HAF: We're handing St. Joseph's back to city of Albany

st josephs albany exterior

Standing on this hill since 1860.

The Historic Albany Foundation announced today that it will be handing back St. Joseph's church in the Ten Broeck Triangle to the city of Albany. The preservation org has owned the building since 2003, and the deed back is via a "reverter clause" from that deal 10 years ago.

"Our first and primary goal was to stabilize the building," said Susan Holland, HAF's executive director, today. And Holland said they've accomplished that, raising more than $700,000 along the way for the work.

So why hand it back to the city?

Holland says St. Joseph's wasn't a burden on Historic Albany, but "it was a lot of work." The org had been considering handing the building back for a few years, but the situation toward the end of last year involving Ravens Head Brewing was the final push.

The startup beer company had proposed opening a brewery/brewpub in the building, but the plan's request for a use variance faced vocal neighborhood opposition. And the city's Common Council passed a non-binding resolution against the plan -- describing it as inappropriate for the neighborhood -- before the board of zoning appeals ruled. That resolution, along with the added cost of addressing parking concerns, prompted Ravens Head to look for another site, eventually ending up at an armory building in Cohoes.

"I don't know what they were thinking," Holland says of the council's resolution. In her view, the vote effectively killed the chances of getting a business into the building -- which has been vacant for three decades -- because whatever use could sustain the building will somehow involve increasing traffic and parking in the neighborhood.

Holland says HAF has been in conversation with the city about deeding the building back, and the decision was made in partnership with the city. (We have a call in with the mayor's office.) Update: Capitalize Albany, the city's economic development org, will be in charge of finding St. Joe's its next life -- said Jerry Jennings spokesman Bob Van Amburgh to the TU: "You have to take a step back and see what is really economically feasible and a complement to the neighborhood."

Holland is hopeful that once the city has the building back in its hands it will find a way to work with the neighborhood and rework the situation. And HAF will continue to provide assistance on the project.

"There's so many possibilities for these buildings," Holland said about former churches in the area. "We just have to be super creative."

Optimism

Holland was particularly optimistic because of recent developments in downtown Albany. There was the announcement today that Columbia Development will be building mixed-use space at Wellington Row on State Street. There's the plan to turn the former train station -- Kiernan Plaza -- into an incubator for the NanoCollege. And there's the ongoing development of new residential space around the downtown.

"Everything's going in the right direction," she says.

Earlier and elsewhwere:
+ No brewery for St. Joe's -- so now what?
+ TU: Church pub called a foul brew
+ TU: Council opposes church pub plan
+ Analysis from local brewer George de Piro
+ Is St. Joseph's Church a brewery in its next life?

Find It

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

Comments

Honestly, this makes me sad. I am sure that a bunch of scathing comments about my neighborhood are about to follow my comment here, but I have been working with Historic Albany (as have many others) to come up with ideas and create a better environment for a business to come into the church. I have spent the past full month trying to get in touch with the city to figure out how we could implement diagonal parking on Ten Broeck street in order to increase neighborhood parking, and by proxy, take away one major hurdle for possible church occupants. They don't respond. They take two weeks and three emails to give me any answers. When I do get an answer, there is very little help coming from the city. They want us as a neighborhood association to pay thousands of dollars to hire a consulting term to determine feasibility. Even though they now own the church! I want the city to prove me wrong, but I doubt they will be as responsive or as helpful as Susan and her crew have been as St. Joe's stewards.

I see a coincidence with the announcement of the end of the Jennings era. It is very sad.

This comes on the same day that I saw Watervliet's St. Patrick's tower getting demolished, and also on the same day Metroland published a story about all the huge vacant armory and church in Cohoes being put to good use. Those are the two options, Albany. I hope your new mayor follows the Cohoes example.

What a sad case. It's very difficult to find a developer with the resources, vision, and commitment to take on a costly and risky project like St. Joe's. It's a shame that the hidebound conservatism of the neighborhood stymied the first and only realistic, pragmatic, and frankly very cool, project to come along in many years. I hope the church and the neighborhood gets one more shot, although I'm not optimistic.

Is this the end of Rest Fest?

@Spencer: I wondered about that, too, so I emailed the organizers. I heard back this morning that plans for Rest Fest are still on for this year -- on the weekend following Labor Day -- but they're considering a different location. It sounds like things aren't quite nailed down, but will be soon.

oh gee, thanks for the white elephant.

"there's so many possibilities for these buildings." such as...? I'd say making an old church into a brew pub IS "super creative" but alas...

there is ongoing discord between my inner historic preservationist and my inner citizen of Albany taxpayer.I have zero emotional connection to places of worship (in general, not just churches) and I can't help but think of the downtown residents who voice an interest in having a grocery store in that area. I wonder if anyone's thought of transforming a church (or the land it's on) into a market? hmmmm....

This whole affair is a shame, especially the poor choice by the Common Council to step in and the lack of unity on what the vision for this building could be, specifically by the neighborhood. While I don’t want to disparage the folks in the Ten Broeck Triangle neighborhood, since they exercised their right to step in to shape this prospective development within their community out of concern for the hard work and investment they’ve long made to their neighborhood, they equally must own the fallout due to that exercised right.

I’ll admit that I’m biased and strongly support Raven’s Head and their proposed use for St. Joseph and that much of the arguments against the brewery seemed to contradict the counter options proposed by the community (e.g. not enough parking for a brewery, but we want a supermarket that would require similar if not more parking), but I do feel it is unfair for all else to paint the residents of this neighborhood as shortsighted and/or unrealistic; there were many shades and colors to the argument, to the detriment in my opinion.

In the end, I wished that the neighborhood had more thoroughly canvassed itself to highlight what they desired and didn’t desired out of this venue, documented it, and came to consensus on a proposal(s). The lack of this information provided by the residents of Ten Broeck Triangle and the lack of a consensus agreement that the neighborhood could stand behind, led to an embarrassing situation for both Ten Broeck Trianagle and the city as a whole, as residents within the neighborhood seemed pitted against each other and residents of the city unfairly painted everyone in Ten Broeck Triangle as shortsighted and unrealistic in their wishes.

Why not just knock it down and put another Price Chopper or Shop Rite there?

"There's so many possibilities ... We just have to be super creative."
No, actually I don't believe there are many possibilities. Which is why the one interested business being shot down will probably mean the death of it.
We can all agree the churches in our area are a great historic landmarks, but they were structured in a way that doesn't easily lend itself to re-purposing. Let's face it, Albany will never be Rome* - our culture at large just isn't into preservation.
*sidenote - I recently came across an old book in the library at St. Rose titled Great Churches of the World, and right there alongside St. Peters Basilica and Notre Dame was our very own St. Joseph's

I wonder how many of the comments here were posted by actual residents of the ten Broeck Triangle.
These churches were not built for repurposing because they were sometimes built in residential neighborhoods! An industrial brew factory would have destroyed the nature of this architecturally intact neighborhood and impacted negatively on property values!
BTW, the Ravenshead crew folded after running out of funds in Cohoes and this would have a big mess for the neighbors to clean up!

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