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These renderings are by Harris A. Sanders, Architects, P.C.

363 Ontario Street Playdium redev rendering 2017-10-19 wide

363 Ontario Street Playdium redev rendering 2017-10-19 closeup

What's up with the planned redevelopment of the Playdium site

363 Ontario Street Playdium redev rendering 2017-10-19 wide

Here's an update on the proposed redevelopment of the Playdium site in Albany's Pine Hills neighborhood, which has prompted a bunch of conversation as well as some pushback from neighbors over the height of the residential project.

It went before the Board of Zoning Appeals last week as part of the developer's efforts to get a variance to exceed the 3.5-story limit for the zoned area.

This project has been interesting to follow because it highlights the recent mini-boom in large residential projects in the city. And it also touches on issues related to in-fill development and the feel of neighborhoods.

Here are a few bits about the evolving design and the rents for the project...


The proposal includes...
+ Demolishing the Playdium bowling alley building at 363 Ontario St.
+ Building three new residential buildings with a total of 109 apartments.
+ The Ontario St-facing building would also include a cafe/shop on the first floor with a laundromat.
+ Roughly 150 parking spaces. The three buildings would include parking underneath, and the site would also have some outdoor parking.
+ Estimated project cost: $19 million


363 Ontario Street Playdium redev rendering 2017-10-19 closeup

The team representing the Jankow Companies showed off a couple of new renderings at the BZA meeting, both intended to give a better sense of the three four-story apartment buildings in context and aid their argument for the variance.

The renderings are in large format at the top -- click or scroll all the way up.

Notable about the closeup rendering of the Ontario Street-facing building is the newly stepped level of the building's southern end, which is intended to blunt the building's height where the site slopes to its lowest point. (The design change also reduced the number of apartments in the development from 110 to 109.)

The project continued to draw public comments. Five people spoke to express their concerns, the building's four-story height a consistent theme, though parking and traffic issues also popped up.

Among the public commenters again was Common Council member Judy Doesschate who again presented her reservations about the project's height in a neighborhood of mostly 1- and 2-story buildings. She argued that the Ontario-facing building would essentially be five stories high because of the slope of the street.

"I am very concerned about how it dramatically changes the feel of the neighborhood," she told the board. "My gut is that we will regret if we allow a full four stories along Ontario."

Rents, and making the numbers work

Potential rent levels for this project have been a topic conversation as it moves through the planning process. Specifically, viability has been an issue -- from two different directions.

The first direction is public commenters who have expressed doubts that the developers will be able to get the rents their projecting -- which range from $1,250 for a 1BR apartment up to $1,600 for a 2BR.

363 Ontario Street Playdium redev rent comparison 2017-10-19
Click the image for a larger, easier-to-read version. See the full document for a comparison of amenities.

Real estate agent David Phaff, who's been representing the project, presented the BZA with a breakdown of rents of similar recent projects around the city: The Alexander on Washington Ave, The Elefteria on South Allen St, and the Park South redevelopment. The Playdium/Ontario Street project was on the lower end of the range represented by those projects.

Phaff told the board the new apartments would be competitive in the market, while adding new life to the neighborhood.

The rent issue is also playing out in another direction in that the developers are arguing the project needs to be of the proposed size -- that is, it needs roughly 100-110 apartments -- in order to make the investment numbers work. And it was this argument that members of the board were keenly interested in as part of their consideration of the height variance. (Board member Anton Pasquill specifically asked about the economic difference for the project between 3.5 and 4 stories.)

Chair Richard Berkley noted that the board had asked the development team for a pro forma with the math backing up its argument for the necessary size during an earlier workshop session and the team hadn't produced it yet. Engineer Daniel Hershberg, who's been representing the project, said the team would get the report together and submit it.

Board member Martin Daley asked if the team had considered additional storm water retention measures that could earn the project a height allowance bonus under the city's new zoning (pdf p. 134). Daniel Hershberg said something like a "green" roof -- which could put the project over the top -- was too expensive.

