No brewery for St. Joe's -- so now what?

st josephs albany exterior

Standing on this hill since 1860.

So what's next for St. Joseph's Church now that Ravens Head Brewing is moving ahead with the Cohoes Armory instead?

That's a tough question, says Bill Brandow, president of the board at the Historic Albany Foundation, which took ownership of the building from the city back in 2003 and has been looking for a buyer ever since. Brandow has been involved with the building in one way or another for about 14 years, and says dozens of prospective buyers for the property have come and gone -- but Ravens Head was the most promising to come along so far.

Does he think it was the building's last chance? Not necessarily. Is he optimistic about finding the right use for the building? No -- at least, not under the current circumstances.

"For years St Joseph's was the largest Catholic church in Albany," says Brandow. "It's 17,500 square feet. It held hundreds of people who contributed a lot of money to keep it going. It was built for intensive use and there is going to have to be a pretty intensive use to save it."

Brandow says Ravens Head's plan for the building might have worked. "The brewery wasn't our first choice but it was the first reasonable option where someone had funding and followed through. We told them we were going to put in the deed it couldn't be open past 11 pm. We were trying to mitigate the noise. It's a building that's been looking for a use for 32 years."

It's not a good fit for a church right now, Brandow says, because even with its size, the church is all sanctuary space. It doesn't have room for a Sunday school, or a meeting space, or a basement -- or heat. "It's a tough sell for a church," Brandow says, "because it doesn't meet the needs of what churches are looking for today."

Neighborhood perspective

st josephs albany verticalMimi O'Neill, president of the Ten Broeck Triangle Preservation League, says the neighbors she's heard from are relieved that the Ravens Head situation is settled. "It's like a burden off of us. We wish them well and we feel that it is a much better option for them. It didn't ever seem like a good fit for us in the middle of this quiet neighborhood." But one upside: O'Neill says the process brought the neighbors together and showed others how much Ten Broeck Triangle residents care about their neighborhood.

O'Neill says the neighborhood is willing and excited to work with Historic Albany, the city of Albany, or whoever ends up owning St. Joseph's to keep the church maintained and find an appropriate use. She says they are working on forming a small independent group to help work on that. Among the ideas being floated: a mausoleum where people can lay to rest the ashes of their loved ones, and a craftsmanship program modeled on one at St. John the Divine in New York City. O'Neill says the neighborhood is not opposed to a commercial use for the church, "as long as it is quiet and doesn't take all the parking."

Can an appropriate use be found for the building? Brandow says he still has hope, but that it will depend on the neighborhood supporting a variance and a resolution of the parking issue. He doesn't think that will happen anytime soon, and the longer the building sits, he says, the more expensive repairs will become, and the less likely it will be that it gets used.

"We've heard all kinds of ideas, but so many are just not reasonable unless Bill Gates steps up and give someone $6 million," Brandow says. "People mentioned a coop - Pioneer Coop was in a 1960s building in Troy and couldn't make it. This building has no heat or electric right now."

Mimi O'Neill says the newly formed Ten Broeck neighborhood group has already found grants they plan to apply for to help keep the building maintained. "There is a lot of money out there that has not been tapped into for this church yet."

While Brandow applauds the intentions of the neighbors, he says their effort is about two decades too late and that they may be reinventing the wheel. "We've been looking at ideas for that building for more than 20 years. Ideas are great but we need investors with money and a plan. "

st josephs albany from north

Will HAF turn St. Joe's back over to the city?

Brandow says Historic Albany never expected to hold the church this long. And in its 10 years of ownership, HAF says it's spent more than $700,000 stabilizing the building (the city had put in $250,000 in 2002). It now costs HAF $6,000 a year to own the building (that doesn't include maintenance or upgrades).

Historic Albany's purchase agreement for the building includes a clause allowing it to hand the building back to the city if it can't find an "an economically viable end-use" for the building after "good faith efforts." Brandow says he's not sure whether they'll use it. "We have said before that we don't want to do that unless we can set up a 'friends' organization to maintain it. We have to talk about it before we decide what to do."

