What sort of place should Albany's Warehouse District be?

Albany Warehouse District, looking south of Broadway, 2014

What's become known as the Warehouse District in Albany has a long history as an industrial area -- populated by foundries, factories, and breweries -- dating back more than a century.

But its future could look much different, in large part because people have started to view it as a scene for entertainment and residential, both now and in the near future.

So, what's possible in the Warehouse District? Or, to put the question a bit differently, what should be possible in the Warehouse District?

That's one of the questions people will be answering next week at an event focused on the future of the neighborhood.

Google Map of 42.664377,-73.742903
The "Warehouse District" is sort of an amorphous term, but generally speaking, it's the area in north Albany along Broadway and North Pearl, roughly from the railroad overpass on Broadway (south end) to the I-90 overpass (north end).

The event -- actually, a short series of events -- is part of the larger Rezone Albany project, which is working to review and overhaul zoning throughout the city of Albany.

The series focused on the Warehouse District will include a hands-on design workshop for the public on May 26, along with open studio time with planning consultants working on the project (May 27-28) and a presentation of their work so far (May 29).

What sort of place?

Wolff's
The neighborhood has a growing entertainment scene thanks to businesses such as Wolff's, along with Stout, The Barrel Saloon, Nine Pin, and soon, the new Druther's brewery. (The former Miss Albany/Sciortino's building is slated to become a ramen restaurant.)

The lens through which the consultants -- a firm named Dover, Kohl -- will be viewing the Warehouse District is called "form-based code." And while that might sound super wonky, the general idea is pretty straightforward: How can zoning rules and guidelines affect the feel of a place?

"Form-based code generally has a higher focus on design, placemaking, the public realm, things like that, than it does in terms of building uses," Christopher Spencer, the city of Albany's planning director, explained to us recently. "This is really about what we want that area to feel like, what is the kind of place we're trying to create there."

So that public workshop on May 26 will be seeking to get feedback and ideas from people about what sort of place they want the Warehouse District to be in the future. Does it continue to be a place that feels, and acts, very much like its industrial history? Or does it start to bend in different directions such as residential, entertainment, or retail?

Balancing old and new

"The real importance within the Warehouse District is making sure that we have a balance," Spencer said to us. "So whatever uses that we do interject down there that aren't allowed now, or currently aren't there, that they are compatible with what's going on there. Because there is quite a bit of industrial use down there, there's quite a workforce in that area. So we want to make sure that that balance remains, that we're not pushing industry out of there by introducing new uses."

960 Broadway Albany back
960 Broadway has been floated as a residential/restaurant conversion -- both uses require variances under the current zoning rules.

If people decide they'd like to see the neighborhood start to diversify the sorts of activities there, Spencer said one of the challenges will be parking. Many of the buildings there have large floor plates, but their uses have involved relatively small numbers of people, so the parking requirements have been relatively light -- say, maybe, one parking space per 1,000 square feet of building space. But more entertainment-oriented uses, like a night club for example, typically involve parking requirements more along the lines of 16 spaces per thousand square feet.

Spencer said managing that potential shift in parking demand would involve mixing parking-intensive uses with those that aren't going to draw as many cars.

"We want to make sure our parking requirements are not suburban in nature. We realize that Broadway is along a bus route, that we have a lot of dense neighborhoods in that area. We want to embrace that walkable and bikeable nature within in Albany," Spencer said. "But we don't want to get into a situation where one use dominates and takes all the parking from other potential uses in the area."

So, what sort of uses does Spencer potentially see for the Warehouse District?

Tagging his answer with the qualification that he wants to see what the public's imagination brings to the process, Spencer said he could see a "healthy mix of entertainment" with a small housing component. "I see it as a sort of entertainment place that also might have some live/work environments, it may have some studio spaces, where people might be able to live and work in the same building, things like that."

Rezone Albany: Warehouse District

Thumbnail image for albany_warehouse_district_03.jpg

Events are at 981 Broadway in Albany.

May 26: Hands-on design workshop
Opening event, with a presentation and guided questions intended to help draw out the public's ideas. Spencer: "What might [the public's] imagination bring to mind in terms of what that area could be, other areas that they've sort of experienced where there's been an renaissance in a more industrial type area." Tuesday, May 26, 6-8 pm

May 27-28: Open design studio
Drop in to talk with the planners and see how their look at the neighborhood is coming along. Wednesday/Thursday, May 27/28 9 am-6 pm

May 29: Work-in-progress presentation
See what was completed during the week. Friday, May 29, 6-8 pm

Other areas

The Warehouse District is one of what Spencer said will be 4-5 areas around the city that will get this sort of intensive, focused review as part of Rezone Albany.

"In certain areas, the Warehouse District is one, where you've got some opportunity for redevelopment and where you don't really have an established urbanism or walkability, those are the areas where we're taking a deeper dive and a more design-intensive focus to make sure our design and setbacks and where everything gets placed, to make sure all those things are correct. In areas where have a very established building pattern, we probably don't need that."

