How to move forward at 1 Monument Square?

1 Monument Square site 2016-08-25

What should go here?

More than a hundred people showed up for a public meeting Wednesday evening in Troy to talk about how to redevelop the 1 Monument Square site. And toward the beginning of the event, mayor Patrick Madden mentioned that the city was hoping to have a request for proposals out to developers sometime early this October.

But by the time the event was ending, Madden said his administration would be rethinking the process.

Here's what happened in between...

Quick backstory

You probably know the outline of the history of 1 Monument Square site, but just in case here's a quick recap:

+ As its address implies, 1 Monument Square sits right in the middle of downtown Troy, between the square and the river. It is one of the most high-profile real estate sites in all of the Capital Region.

+ Troy's former city hall -- a brutalist structure built during the 1970s, that many people did not like -- formerly stood on the site. It was knocked down in 2011.

+ Since then there have been three major attempts to redevelop the site. All have fizzled, usually with a bit of drama. The most recent attempt made it as far as the city's planning board before facing organized opposition that argued the proposal changed too much since it had been originally proposed and threatened to bring legal action. The developer dropped out this past spring, saying the city hadn't done a good enough job identifying infrastructure that complicated the site, and pointing a finger at the project's opposition.

The next attempt -- whatever it might be -- will be the fourth major effort.

Ideas from the public

1MSq_public_meeting_1.jpg

The public meeting at the Bush Memorial on the Sage campus drew more than a hundred people Wednesday evening, and Patrick Madden said he was thrilled, but not surprised, with the turnout. As he said to us during a short interview: "Troy is a city of engaged people."

The format of the event was typical of these sorts of public planning meetings: a short intro from officials, and then attendees were grouped into tables -- in this case, the tables were roughly organized into groups of residents, developers/architects/real estate professionals, business owners, and government officials -- to discuss what they'd like to see at the site. And then at the end, each group presented the ideas that bubbled up during conversation.

1MSq_public_meeting_2.jpg

Here's a distillation of the ideas presented for the site. It's not a comprehensive list, but includes items that were mentioned multiple times:

+ Public space: Pretty much every group mentioned a desire to see some sort of public space incorporated into the site, whether as some sort of plaza, an outdoor performance area, park land near the river, space for outdoor cafes, or some other sort of space where the public can be and interact.

+ Access to, and sight lines of, the river: This was another desire mentioned by almost every group. It seems that people like the idea of having some view of the river from the River Street level, and they'd like the site to incorporate ways for people to make their way down to the riverfront level.

+ Some sort of affordable housing: A few of the residents tables mentioned that if the site ends up including residential units, they'd like to see some portion of the units be designated as affordable housing. As one table representative explained, she doesn't want to see the see the city be segregated by income, with downtown set aside for the rich.

+ A grocery store: Multiple tables mentioned the desire to see some sort of grocery store at the site, along with other retail that might sell everyday essentials. As one person explained, this desire isn't just about convenience, but also access -- many people in Troy don't drive, so locating a supermarket there makes groceries more accessible.

+ Parking: A few tables -- notably one including many business owners -- mentioned a desire to see some sort of parking at the site, both for whatever might be built there and for visitors to downtown.

Modern vs historic

Another recurring theme of public comments was interest in how whatever might be built would fit with the look and feel of downtown Troy. And there was a desire from at least some members of the public for the potential project to reflect the design of the historic buildings around the site.

One person -- Adam Sanzone, who was involved with the recent effort to build a statue honoring Troy's first mayor, Albert Pawling -- even showed up with a rendering created by the statue's sculptor, Patrick Pigott, proposing a project that would recreate the look of buildings from Troy's past.

1MSq_public_meeting_3.jpg

Whatever ends up being proposed for the 1 Monument Square site, there's almost surely going to be some tension between people who want to see structures faithful to the style of what's already there and others who, for aesthetic or financial reasons, push for something more modern. (See the back-and-forth during the most recent proposal over the developer's desire to use paneling instead of brick on the upper portions of the proposed building.)

Is there a way to resolve that tension in a way that will work for a large majority of people?

The process itself

One of the tables took a different view of the whole situation -- focused on the process of choosing goals and designs -- and that perspective appeared to have an impact in the end.

1MSq_public_meeting_4.jpg

The first person from the table to speak was Evan Douglis, the dean of RPI's architecture school. He pushed for the city to hold a national juried architectural competition to find a design for the site. He predicted such a process would not only lead to a transformational design, it would also help promote the city of Troy and everything that's been happening there in recent years.

