Variance for North Albany concert venue denied

The rear of the building, from Common Place. Here's the streetview of the front.

Updated with more info about the BZA decision

The Albany Board of Zoning Appeals has denied a request for a variance to use a warehouse in North Albany as a concert venue. The BZA voted down the use variance request for 28 Thatcher Street 5-0.

Chris Pratt, one of the partners behind the project, says they're not backing down and are planning to make changes to their application and re-submit.

28 Thatcher is just around the corner from the strip on Broadway that includes Wolff's, Stout, and the Barrel Saloon.

"I thought it was a no brainer," Pratt told us Tuesday of the proposal to open a concert venue in the city's warehouse district, just around the corner from a strip that already has a handful of bars and restaurants. The variance is required because the building is in a light industrial zone.

The BZA's decision boiled down to three points, according to a city "notification of local action" document (embedded below). The board's paraphrased conclusions:

+ The current property owner hasn't demonstrated that a reasonable return isn't possible from one of the uses allowed under current zoning.
+ The application doesn't provide evidence that there currently is not need for warehouse space in the neighborhood.
+ The application failed to pass a test that, if granted, the variance will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood. Here's that section quoted:

The applicant contends that the proposed use would not alter the essential character of the neighborhood because it would accommodate a growing restaurant and bar neighborhood. Restaurants and bars are a small fraction of uses located within this neighborhood. Furthermore, those restaurants and bars that do exist are of an entirely different size and scale than the proposed venue and do not have a predominate focus on live musical entertainment. Simply put, the proposed establishment is not a restaurant or bar. The venue seeks to accommodate between 700 and 800 persons to presumably arrive en masse for events to be held at specified times. The application fails to sufficiently address the impact that such a venue would have upon the neighborhood, specifically in respect to transportation infrastructure and the potential adverse impacts of the arrival and dispersal of patrons. The applicant indicates that there are off-street parking lots within the vicinity that could be made available for use by the venue, but which are not under the ownership of the applicant or owner of the property and thus are subject to lease agreements that make questionable their long term availability.

Is history an issue?

When we talked with Pratt Tuesday afternoon he said he had yet to get an official detailed walkthrough from the BZA about why the application was rejected. But he says he's heard informally -- the word on the street, so to speak -- that a previous application from the now-closed Sneaky Pete's might have affected the decision. The BZA rejected a proposal to locate the similarly-sized nightclub in a warehouse building in the same neighborhood in 2011. [TU 2011]

"I can kind of understand what they're saying, large facility, limited amount of parking," Pratt says. "Sneaky Pete's had a history of issues ... We're talking about a venue that's totally different, where there's already entertainment."

To address those possible concerns, Pratt says he and partner Alessio Depoli will be making two main changes to the variance request for the proposed 9,500-square-foot entertainment venue: no under-21 shows; and a letter-of-intent for parking space at a nearby property.

"If these are legitimate concerns, this is a way to address them."

(We have a call in with the city office for the BZA. We'll update when we hear back.)

Sticking with it

Pratt says they're sticking with the building because they believe Albany could use a 700-800-person-capacity venue, and 28 Thatcher is the right building for it. "We feel like the venue itself is ideal. I can't even express how ideal it is... the way it's set up, the structure would lend itself perfectly to what we want to do."

Pratt, who's a partner in three other local bars, envisions a venue that would host a range of national touring music acts -- country, indie rock, bluegrass, and other genres -- as well as comedy. The venue would open 1.5 hours before events and close 1.5 hours afterward.

There's been tension in Albany over the last year between the city and projects of this sort -- the back-and-forth over the city's cabaret law, the Washington Ave Armory's issues with being allowed to host electronic music dance events. Said Pratt today: "It does seem to me that the city itself has become very close-minded to these types of things."