Regarding the economic viability of the project, it's also worth noting that developer Ryan Jankow has said at an earlier planning board meeting that the project will be seeking a payment in lieu of taxes arrangement (PILOT) through the city IDA. So that's something to keep an eye on, too.

What's next

The BZA did not issue a ruling on the requested variance, and the project will be back up before the board again. The project is also due for another appearance before the planning board.

Project docs

If you're interested in this project -- or other projects that are appearing before the various city boards -- check out the city's new online portal for hosting the related applications, renderings and other various docs. It's a big improvement over previous systems, and makes it much easier to see what's up.


+ New look for the Playdium redev! 5-story building for Central Ave! Apartment project pushback! And more exciting tales of the Albany Planning Board


Student housing ?

How about some affordable units? How about a few 3-bedrooms, so a few families could live in something new? How about not granting PILOTS and instead having developers pay their fair share of taxes on for-profit buildings?

Or what about preserving the 1930s–mid-century architecture? That building has a great vintage look.

this needs to be stopped. Maybe if the developers actually intend on providing affordable housing it would be a different story. But guess what, most people in their 20s can't afford to pay for a 1br apartment at the rate they are asking. The building will be a dud and a blight on the neighborhood. Please, for the love of god, do not approve this project.

As for the rents, keep in mind that many amenities are included. The unit floor plans show in-unit washer/dryer, there is parking, most of which is covered, and similar projects in the area include things like a gym, community room that can be used for parties/meetings, etc. The value of the amenities is in the $200-$300/mo. range, so while $1,250 sounds high for a 1BR, do an apples to apples comparison. Regardless of the other merits/drawbacks of the plan, they will find tenants.

So the proposal provides:

underground and on-site parking, green space, updated amenities, near other apartment buildings, on a bus line, attractive modern design, AND it replaces bowling alley and small commercial space and a sea of asphalt. It's located near existing apartment buildings (Park Row-- approx TEN 2 1/2 story brick buildings, with inadequate off street parking) AND even the prospect of a PILOT is okay, as any PILOT would be greater than the current taxes received on the parcel. It also produces well paying construction jobs(short term) and maintenance & landscaping and property management jobs (long term). 4 story buildings aren't as impactful in an already developed area with significant existing multi-unit residential use. Nothing dramatic in the proposal--no skyscrapers :-) no bar open til 2 am, no routine truck traffic, no reliance on city streets for parking. 100 new residents to support retail businesses and services in the neighborhood.

Seriously, what's not to like?

Affordable housing will ONLY come when housing supply starts to exceed demand. The project design looks attractive to me and I like that it's only a small setback from the sidewalk. And especially the underground parking.

If Albany rejects this come build it in Troy and I'll move in. We may be less scared of "towering 4 story buildings" lol.

I completely agree with Peter. We are the capital city of New York. Albany should be able to have apartment projects like this without special tax exemptions (which seem to be required for ANY construction project in Upstate New York). Families deserve decent housing at an affordable price. Moderately sized/appointed, well-constructed, safe apartments will go a long way to improving the quality of life for city residents.

If keeping our city affordable is a goal (and it should be!), then we need to encourage projects like this. Instead of complaining about the height let's ask for one or two more stories to increase the number of units. More apartments = more competition to attract renters = lower prices city-wide.

That said, Peter has a great point about the IDA. On our website we discuss a transition to a land value tax as an alternative to PILOTs for an equitable way to encourage development.

I would agree with the above. At $1250 a month, that's easily pushing into 30-yr mortgage territory.

The Alexander has a pool, among other amenities. It is considered quite expensive by most people I know in the area. And what is a park south brownstone? The brownstones on Madison? Those rents sound extremely high to me. I moved on 12/31 from a brownstone apt in Center Square that was $950 for a floor-through 1 bedroom.

$19M for 109 apartments is 175k per apartment. Which is in the range for mortgage on a home. And services - maintenance, landscaping, snow removal - are included, which is on top of mortgage.
So rent cannot be way cheaper than mortgage...

@Susan park south brownstone are the new "brownstones" by the medical center. Both those buildings and the high-rise by the hospital are listed as Luxury apartments.