The next person up from the table was Robert Hirsch, who had questions about how the city would sort and prioritize the ideas offered by the public. He advocated for the public to be involved at every step of the decision making process -- not just at the beginning, but also in picking priorities, and ultimately approving the elements of the request for proposals.

And a third person, Erica Veil, questioned the wisdom of trying to determine a use for 1 Monument Square when an overall plan for the city is not yet in place.

Adjusting the timeline

In their closing comments, both mayor Patrick Madden and deputy mayor Monica Kurzejeski talked about reassessing how to go about planning for the site. And they mentioned they'd be looking for additional ways of gathering public input. Madden even went so far as to tell the crowd to disregard his statements earlier in the night to media about a timeline for issuing the request for proposals early this fall.

It'll be interesting to see how the administration ultimately decides to proceed. More public involvement is a good idea, especially considering how contentious previous attempts to the develop the site ended up. But the ultimate choice will eventually be in the hands of just a few people. One of the important questions is whether the process that leads to that point will be enough to satisfy members of the public -- especially those who don't get what they want?

As Madden said in closing Wednesday, "We're committed to developing this site right, not necessarily fast."

Comments

On my lunchtime walk today I paused for several minutes and looked at the vast space that is currently 1 Monument Square. What a lovely entrance and overlook of the mighty Hudson.

A wide veranda curving out from River Street on each side hosting shops and eateries up two stories on each side and down to a river level promenade would be quite a nice and aesthetically pleasing solution. It would serve as a grand entrance to the riverfront and meet most of the people’s wants, needs and desires. Also, it would be tremendously beautiful and inviting for the thousands of people passing by boat every year.

As far as developing housing, I agree that we have to offset the skyrocketing cost of rental properties in the downtown corridor. Perhaps they could redevelop the abandoned buildings at the end of River Street and Congress. They are on the river, look over the Sage Campus and are within walking distance to the Price Chopper in Watervliet. In fact, that store is only one mile from 1 Monument Square and is easily accessible by foot, bicycle, car and bus.


I don't understand why everyone seems to think that we need more public space and a view to the river... the city just spent a significant amount of money on a great riverfront park with a more than adequate performance space as part of it.

Also why do we need more parking? There's already two multi-story parking structures within one block of this site. Plus, the existing street parking is more than adequate.

Affordable housing would be a godsend, as it's true that skyrocketing rent is taking over any reasonable apartment to live in downtown. However the supermarket idea is one that needs to be solicited to an actual supermarket chain... convince price chopper that a smaller Market32 would be successful in Troy and then you'd be getting somewhere.

Lastly, regarding the historic nature of the design: This is the most dangerous aspect of the "public opinion". Attempting to build something that "fits in" with the historic architecture will only result in a half-baked attempt at history. The only way to accurately recreate any sense of a historic building is to actually use the same materials and building techniques that existed in the 19th century. The reason nobody chooses that route is because it's simply too expensive and offers no chance at a reasonable return on your investment. Do something contemporary and interesting. There will be more success overall by taking advantage of today's building technologies.

I agree with Evan Douglis. I think a competition would really help to open everyone's eyes to the real potential of the site. Too much time has been spent with typical, antiquated ideas. Let design professionals with new ideas have a crack at the site and you'll be amazed at it's potential.

Interesting how people seem to be in favor of affordable housing... yet when it was discovered that affordable housing was slipped into the first plan, that killed it. This is why we have a big hole in the ground-- because affordable housing was a bad idea and had to be stopped. What has changed?

If I could go back in time, I'd advise everyone involved to let the old City Hall remain in place. People would still be crying that it doesn't look like 19th century construction and therefore is "ugly", but at least there would be something there and Troy would not be paying rent and moving City Hall from building to building every few years.

Yerf - although it is hard to prove anything at this point, stated reason for demolition was unsafe structural condition. Maybe things could be fixed or maybe that would be just another abandoned property by now, who knows.. But architecture alone was not enough for that building to come down.

Unfortunately, Yerf, I must agree with you. The citizens of Troy botched the hell out of this one, and are creating a situation where nothing can be built here at all. How a vacant lot is preferable to a non-perfect building is beyond me. I'm glad this all went down before I followed through with my idea of moving there.

Thanks JayK. Now if one of the Trojans here could respond and explain why affordable housing was reason enough to kill this project a few years ago, yet they now demand it, that would be awesome.

@Yerf

I might be wrong, but I think that one of the earlier proposals included subsidized housing (Section 8, DSS, etc.), which I think made people unhappy.

I, for one, think that a more diverse mix of people (economically or otherwise) downtown make for a much more interesting city, but I think many people were concerned that essentially "less desirable" people would end up occupying what's been deemed to be the most precious piece of real estate since Golgatha.

