The plan for the former Jillian's building, and cultivating retail in downtown Albany

former Jillians building exterior 2016-March

The former Jillian's building on Pearl Street is one of downtown Albany's biggest and most prominent venues. So as the neighborhood has evolved through a series of residential conversion projects and picked up momentum over the past few years, the site has been conspicuous for its lack of activity.

That's now changing. The building has new owners, and they're working to turn it into a spot for a range of different uses. Here's the plan.


Chris Pratt and Alessio Depoli -- who own the Pearl Street Pub, Steuben Street Market, The Capital American Eatery and Lounge, Public House 42, and Barrel Saloon -- closed on the property about a month ago. The purchase price: $855,000.


Standing on the sidewalk Wednesday, Pratt explained the plan for the 36,000-square-foot building:

+ Three boutique-style retail spaces on the building's ground floor, which formerly housed the Jillian's game room. That floor is open to Steuben Street. Pratt said they've alread gotten interest about space, and potential tenants should contact him directly with inquiries.

Steuben Street below Pearl Street 2016-March
Steuben Street, looking up toward Pearl Street.

+ A pub/restaurant on the Pearl Street level. Pratt says they'll be making an announcement about that soon.

+ An event space on the next floor up, which will host live music and comedy. Pratt said they figure the space could potentially hold 300-400 people, and they're aiming for a feel similar to Helsinki Hudson. The event space will have an entrance separate from the pub/restaurant on Pearl Street, and they'll have different names, but they'll be connected and served by the same kitchen.

+ The top floor will have two apartments. (There's an apartment up there already.)

They also plan to rename the building as the "Albany Annex." The Jillian's sign will be coming down. "It's gotta go," Pratt said. "It's time."


Pratt said they expect to have these projects together within the next 12 months. He said funding is in place, and they're working on getting the necessary approvals from the city (including a cabaret license).


Pratt and Depoli have been pursuing an event venue of some sort for years -- looking at spaces in the Warehouse District and another spot on Pearl Street. But those places didn't work out. So why keep at it? "There's a lot of music out there that can support [crowds of] 300-500 people. And that's the type of venue we want to do. And my business partner and I really love live music, so it's more of a passion."

There's also the changing character of downtown, in a direction of something more like a residential neighborhood. Pratt said Steuben Street Market has been doing well since opening earlier this year, and people are very enthusiastic about what's happeing.

"They're seeing there's a lot going on down here and now with the retail down here it will be more of an attraction."

About cultivating retail in downtown Albany

angelas bridal albany exterior 2016-March

Getting retail development to take root has been a challenge, not just in downtown Albany, but in the Capital Region's other urban cores as well. And that's not surprising -- downtown retail development represents a shift from the now decades-long pattern toward surburban shopping outlet. But the growing residential market in downtown Albany has people thinking retail has a chance.

The former Jillian's building was open Wednesday for the announcement of two new incentive programs -- backed by $400,000 from the the city of Albany's Capital Resource Corporation -- aimed at helping to spur activity and retail development. One will aid new downtown businesses looking for help fixing up facades and fitting up space, the other will provide grants for new events in the city's commercial districts.

"It's early in the market," Capitalize Albany president Sarah Reginelli said in reference to retail development in downtown Albany. "It's always riskier at the start. We need those first pioneers to get in the ground and start to thrive, to show that downtown is really open for retail business."

Reginelli said the hope is the Downtown Albany Retail Grant Program -- which is offering grants of up to $100,000 to new retail projects -- will hope encourage business owners to take that step. But the goal is for them to not do it alone. "[The grant program] is a signal that we are developing a cohort of new owners and new businesses to all come in at the same time and establish the scene at the same time so they're not the only pioneer out there."

Downtown Albany has already seen some new retail in the past few years. And Reginelli said retail development is about where residential development was a few years ago. "We know there's a market there. We can feel that there's potential. We feel people moving down here. We see a place like Angela's Bridal increase sales by 15 percent by being in downtown Albany. So we know that that potential is there. What it is really going to take is early incentives and us to open the gate to let it happen."

former Jillians Building exterior Pearl Street 2016-March

And now the former Jillian's building is set for a transformation. Georgette Steffens, the executive director of the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District, said Wednesday the building is a symbol of sorts for the neighborhood. Its opening as an entertainment spot in 1999 marked the revitalization of downtown Albany. And the new plan represents the shift toward a more residential neighborhood.

