A large chunk of the Harriman State Office Campus is for sale

Harriman Campus parcel for sale diagram

From the listing site. / image: CBRE / NYS OGS

The Cuomo admin announced Wednesday that it's seeking proposals for the purchase and development of 27 acres on the eastern end of the Harriman State Office Campus in the city of Albany. Press release blurbage (emphasis added):

The RFP calls for plan that builds on the current redevelopment of the existing campus, reflects the area's character, and increases the City of Albany's tax base through a wide range of potential options including companies in the healthcare, technology, research, education, retail, and hospitality sectors. Uses could include offices, medical and laboratory facilities, retail shops, lodging, and ancillary parking. A minimum purchase price of $5.1 million is required and any proposal that includes residential use will not be accepted.

The Cuomo admin has laid out a two-phase process for selecting the winning bidder. The first phase -- in which "potential developers will provide a description of the proposed uses for the site and demonstrate the need for or likely success of those uses" -- closes September 15. The three bidders with the highest scores will then move onto the second and final phase in which they'll have to provide more specific details about things like funding.

Here are a few more details, and a few thoughts...

More details

The state's Office of General Services, which is handling the sale, has contracted with a commercial real estate agency to promote the property. From the CBRE listing site:

OGS is seeking Proposals that are responsive to, but not limited to, the following development priorities:
+ Aesthetically and functionally consistent with existing use and future plans on the Campus
+ Emphasize pedestrian interaction and provide retail opportunities
+ Introduce sustainable development initiatives and align with "green" principles
+ Minimize traffic disruption and congestion
+ Incorporate sufficient parking for proposed use
+ Have a positive economic effect (use private resources, create jobs, increase the tax base of the City, and include meaningful participation Minority, Woman, and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business Enterprises.

The parcel that's up for sale -- 27 acres -- is just a slice of the overall land on the Harriman campus. And the state isn't leaving the overall site. It built a new lab building there a few years back, and it recently completed a major renovation of another building. And now there's a new UAlbany complex going up on the southwest corner.

UAlbany ETEC GroundLevelView
A rendering of the Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurship Complex (ETEC) that UAlbany's building on the opposite end of the Harriman Campus.

The state's projecting the daytime population of the campus will be 12,400 employees and students by 2019.

A few things

This all sounds... familiar
Maybe you're thinking you've heard something like this before. And you're right. Redeveloping the Harriman campus has come up multiple times before -- and it's faded away multiple times.

So, will happen this time? Who knows! The state has been pitching that big parcel in downtown Albany -- the land formerly gathered together for the original convention center plan -- with no apparent success, so it's not like issuing the RFP makes this all a certainty.

But... It seems like there are maybe OK odds this time of something happening. The upper Washington Ave corridor has seen a lot of development in recent years, so this could be an attractive site. And the state has already knocked buildings on the parcel, which should smooth the way a bit.

harriman office campus sculpture
The Harriman Campus actually has many pleasant spots -- this one's on the eastern end, about 100 yards short of where the parcel that's for sale starts. (Well, it's nicer when the fountain's running. And that building in the background has gotten a makeover since this pic was taken.)

And it could be good for the city of Albany
One of the key aspects of all this is that the land will become taxable by the city of Albany. And that's important because the city of Albany needs revenue.

It's become an annual tradition that the city's budget process is an exercise is trying to scrape together enough money while simultaneously lobbying the state for more funding. (See this year's example.)

Of course the city has some good arguments for why it's financials are strained -- it gets relatively low levels of state aid, it hosts a huge daytime tide of commuters, and roughly 60 percent of the land in the city is not taxable (including the 300some acres at the Harriman Campus).

So adding 27 acres of prime taxable land could be a win for the city. And that's another reason why this might actually happen: The Cuomo admin has been talking about how the city needs to find a way to get its fiscal situation sorted without special assistance from the state. Getting this land onto the city's tax rolls would give the Cuomo admin a way of saying something along the lines of, "Here, we've given you something significant. Now go figure it out."

Google Map of 42.6796272,-73.8104003

But the details will matter
The various materials released Wednesday give some indication of what the Cuomo admin is hoping will happen on the site. But, as we mentioned earlier this year, there really should be some sort of planning effort to gather input from the public. Because there are all sorts of potentially important details that could help determine the success of this unusual opportunity. A few that initially spring to mind:

+ The campus is currently surrounded by a moat of confusing ring roads. Is there a way to better knit the campus into the surrounding city? Should it be better connected?

+ What sort of mix of uses do people want there? Retail, office, medical, green space?

+ How does development there fit with the growing Washington Ave corridor?

That the parcel is essentially a blank slate is both a blessing and a curse. And all you have to do is look across Washington Ave to see how things can go the wrong way. However successful the Patroon Creek development might be as a commercial real estate, it's a disappointment in terms of the way it looks and feels and connects to the surrounding area -- it's basically a sea of asphalt.

The Harriman Campus redevelopment has a chance to be more than that.

Earlier on AOA

+ A new complex for UAlbany, and a few thoughts about the future of the Harriman State Office Campus

+ The Purple Line

+ The Harriman campus, PILOTless



Yes, we've all heard this song before. It's a bad song and one that is unlikely to create any tax dollars for the city of Albany's coffers. What could possibly work here is student housing for SUNY within a construct of a tech village that merges private and public ventures. Apartments, retail, incubators, green zones, light manufacturing, maker space. Development of this area should not be conditional upon such being taxable. It should be innovative and serve as a catalyst for something more.

ace, this won't be student housing. The conditions stated prohibit any residential development.