What's so great about St. Joe's?

If you've never been inside St. Joseph's you may be wondering why its preservation is important to HAF and others. "Patrick Keely considered it his masterpiece. He was the most prolific church architect of his time," Brandow says. "It's got one of the largest collections of mid 19th century stained glass -- all the windows are mid 19th century. The architecture is magnificent.

"This is the most significant unused building in the city. Regardless of what the board decides to do, we'll continue to be involved with it. We were involved for 20 years before we owned it, and we'll continue to be involved."
___

Corrections: The original version of this post had two things incorrect -- how long Bill Brandow has been involved with the building, and the name of the original architect (Keely/Healey). We just misheard over the phone. Sorry about that. They've both been fixed.

Find It

St. Joseph's Church
Ten Broeck St and 2nd St
Albany, NY 12210

Comments

It's appropriate that the ad at the top of this article is for American Idiot. Not just for this NIMBYism but for the conditions that brought on the destruction of our urban and rural resources and heritage.

"Ideas are great but we need investors with money and a plan. "

Well, we chased those out of town. On to plan B.

But that is history. Can AOA and Historic Albany put together a fact sheet for the building? Some specs. Does it have a sales price or does it go free to anyone with a viable business plan? Is there a "St Joes - If It Was Good Enough to Be God's House, It Should be Good Enough For You" website that could be used to market it to potential investors?

If people are interested in helping St. Joe's please reach out to HAF or the neighborhood association and help. It does no good to continue to be vicious in the comment sections of these articles.

The Ten Broeck Triangle Preservation League sounds like a landlord I used to know. "I'm looking for a tenant- a single person, preferably female, who doesn't have a boyfriend and never has visitors, makes no noise, will sign for a year lease a pay a huge amount up front, and who doesn't mind if I check in on the unit when I feel like it. UGH, WHY IS IT SO HARD TO FIND A TENANT?"

I live in TB and supported the brewery proposal, but I agree that finger pointing and name calling aren't any use. At this point it's water under the bridge, and it's time to look at next steps.

Here is the issue though, I'm really concerned by the direction the Preservation League is heading in attempting to find a potential owner for St. Joes. In order for St. Joes to be restored and maintained it is going to need a revenue generating business to occupy it. If the Preservation League isn't willing to admit that, they're delusional and the building doesn't stand a chance. There arn't going to be any angle investors, and grants of the magnitude needed are impossible to find in this fiscal climate. No ones going to raise enough money to support the place as a wellness center, or mausoleum, or any of the other pie in the sky ideas people insist on entertaining as viable. The only possible way for the church to be saved is to accept that fact, court an investor, and suck it up that any use of such a large building is going to inevitably draw more people, cars, noise, etc. I for one think it's worth it.

I think it is important to remember that neither the Ten Broeck residents, nor HAF are urban planners - which is the key missing element to this project. It's okay to want major commercial development in the Ten Broeck Neighborhood, but the neighborhood will need to be adapted to make that development possible. Instead of standing around, pointing fingers at each other, we need to involve the one constituency in this issue that remains unengaged: The City of Albany. If we want Ten Broeck to be commercial, we need diagonal parking on Ten Broeck St., we need overnight resident permit parking rather than daytime permit parking. We need increased police presence so that narrow streets like St. Joseph's don't become inaccessible with increased traffic. The only way this project can work is for Ten Broeck Triangle to become a place that can handle a major commercial venture, infrastructure-wise. And if that's the only way to save the church, that's what we need to do. But we need the help of the city.

@jackers, I agree the use is going to need to be something that will inevitably have an impact on the neighborhood. However, the direction of the TTPL is the direction of its members. Please come to meetings and voice your opinion. The more ideas and rational voices the better.

Here's a riddle for you: what's quiet and doesn't "take all the parking"? An unused building.

Because the City has proved so adept at planning.

I would be careful about the idea that we "need" diagonal parking. TB Street is wide (wide enough that it once had a median) and diagonal parking has been discussed in the past. Neighbors who participated in forming the Arbor Hill neighborhood plan a decade or so ago came down solidly against the idea.