The Park South apartments are very new so are kind of a testing ground for this development. It's far from "affordable" though, you can definitely get bigger apartments even in center square for less. Maybe parking is worth $200 a month though.

It's pretty obvious that most of the people who comment here are not themselves or don't interact with millennials on a regular basis. These are exactly the types of developments that everyone I know who is between 25 and 30 want to live in. Brand new, lots of extras, free parking, zero individual responsibility (i.e. call the property manager). They have very different priorities.

I'll also add that when my wife and I were considering whether to buy or upgrade from a 1-bedroom apartment in Center Square, the rents we were seeing for good two bedroom units in that area were pretty close to the cost of these proposed units, without any perks. So these rents are pretty close to in-line with everything else out there.

Bottom line, this parcel as it sits is nothing but a drain on the city, are PILOTS sustainable long term, no. But until the city/state can reform the tax system its the price of new development, which is better for the city and its tax paying residents than no development.

To summarize the comments above:

1) Better looking building
2) lower rents
3) no pilots

and comments at the hearing

4) smaller buildings
5) more off street parking

Someone please explain how it's possible to build smaller buildings, with higher per unit costs, with more surface parking, without subsidy, and achieve lower rents. Please tell me. And then please post your resume of overseeing similar development projects and I'll instantly get into a REIT with you.

The design is not super inspired, but really there is nothing wrong with this proposal. jsc said it all.

This will get approved, built, all apartments will be rented, and those of you who 'know' it's destined to fail because of the rent cost won't notice because you'll be too busy complaining about the next project.

There is a generation of people who need to realize that most people don't get married young, buy a home, work at the same job for the rest of their lives and have 2 kids anymore. The economy for young people is way more unstable which necessitates the ability to be mobile. Also, we witnessed the financial crisis of 2008 where people lost their homes or were underwater with mortgages. I don't want to be responsible for shoveling the sidewalk or fixing burst pipes or problems with a roof. All of these things make a building like this very attractive to me and tons of other people. People against this are simply selfish NIMBYs who need to crawl out of their holes and see what is happening in the world.

Is there anyway the developers can find a way to keep the Bear's Den in the project? I've had many magical nights there.

Also, is there any indication on how this project will be funded? Are they applying for state tax credits or any federal CDBG funding?

Emily - I think big message here is that different groups need different things.
I can perfectly see why you want such an apartment. But many people consider apartment as a cheaper alternative before moving up. It is not about rent vs own from that perspective for them, it is about being within the price range - and how this pricing would affect prices in the area? Message here is, probably, that you cannot get good and cheap (services and extras included) at the same time...
And of course taxes /PILOT/fair share is another sour point. How many schoolkids would be in the complex, how services would be affected? Police calls, emergency calls etc etc etc? Traffic? Of course this is part of an issue for neighbors as well..

But... where are renters to fill all these units? A lot of $900 2-bedrooms are sitting empty in Guilderland, for instance.
I have a feeling that developers are all chasing a small sliver of a market and will be eating each others’ lunch soon.
Remind me, do landlords pay taxes on empty units?

I have a deep abiding hatred for these cookie cutter, "luxury" apartments that have been dotting the landscape. However, I do feel like the current state of the Playdium is a blight on a Ridgefield Park neighborhood which has been going down hill for years.The devil is in the details but I would like to see residential units on that block with a number of them set aside for affordable housing.

Marcus Reynolds and Philip Hooker and Mr. Richardson built some of the loveliest and memorable buildings in Albany. All of the new apartment buildings are BIG BOX stores to live in. Yes young people want new and ease-of-use, but do they want ugly, no character, expensive apartments? I hope not.

@ Lauren -- Do you think if Marcus T. Reynolds, Philip Hooker, and Henry H. Richardson were around now that they would be building residential housing affordable for working or middle class people? They all operated in time periods where the cost of artisan labor and quality materials was cheap (and no need to design in parking). I don't have a strong opinion on this Playdium development (sure, I'd like to see a more distinctive design), but I can't see the value of wistful comparisons to historical architecture -- mostly built for wealthy families or prestigious institutions -- that could never be replicated in today's economy.