He said the final list of areas hasn't been settled, yet. But when it is, it will be announced via the Rezone Albany website, which allows you to sign up for email updates.

Earlier on AOA

+ "What would it take to turn this into..."
+ The Nipper building is for sale
+ Architecture gawking in Albany's warehouse district
+ Impact Downtown Albany's vision of what the city's downtown could be

Comments

I see it lending itself beautifully to become what Boston's Combat Zone was in its heyday.

Cluster!! Albany has too many pockets of small bars, downtown is dead, lark is geared more towards the late night college scene.. Use the warehouse district to pull people down earlier in the day/night. The waterfront is there to tie in recreational use, the breweries/nightlife is already targeting the 25-40 crowd and should keep its focus there as an underserved market.

Clustering businesses/bars/restaurants/music venue would make it a destination rather than an in/out. Maybe invite Stumptown to open a spot in Albany.. haha dreaming!

I’m glad that they are opening this up to the public and in general am supportive of a wholesale scrub of our zoning policies. There is a lot of potential for the Warehouse District, which starting receiving renewed interested with restaurants, which has since spilled over into nearby apartment conversions, new companies taking root (Nine Pin Cider) and some old tenants offering some surprises (aka Huck Fynn’s Playland). I think that whatever the city can do to preserve this energy, guide it in a way that minimizes the typical red tape (which arguably has made development in downtown Albany proper difficult for entrepreneurs), and helps foster the existing synergies, we’ll continue to see a diverse explosion of development in this corner of the city.

In my mind, the efforts here should be tracked against those on the waterfront. While 787 is a challenge, any way that Albany can help tie the good things happening here, to the waterfront, would be an excellent way to enhance quality of life and recreational opportunities for North Albany and city residents more broadly, and help draw in folks from the region to spend downtown. There are some nice undeveloped parcels that would make great parks, which could be tied together and linked to Huck Fynn’s Playland, which in turn could be married up to the waterfront (pedestrian bridge over or tunnel under 787). In my mind, the efforts in the Warehouse District should be considered mutually inclusive of the efforts to better utilize the waterfront. Would love to be able to bus down to the Huck Fynn’s Playland, walk over to the waterfront and rent a kayak, and circle back for some grub and beer at one of the eateries. That would truly revolutionize quality of life for Albany.

Chris Spencer's remarks about maintaining a balance are right on point.

Often times city's take a very trendy approach to their industrial districts. Breweries and reclaimed-industrial restaurants replace old factory spaces. This entirely locks out an industrial sector to the local economy, and positions your place to be far too tourism focused.

The Warehouse district should continue to welcome fun new entertainment venues, but it should also support and attract actual industrial tenants and uses. We want to keep manufacturing and industrial uses in our City. There is already infrastructure for this in the warehouse district, and so as we move forward in this neighborhood, we need to be careful that we're not turning all of the factory buildings into funky renovated lofts.

Right, on @Rich. There's actually a short rail spur, disconnected from the rest of the system to the south, that "begins" at Colonie and Water St. and continues north for .715mi where it passes the Huck Finn's Playland. Imagine if that little section were converted to a rail trail, then connected to the Corning Preserve Trail, and via the Livingston Avenue Bridge, Rensselaer County.

What ever the area becomes I truly hope it will involve tearing down that hideous Central Warehouse.

the REAL questions do they real care what people think? And the answer is no!!! A sad bunch of wanna-be NY hipsters, with NO NY cred, PRETENDING up here in Albany!!! The warehouse district could be a place of economic resurgence in Albany with the PROPER investment, but since all we entertain in Albany is Psuedo-HIPSTER development-----!!!!!!!

@marlon

Stop. Albany seems to have this attitude by which your opinion only matters if you've been here for three generations or your last name is Breslin, McNulty, or O'Connell. If that matters to you then I'll happily tout I've been here more than 33 years (I may never live down being born in Boston!) of my 36 on this planet, and three generations before me. I've got roots, I'm too old to be a hipster, and I've traveled. People are returning to cities and yea they want places to live that offer something that the suburbs don't. If the rest of our rustbelt city neighbors told these "psuedo-HIPSTERs" to F'off then these other cities would have fallen deeper down the rabbit hole. I will be excited to see "real" people, real living breathing people willing to invest in this city at the Warehouse meeting because I'm tired of waiting for our success story to blossom.

Amen daleyplanit!

As someone who doesn't have roots in Albany and am actually living over the Atlantic in Albania right now I am excited for the planning process taking place in Albany right now.

I lived in Albany for six years before joining the Peace Corps and can't wait to get back to support all the wonderful business and development that is happening in my adopted hometown. I may be from somewhere else but I want my family to be from Albany.

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