro quo from CARA will be pretty huge given these circumstances.

  3. Wayne Henneck says:

    With the city in the middle of the deal is there an estimate of what it is going to cost the taxpayers?

  4. TBoss says:

    Exactly what DAVE stated! Well Done!

    Gordon and Wayne, GREAT questions! It would be great to have factual answers!

  5. Derek says:

    He resigned in the December meeting

  6. Cap says:

    Dave: I know more about you than about St. Francis project after reading your post.

    Urban renewal (CARA) was developed in California some years ago. It is brought about by tax increment financing. That is, skimming money off the top of property taxes, and entities (such as schools, roads) have to do with less because CARA (urban renewal) gets their money no matter what. California since has outlawed tax increment financing and therefore urban renewal districts in California. They say it will take them many years to pay off the debts already incurred by their urban renewal. Urban renewal displaces poor people and working class people. They can no longer afford to live in the elite communities that have grown up due to urban renewal.

    Albany trying another couple of restaurants in the old St. Francis building is ill-advised. They outfitted the J.C. Penney Building and the Wheelhouse for restaurants and have had no takers for at least 10 years. No restaurant has gone into either building.

    So much for CARA touting their successes. Get them to answer why they couldn’t get restaurants in the former J.C. Penney building and the new Wheelhouse!

    As far as the St. Francis being a “test case,” what are you talking about!!! CARA has been doing their stuff since 2001. It is a little late for a test case. Your reasoning, at least as indicated by your writing, is a little lofty, isn’t it?

    CARA had a chance to convert the St. Francis to affordable apartments years ago and turned it down They wanted “a boutique hotel” near their Carousel! So, now they are talking “bed and breakfast.” God save us from CARA schemes!

  7. Ray Kopczynski says:

    “They say it will take them many years to pay off the debts already incurred by their urban renewal.”

    Unless their property taxes ‘tank,” their URD’s will pay off via their TIF — and as scheduled. Same will happen here in Albany too.

    “They outfitted the J.C. Penney Building and the Wheelhouse for restaurants and have had no takers for at least 10 years. No restaurant has gone into either building…Get them to answer why they couldn’t get restaurants in the former J.C. Penney building and the new Wheelhouse!”

    CARA has never had (and never will) control over what a developer finally ends up attracting. That the owners were unable to attract the tenants they desired was not a forgone conclusion by any stretch of the imagination. The plans were sound and the properties were re-developed to bring more tax dollars into the community. They did & continue to do so.

    “God save us from CARA schemes!>
    That will occur when the URD sunsets.

  8. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Very well stated (again) Dave!

  9. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Wayne, et al;
    “With the city in the middle of the deal is there an estimate of what it is going to cost the taxpayers?”

    Your total property tax bill (as determined by the Linn Co. Assessor) does not change whether or not there is a URD in play. https://www.cityofalbany.net/data/propertytax

  10. Susan Stearns says:

    Very little has been said about Pride Printing, the long standing business in the building facing First Street. The only thing that I have seen was a very short statement that the business will close. This sound like they are not relocating. Are the owners wanting to retire or are they being forced out somehow? It’s a bit hard to understand how they would be forced out since they own the building, but it is still a concern for a long time business in downtown. Hasso, do you know?

  11. Rich Kellum says:

    Ray, that is not quite correct, your property tax does not rise, but the fact that millions are being diverted to CARA means that less is done with tax money and either fees are added or things do not get done. like right now the money diverted to CARA could have been used to fund the shortfall in the Police budget.

  12. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Plus, CARA is a betrayal of trust between voters and the taxing districts.

    The tax rate for each taxing district was approved by voters for delivery of specific, essential services. Then non-voter approved CARA comes along and violates the trust by skimming money away the district’s purpose. And the taxing district doesn’t have the option to say ‘stop’.

    Isn’t this violation of trust why the council decided in about 2013 to stop CARA skimming from local bond measures and police/fire levies? But the council still allows CARA to skim from the other taxing districts. Great job, city council, great job.

  13. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Rich-
    What I stated was & is correct. You even state so before you mention general reasoning some folks have a disdain for the funding mechanism.

    • Rich Kellum says:

      Ray, no matter how many times excuses are made for CARA, the fact remains that it does take money that could be used for police and fire out of the system. Now we can argue all night about how reasonable or not that is… but the fact is…………what the fact is… and with a hole in the budget the Mayor and friends are frantically looking for ways to get more money to make up for it………and I have been looking to find things in the budget to cut to make up for it…………………..……….your turn :)

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        You’re going off on a tangent because my statement was/is 100% accurate. However, to play your game:

        Points to ponder:
        If CARA never existed, how much more demand would there be on the police to deal with the crime we had in the downtown back then?
        How much more demand on fire with safety issues? (Has Albany suffered in any way due to lack of Fire or Police?)
        Where would the funds come from to pay for that demand?
        How much more blight?
        Would we have a Carousel?
        Would we have the investment city wide with a blighted downtown?
        How many jobs would there be?
        Would he have had the amount of business he has had the past twenty years?
        Where would the funds have come from to assist the industries, like Viper?

        We can chase each others tails ad infinitum on this. I believe Albany is much better off for having the URD. Every year that goes by with increases in property values due to the improvements within the URD reinforce that belief.

      • Ray Kopczynski says:

        I’ll also suggest that it is up to the City Manager to create and make the budget decisions up front. Council can (and should) make policy decisions to help “drive” the decision making, but not to micro-manage the job of the City Manager…

  14. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Gordon-
    For someone with zero skin in the game, you sure like to continue to flog that dead horse! You seriously need to read & re-read Dave’s comment at the beginning of this particular blog..

 

 
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