Here's the notification of local action doc:

Albany BZA 28 Thatcher Decision

Here's the original BZA application for 28 Thatcher:

28 Thatcher concert venue Albany BZA app March 2013 by alloveralbany

[via @Sorti_ca]

Earlier and elsewhere:
+ A concert venue for North Albany?
+ At Friday Puppy: Matt Baumgartner, who's a partner in two businesses in the neighborhood -- and lives nearby -- expressed some concerns about the project in March.
+ A look at the size of Capital Region concert venues


"'I thought it was a no brainer,' Pratt told us today..."

Remember who we're talking about here: The Albany BZA. Even no brainers go over their heads. I'm sure Cohoes has a spare warehouse they could move into.

That huge empty lot on the corner of N. Ferry and Learned St is owned by Richard Krakower of Learned Street Properties LLC. Perhaps they could buy that and make it a parking lot. All they would have to do is ask for a zoning variance from the Albany Zoning Board of............oh right, forget it.

Albany doesn't want to make an empty rotting church into a brewery. Rotting churches are much better for surrounding property values. It's not like it will eventually become dangerous after years of neglect and have to be torn down. Right Watervliet? It doesn't want to turn the vacant "temple of finance" at 60 State Street into a restaurant. Albany has enough restaurants - we have a Chili's and an Outback on Wolf Rd. It doesn't want to turn an empty warehouse into a music venue because that empty warehouse is next to other empty warehouses that probably are filled with homeless people who may be sensitive to loud music. We disapproved of music at the Larkin even though Jerry Jennings used to go there to watch shows, call you "kid" and hit on your girlfriend so we shut that place down and left it abandoned for the next ten years. Burlesque shows are out too. We don't approve of the word "titillating." Did that bartender just juggle vodka bottles? Shut him down for not having a cabaret license. Also that'll be $25 to park. But don't give your visitor a visitor pass we gave you to give to visitors. That's against the rules.

Albany has a long tradition of ruining it's waterfront with a disgusting system of highways, destroying some of our countries oldest historic buildings to make way for parking lots, and displacing 9,000 peasants to build an impenetrable fortress of marble and hubris in the middle of the city. Understandably, we cannot start to allow good ideas now. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. We are 327 years old.

This is a city of government employees who have never taken a chance on anything in their life. Most Albanians took the low risk, low reward, safe job with the benefits and retirement just like their government employee parents told them too. If you want to know why your entrepreneurial spirit isn't being welcomed, look around - that's not what we do here. We don't take chances by opening businesses. We form committees to hire consultants to commission studies to go to meetings to talk about why nothing has happened yet. After that, we draft memos.

The message should be clear at this point. The capital city of the "least free state in the country" is not open for business. It's 7 o'clock, and thanks to our public employees union, we were contractually obligated to leave at 4:30.

Maybe Albany is ripe for an underground party scene. (And by underground I don't mean "we've never heard of you.")


We should rename this place The Republic of Banalbany and just make Jennings dictator and stop the charade.

This is not a shock! I completely agree with the comments by "(not) Albany Board of Zoning Appeals" about the region not taking chances. There is a small town mentality around here that needs to go away. I think sometimes the people who grew up here do not see it and get stuck in their little "bubble world". I know this because I grew up in a much larger city, and it is fairly obvious to me. However, on the good side, I am starting to see changes happening. I live in Troy, and there are many good things going on in Troy at the moment with many chances being taken. I would say to those that were looking to open this venue, come look at Troy now. We have many buildings that I am sure would be perfect for this sort of thing, and you won't have to put up with the BS of the Jennings administration!

That's disapointing, I really like this idea. Hopefully the Board will reconsider once the application is resubmitted.

@ said (not) Albany Board of Zoning Appeals, AMEN. I am speaking as a citizen of Albany, not the Exec Director of Historic Albany Foundation.

Dear "(not) Albany Board of Zoning Appeals": If you do not have one already, please start a blog. Your comment was spot-on-- and perhaps the best thing I've ever read (ever).

How about instead of everyone complaining they actually, you know, go out and do stuff? As in speak at the BZA hearing, or help the guys looking to turn the place into a concert venue, or hell, turn something Ito a concert venue yourself.