@ace I don't know if you're a city resident/homeowner but as one myself I LOVE that any development of this parcel must be taxable. It's a prime location in the city and I am tired of shouldering the burden of all the tax exempt properties in Albany. This would be but a drop of water in an ocean, but it's something. I'll take it.

I think that there should be a comprehensive plan for the entire site and not the piece meal development that seems to be going on.

Maybe a central Mall type area surrounded by condos/apartments on the periphery. The idea is sort of a mixed use "City within the City".

In the central core: offices, labs, retail, maybe a supermarket, maybe some restaurants, perhaps a museum or library or performance spaces.

Having residents creates built in foot traffic for businesses, and visitors can be drawn in with different amenities. Also, buildings could be LEED certified, maybe solar panels on the roofs, maybe rooftop gardens or parks.

The entire plan could be walkable so there would be no reason for residents to have cars except as a luxury. A Live, Work, Play planned Neighborhood/Community.

A walkable self-contained City within a City that is accessible to outsiders and visitors via public transport.

The RFP makes no sense. OGS wants a sustainable, green, pedestrian-friendly development, without congestion? Well then why in the world would they ban a residential component? The best way to foster a development that meets the stated parameters is to build a mixed use project. If people can walk to shopping, restaurants, bars, and work, they wont need to use cars all the time, making the development a lot more "green." What is sustainable and pedestrian oriented about another office park or shopping center, surrounded by what basically amount to highways? I too want the land to be taxed, but the RFP indicates that OGS needs to go to Urban Planning 101.

They should include residential as part of the mix, so it becomes a whole new uptown district, designed with a high walkability score in mind. Apartments above shops, like Saratoga or anywhere else at all lively, wide sidewalks, trees, bike lanes, etc.

In the process, you could build a new campus for SUNY there (without disturbing the old one), again in a more pedestrian-friendly manner (and less fascist.) Add some streetcars or light rail and you're in business.

Once that's done, raze the current SUNY campus and do the same there. This could be a decent city with a little effort.

I’m cautiously optimistic on this, but given the two decade history of false starts and the fact that I don’t see any inclination on Cuomo’s part to truly help the city, I find myself repeatedly shrinking down that glass of water to make it look half full. The fact that the community has no input is a significant ding against this (the same glaring issue with the downtown parcel) and I can see this causing issues down the road if the proposed project doesn’t jive with what folks would like to see. This has been in the works by the state for at least 6-12 months, so it is sad and unfortunate that the top-heavy approach towards off-loading public land to the private sector continues and that they didn’t use this window to engage the local community, or its leadership, on what they would like to see out of this to help frame the RFP. I don’t think we need to go back to the type of plan that was loosely adopted in the late 1990’s under Pataki which was too proscriptive and because of this resulted in nothing materializing.

As mentioned, the Patroon Creek development, while excellent in that it got some commercial real estate on the map, resulted in an incoherent, strip mall landscape that does not suit walkability. I work on the state campus and walking over to SEFCU on my break to do some banking can be practical suicide, which is why we don’t see a more well round mix of commercial, service industry options here. I fear the same here, especially if the residential component isn’t being fostered, or solid features that encourage walkability and mass transit. The fact that Cuomo just repaved a good chunk of the state campus loop system, but offered nothing in terms of enhanced walkability or pedestrian safety to better tie the campus with the larger city ecosystem, does not bode well for a sustainable, walkable campus. Meanwhile, he is seeking to cram this development in, along with the new SUNY College of Emergency Services, Homeland Security and Cyber, which I can only see resulting in siloed entities, with their own parking ecosystems, leading in more car dependent infrastructure, like you see at Patroon Creek. I do not see small businesses, retail or food service options showing up, without improvements on walkability, or without a sustained evening population on site. At the end of the day, this effort to privatize appears too artificial, shackles how it is to be achieved, and doesn’t come with convincing leadership from the state, which kept the city at arm’s length. Therefore, I do not see this leading to innovative or mix-use options that could truly catalyze this section of the city.

It is troubling that there is no public process and that no residential uses are allowed. I think a walkable neighborhood would be very desirable uptown. Other commenters have raised excellent points about the challenges of this site. But the part that puzzles me the most is why the state thinks businesses will be willing to pay property taxes here. Start Up New York's tax free haven is very close by and many larger developers work with the Albany IDA for property tax abatement. Why would this place be any different?

The development priorities sound OK except "provide retail opportunities." As if that area needs more retail sprawl! Good thing I don't live nearby.

Trying to solve Albany's inability to function within its means by privatizing this property seems temporary and shortsighted. How about simply redevelop the site as it was originally intended, to centrally locate state government on tax free, rent free property? The taxpayers of Elmira, Lake Placid and Staten Island have zero connection to Albany's financial mismanagement but are all connected to state taxation. With the money saved at the state level, hire experts to dig into what's going on with the City of Albany.

I agree with other comments toward city-within-a-city, walkability, making a great uptown area. comprehensive plan for the entire campus instead of piecemeal. we need to vote smarter leaders into office.

It really is a great location and it's a shame it's such a black hole. But I don't expect this proposal to go anywhere. I agree with the above comment that this site should be redeveloped as a whole, not piecemeal, and residential development should not be excluded.

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For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

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