When I speak of "affordable housing" I suppose I'm angling for what might be described as "market rate" as opposed to "luxury apartments" that everyone seems to be into. The Arthaus project just north on River Street seems to have found a reasonable solution that I think could be mimicked here with far less resistance.

For anyone who hasn't been playing along at home, AOA did some great recaps of the entire 1MSQ saga which I would suggest reading. The failure of the prior two iterations of this project had nothing to do with the "citizens of Troy" and I'm proud of the groundswell of public support against the most recent proposal. I also continue to get enjoyment out of the developers blaming the city for their inability to read site plans given to them two years ago. Those guys, while terrible at actual development, were always good for making me laugh. At them. I wish them the best in their future projects, whether it be development of a medical plaza or buildings that just look like medical plazas.

As for a future RFP, I'm glad the city is taking their time. Patience has not always been our virtue and hopefully Evan's idea regarding a juried competition will be seriously considered. I expect this will be put on the backburner, though, while the administration figures out ways to avoid state oversight and/or a 10+% property tax hike.

"The failure of the prior two iterations of this project had nothing to do with the "citizens of Troy" and I'm proud of the groundswell of public support against the most recent proposal."

This sentence contradicted itself, so I'm going to continue to blame the citizens of Troy for their complete inability to be be satisfied. You guys are more than welcome to prefer an empty lot, though.

JayK-

It's not a contradiction if you had been following what was going on at the site throughout each project; the 3 projects failed for different reasons. Neither of the first two got far enough along for there to be any public input- the first was killed after a change in administration and the 2nd was never going to happen because the only developer that submitted a proposal was involved in multiple lawsuits with the city. At the time of the first, people were really excited for the project to go forward. Remember, the first RFP happened just before Troy was about to explode. This was pre-Dauchy/Keenan/Trojan Lofts/Vic & Heather's multiple businesses (Vic still had a BEARD)/etc.

In the years between the first proposal and the 3rd, the city went through significant changes in the downtown corridor including the addition of several upscale apartment developments and businesses but the RFP stayed the same which was probably an error on the part of the City.

The third proposal failed because it was a bait and switch pile of crap that the administration felt pressured to continue to support due of the failure of the previous 2 RFPs. Enough people spoke up that it didn't happen. That's a good thing.

Yes you're right that I don't care that there's a big hole in the ground. We're still using it- there's been two big dance parties, daily parking, pick up soccer games, boot camp workouts, firework launches and potlucks down there. Something good will get built at 1MSQ eventually but downtown can afford to wait for that to happen.

TL;DR- First two projects failed well before there was public input due to administration bs, Third failed because the majority of the public realized what a mess it was

"Something good will get built at 1MSQ eventually but downtown can afford to wait for that to happen." Not sure I buy this. Eventually someone could very likely ram the worst possible thing through.

As I say, I'm just very grateful you all decided to embrace and encourage a disgusting hole in the otherwise nicest area of your downtown before I made the mistake of moving there.

Maybe the Museum of Political Corruption proposed for Albany should go there? Say what one will about politics in Albany, but the city, county, and state aren't running out of a rented facility!

JayK-

That's the point. They did try to ram the worst possible thing through with the last proposal and it failed because there were enough people who pushed back. And when I say enough people I mean residents of downtown, the fire department (the structure would have been wood framed and blocked rear access for emergency vehicles to the Front st corridor), architects (both the modernists and historical recreation maniacs), business owners... Basically anyone that wasn't affiliated with or on the payroll of the project left feeling that Kirchoff's proposal was increasingly headed in the wrong direction with each subsequent meeting. This wasn't an instance of a few disgruntled residents derailing the process.

There are public funds associated with the site that limits usage and preexisting underground infrastructure that limits size/weight so you're not going to get a Walmart or a McDonald's built there. At worst, it'll be turned into a sloped underground parking garage covered with a greenspace park.

I'm sorry you didn't get a say in City Hall and its parking garage being torn down before you moved here. If it helps, no one really did.

Ok kids, you've sent your gift list to Santa. Guess what? Mommy and Daddy don't have the money to buy them for you.

This is a parcel that needs to be sold to a developer that has certain architectural aesthetic contingencies, nothing else. Because if you ask for a castle in the sky, well Virginia, there will be no Santa Claus covering its construction costs.

I didn't move there. I managed to avoid that mess based partly on idiocy like this. Even if you have half a point about the last proposal, there were still the first two.

I sincerely hope I'm wrong, but it really seems you're all protesting yourself into a much worse building than you defeated the last time. Sorry I apparently wasn't clear on that the first time.

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