The comments above (and people like them) complain all the freaking time about life in albany (and blame politicians for it) but maybe it would help you feel better if you tried to make it a better place yourself? If your pissed off at the politician maybe you can find one you like and help his/her campaign? Or maybe you could run for office!

Be the change you want to see everyday.

I think new leadership could be a step in the right direction. Kathy Sheehan is running for mayor ( and I would suggest getting involved in the grassroots campaign. I think she could finally be the mayor that lets innovators and entrepreneurs improve our city rather than sticking them in the mud.

Well, I guess this is to be expected in Albany, where good ideas and the entrepreneurial spirit go to die. I can't say it any better than the first commenter.

I hope the revised application to the BZA goes better than the first submission but I think Pratt & partners have already conceded too much. Not allowing under-21 shows completely changes the potential audience and thus the bands the venue will be able to book. Say goodbye to any 'national indie rock' bands and their college-aged fans.

Please, please, please vote in the upcoming mayoral election.

Ask yourself this: Who appoints the BZA? Who sets the policy for planning and land-use in the city? Who's at the helm of the ship?

Then ask yourselves "Would a change in leadership result in a stronger city?"

PLEASE vote. If you aren't registered, please do. And please, just for this term, consider enrolling as a Democrat to effect change where it will be felt - the primary. Then you can enroll for another party, heck, enroll pizza party. Just vote. Please.

We know what we have to do. VOTE THEM ALL OUT!!!


@ "(not) Albany Board of Zoning Appeals" - I fully support you as a candidate for Mayor.

the very long comment @NOT albany board of zoning appeals was quite comical (= well written and easy to read). have a sibling who can attest to being "hit upon" - what a hoot!

as far as the underground party scene - well that's at St Agnes cemetery in Menands were the people there still vote (democrat) and many of them are still getting property tax exemptions.

hope you become part of the solution! (not) albany.....

The concerns of the zoning board are pertinent, but I do hope the amendments to the proposal would be enough to proceed with the live music venue. Honestly, the only 21 or over amendment would make sense given that the other nearby establishments are almost exclusively bars.

As a fan of this burgeoning neighborhood and of music venues this size, it would seem to be a great fit.

To me, the biggest issue with the proposal was lack of parking. Now they are going to re-submit with a plan for parking included. I will reserve judgement on the BZA until they reject the new proposal (which they probably will, given their track record...).

We must all be on a reality show here. The premise is to see how many bad decisions a city government can make while getting re-elected. If this isn't a breaking point I don't know what is. Let's review: we have now let a brewery go to Cohoes, a food truck festival go to Troy, and rejected a plan to rehabilitate an ABANDONED warehouse. Really? I mean, really? We can't just throw up our hands and act like we don't know why this is happening. There has been one mayor here for 20 years and this is all a product of the culture he has established. Parking is a concern? How about the idea that there are people in this city that may want to take public transit down there. Or how about you connect Pearl with North Albany in to a corridor and run motorized trolley service between entertainment venues, so people, I don't know, want to go or live downtown. People will figure out parking. You don't turn away tax revenue because of parking. There is no reason why Albany shouldn't be a place of big ideas. But change will only occur when we elect people with vision and the passion to see change through. Turning away business after the worst recession in decades is not only bad policy, but turning into negligence. Time for a change! I'll be voting Kathy Sheehan.

Thankfully for owners of properties within the Light Industrial Districts, they can still rent to prospective tenants that include "upholsterers", "exterminators", "coal and fuel oil dealers", "auctioneers", or "carpet and rug cleaners". If you can't rent to one of these highly sought-after professions, well, you're SOL. Of course you could always build a "Stadium, Arena, or Auditorium" and obtain a Special-Use Permit because thousands of maniacal soccer hooligans or MMA fans are WAY less troublesome than small venue concert-goers. Who wants to have fun anyways...