It's true that TB street would be able to handle a lot more parked cars, but is that necessarily a good thing? You would essentially be tripling, or even quadrupling, the number of cars that could fit into the same amount of space. That means more congestion, more problems with people ignoring alternate side parking, snow emergencies, etc. I realize that HAF insists we need an "intensive" use at St. Joe's for it to be viable, but there are obvious consequences to making way for more cars and more traffic in what is now a quiet, walkable neighborhood. This is Albany: Cars will expand to fill all available space, and then some ...

If there ever is diagonal parking (something the city of Albany would have to sign off on) it should be limited to the non-residential side of TB Street only.

Ugh. I read about this in the Times-Union. I am starting to see a trend here. A few Years ago Trinity Church on Lark was forced to stop having shows. Clayton's Restaurant closed after having noise ordinance violations called on them several times, due to poetry readings, of all things. The Washington Ave Armory was recently vilified for having rowdy parties. (I'm not saying they are not at fault. ) Let's just let the deterioration continue.

And now we have some grumpy neighborhood residents ready and willing to let the cornerstone of their so-called neighborhood crumble to the ground. In the TU article, some resident was quoted as saying that the neighborhood will survive without the church. I suggest we replace it with a garbage dump.

This does not bode well for the future of Albany or Upstate New York.

@ ten broeck resident...my partner and I are buying into the neighborhood as of March. When are the meetings?

Okay, the above response from Mick which suggests that although Ten Broeck has plenty of room for diagonal parking, that it is not a good idea because........well...he doesn't quite know...

LOOK AT HIS POST. Then say to yourself, "is this a rational person? Does this person have any common sense?" If this is how residents of Ten Broeck act, then, as a fellow Albanian I say screw them. Goodbye Ten Broeck. You are no longer allowed to sit at the adult's table.

@Mick - I understand where you are coming from. I don't want Ten Broeck St. crowded with cars. I don't want to lose the walk-ability of Ten Broeck, or the quaintness.. but I feel like losing the church would hurt our neighborhood so much more than allowing more cars in would. Again, I am not an urban planner. I don't fully understand the needs of maintaining St. Joseph's, but I think if diagonal parking on Ten Broeck could make large-scale use of the church possible, it should be [re]explored.

@Greg - I would argue that is is childish and irrational to take one post you disagree with and use it to condemn everyone who lives in a particular neighborhood. This nasty rhetoric needs to change, there are plenty of us in Ten Broeck trying to work to find viable solutions. Negativity and name-calling because you disagree with someone hurts that work.

So - to update all of you who faulted the residents for rejecting the brewery proposal, and to enlighten newcomers to this topic, let it be known that the brewery was never a viable idea, and you should be grateful to residents who could discern that. After lack of support from the Arbor Hill community, the brewery moved to Cohoes, but it has since been reported that according to Cohoes officials the Ravens Head Brewery project is ‘dead.'

Per the Troy Record (3/15/14):

"Last spring, a brew pub opening date of Jan. 2014 was given. But, Cleary said in a recent “Yankee Brew News” update that an investor had died of a heart attack, and, without further monetary backing, the brewery could not be operational. This compounded with other issues among the investors and brewery collaborators.
So, the dream of a brewery in that 1890s Cohoes spot has not come to fruition. And Cleary and Decker have gone their separate ways."

Did Arbor Hill residents forsee the death of an investor? Probably not. But any large-scale project that is not viable if one investor is no longer involved (i.e., is so unlikely to appeal to any other investor as to doom the project) does not have a sound financial footing and St. Joseph's was lucky to escape that close call. You can deconsecrate a church on earth but maybe heavenly paperwork takes longer to process...

Would be nice to level it like they did to the church in Watervliet. Would make an awesome spot for an asphalt parking lot! Makes me so angry that all those people in 1861 raised money to build this house of worship and paid masons and artisans to build it only to prevent "progress" some 150 years later! Maybe if we are lucky a Dollar store and a Wendy's drive thru can be built in its place.
Sincerely,
John Q. Typical Albanian

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