"The re-opening of this, and the re-imagining of the space -- Chris is really looking at what the residents are looking for, and looking at the current trends for creating that experience ... so that it's not just a Saturday night place."

Another sign mentioned by Steffens that downtown Albany is becoming a place that's open all the time, not just during the workday: there are now six places offering brunch on weekends.

Earlier on AOA

+ Steuben Street Market

+ About retail in downtown Albany, and other local downtowns

+ Reading through the Impact Downtown Albany playbook


Wow so awesome....keep going! Albany is starting to re-activate from a long slumber. How could it go to waste with such an incredible collection of architecturally beautiful buildings in such a compact area. Great airport, train station, parks, trails, brownstones, Capital, Theaters, bars, restaurants, churches, and now continued retail development and entertainment. If it ends up being anything like the Steuben Market it WILL succeed. When I moved here 13 years ago I never thought that this place would slowly but surely wake up......still not quite there but soon the naysayers will be forced to shut their traps. An if you live in suburbia and The World of Beer is your thing at the mall....that's great but let us citizens of Albany rejoice.

I'd like to know more about these brunch spots. Always looking for something new. I assume Beer Hall and OE are 2. Who are the others?

Amore Clothing just closed and moved to Loudonville. Will downtown have another upscale clothing store anytime soon? Doubtful.

Just as a note, the building used to house a Woolworth's, as far back as 1910 until the early 70s. The building is at least 150 years old. Its good to hear its being returned to retail.

Here's a postcard:

@OldAlbany - It's even older than that. It was built as a residence around 1792 by a merchant with the interesting name of Goldsbrow Banyar. Governor DeWitt Clinton resided in the house from 1819 until his death there in 1828.

It remodeled several times, most notably in 1879 when the storefronts and fourth story were added.

@OldAlbany, Paula: Thank you for mentioning the history of this building. I left that angle out because there were already two different things stuffed into this post. But it is notable, and maybe we'll come back around to it.

Susan, I'm kind of scratching my head there too... The Capital Lounge has Sunday brunch, I assume they're including the Pearl Street Diner, and French Press is good for Saturday brunch but closed most Sundays. Those last two are both boozeless too (unless you combine a crepe with a drink from McGeary's). What's #6?

And glad to see plans for Jillian's. I'll be surprised if a relocation of the Pearl Street Pub isn't the restaurant plan, as I understand it Pratt is renting the space it's currently in (could be wrong about that). Skeptical of the 400-person occupancy figure for the second floor but looking forward to seeing it in person. The retail space is really interesting, I'd love to see something like Fort Orange in there.

@Susan: Here are the 6 brunch spots in Downtown. We hope you enjoy!

ama cocina
Saturday | 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM
4 Sheridan Avenue | 518.776.4550

The Capital American Eatery & Lounge
Sunday | 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM
55 N Pearl Street | 518.694.3122

Charter (Hilton Albany)
Sunday | 10:30 AM - 2:00 PM
40 Lodge Street | 518.462.6611

City Beer Hall
Saturday & Sunday | 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM
42 Howard Street | 518.449.2337

Olde English Pub + Pantry
Sunday | 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM
683 Broadway | 518.434.6533

Parish Public House
Saturday | 11:00 - 3:00 PM
388 Broadway | 518.465.0444

We had brunch at the Capital Eatery last week. It was fabulous and not crowded. Great menu. You get a mimosa, bloody Mary or small craft beer and coffee included with your brunch.

There's got to be a way to work "Goldsbrow Banyar" into the pub/restaurant's name....

Great idea, TERRIBLE name. The Albany Annex? What? Back to the drawing board guys.

Don't forget Umana and Cafe 217 and iron gate. Thought this was about Albany redevelopment and not brunch spots?

Love this news!! I walk by the building almost every day trying to get an idea of what development is happening :) That 300-400 person music/comedy venue sounds so promising... as well as the renewed retail space along Steuben.

The division into smaller spaces for different types of businesses is the best possible route for this massive building. I hope it's a huge success!

all this talk about brunch makes me so glad I skip it

Wolfs Biergarten has brunch on Sundays as well.

How about activities for children, too???

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