"It's 7 o'clock, and thanks to our public employees union, we were contractually obligated to leave at 4:30. "

Why bring the unions into this zoning issue?

And, by the way, you are not contractually obligated to leave at 4:30. You ARE contractually obligated to be paid overtime for working over 40 hrs. a week instead of working for free. That is federal law (Fair Labor Standards Act), not some Smallbany practice. The employer has the right to not pay overtime by not having you work over 40 hrs. I think most people would not want work places to become sweatshops again. The 8-hour day was one of the great progressive achievements of the 20th century.

Mike Graney and Matt Baumgartner BOTH opposed it at the recent Zoning Board meeting in March for two reasons: a lack of parking and the underage crowd that would be at these shows (the venue can have fans 16 and older).

Guys, come on. Specifically Matt - where is the concern for parking during your ridiculous Oktoberfest event?? And you are opposed to underage crowds? How laughable is this?? Check an ID at Bombers sometime bud. Man you are a riot.

everyone else - read all about it here:

To me, parking is a non-issue. If there's a show people want to see, they will go. But if Pratt & Depoli roll over so early on the under-21 shows, their business plan will ultimately fail. It is exactly that audience (16-21, college and high school) that needs to be provided for, and are attracted to the up-and-coming artists that would appear at this new venue. As for the neighboring businesses and resident, well, their actions and influence on the board speaks volumes.

Wow, the people on the planning board are a lot more insightful than most commentors here. A 700 person concert venue with no thought of parking or transportation infrastructure? Yeah, that's a good idea. It won't just "work itself out."

As for the comments about St. Joe's becoming a brewpub: that was also doomed to fail. Albany saved the developer a lot of money and heartache. No parking, a residential neighborhood and a completely unrealistic business plan = death.

Reality is that many magnificent old churches are just too expensive and/or improperly located to be repurposed. If you are so concerned with history, take all your money and make a hobby of preserving these structures for posterity.

George, you put WAY too much emphasis on parking. Trust me, people figure it out. Lack of parking makes for better places, in any case.

George - It's been said in other places but a 700 capacity venue does not mean 700 cars. There would be faaaar fewer cars, even at a sold out show. And people who are about to stand up at a show for 3+ hours usually don't have a problem walking multiple blocks to a show from their parked car. You have to consider the type of business before complaining about lack of parking. This isn't a grocery store where people are constantly coming and going, and leaving with heavy bags so they need to park next to the door...

Andrew Gregory - I completely agree with your comment on the switch to 21+ shows. The guys behind the project need to stop and consider what kind of shows they'd like to book. With country and bluegrass acts, I would imagine the age restriction is irrelevant. If this is mainly what they plan to book, fine. Over the years, I've gone to dozens and dozens of (mainly indie rock) shows at similarly-sized venues in NYC, Boston/Cambridge, Northampton, etc. I don't know if I've ever been to a 21+ show. Ever. Plenty of 18+, but these kind of bands have a huge college-aged following and their booking agents will not consider 21+ shows. The Capital Region is home to so many colleges... It always baffled me that *college bands* making the rounds in the northeast go: Boston, Northampton, NYC (sometimes Providence, Burlington, etc). They are literally driving through Albany on the way to their next show but never booking here because we lack the VENUE not the audience.

I can definitely see 21+ shows attracting a different type of artist, a different type of (read: drunker) crowd than shows with a younger crowd. If the neighboring bars are concerned with younger students in the area after a show, here's a thought, maybe hire some security that does their job.

Perhaps Mike Graney and Matt Baumgartner would rather open a concert venue themselves and that's why they opposed it. Just a thought.

Another unwise but not unexpected decision by the city of Albany. Hopefully we will elect a new mayor that is pro growth.

Valentine's is all about the urban renewal. Perhaps this would be the place to relocate.

As someone who is interested in the musical and cultural renewal of the capital region, the BZA's decision was and still is disappointing. Is there any update on the situation now? Can someone point to a new article?

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