@Chrisck - I understand what you are saying. What I am asking for is something more unique than what has been built and offered. Stackable housing, a bit of flair, something less industrial looking and more fitting for the neighborhood. I know that money talks, but look to some of the housing that has been built in Europe, and you will see it can be done, economically. Incorporate green space, roof gardens or trees. There are some apartments here with character - Stonehenge, Tivoli Gardens, duplexes and condos. This design is cookie cutter to the Aspen and Park South. UGH - and overpriced for the market.

The biggest pieces of land and most expensive are all bringing in no tax money for Albany while the rest of us have to pay up to cover the cost.

No more massive tax breaks to these companies. The rest of us are struggleing to stay in this city.

They can use our water system, police department, fire department, roads, etc, but they don't want to pay any taxes for it, but I have to?

Who came up with this idiocracy?

Would be great to lower the taxes for all.....you’d be amazed what would get built if taxes in this state-town weren’t so confiscatory! Look around the desolation that is upstate NY and ask yourself why has industry abandoned this area.....without looking it up what is the biggest private industrial employer in Albany that isn’t a Hospital or a quasi government entity.......I can’t name one.....I’m talking about a business that manufactures or creates wealth that is privately owned that one would equate with the city of Albany......what ya got????

It would be great if these apartments could be more affordable, but new construction with teardown costs is quite expensive. Building new on even "green" sites is already very expensive. Without any substantial investment from the federal government, none of this new housing will be affordable. Private sector housing will always chase the highest dollar and be as expensive as the market can bear. And it's not really an actual market but a market failure because the real estate industry is very monopolized by a few construction firms that have the resources to develop large projects. HUD is planning to slash federal housing funds by $4 billion, so there will be even less affordable projects coming down the pipeline. Thank Trump and Ben Carson for that. Albany city government cannot on its own build affordable housing. It simply doesn't have the resources.


I think the key is that those apartments are in Guilderland.

There is a population that is willing to pay to live in more walkable, environment with access to transit, restaurants, and nightlife.

PS : Guilderland Sucks

I'm sad to see the loss of the historic Playdium building, but I support this project because new development is good for Albany. However, I'm troubled by the first floor being parking. This design is used by the new Aspen student apartments on Washington Avenue across the street from UAlbany, and it's frankly ugly. The view from the sidewalk and road is a parking garage, which is not pedestrian friendly or attractive urbanism. I agree that putting the cars inside is better than having expansive paved parking lots, but it has to be done carefully, like it was with the Alexander at Patroon Creek, to avoid looking like a monstrosity like the Aspen.

I just started renting across the street at Park Row in October and am sad to hear this vintage structure's days are numbered but since Cole realtors have told me i can't use any of the many garages within this complex bc "they're getting torn down" (yet they're getting fresh coats of paint and exterior repairs...?) I'd relish a rental that included offstreet parking in this area. And since I'm coming fresh off a divorce and the 15-yr burden of a mortgage (ouch just as the PMI was concluded) I would never waste my $ and free time again on the albatross of home ownership and the relentless extra costs of repairs. Rent is a small price to pay for calling a property manager, having someone else shovel and mow, and an underground parking lot would be glorious. While the demolition will remind me of the Kinks lyrics "the day they tore down the Parlay part of my childhood died" a modern building in Albany's equivalent of the UWS is a fair evolution to me. Want a home? Go out to Greene County and buy a generator and a pickup. But in the city build up and build modern the way a capital deserves. PS my 2 bedrm is just $1000 incl heat so surely that rate isn't impossible to achieve...?

@BS: asking "what is the biggest private industrial employer in Albany ......I can’t name one.....I’m talking about a business that manufactures or creates wealth that is privately owned that one would equate with the city of Albany". How about Albany Molecular Research, Inc., HQ, R&D and manufacturing on the western edge of the City of Albany. +/-300 employees in the City (and another 300+ across the river).

And FWIW, the HQ building was new construction in early 2000s, with a 15 year PILOT.

Ok got me.....you came up with a single company that employs 300! Such an economically mighty city we live in! I would never denigrate 300 Jobs but you are kidding right.....this city needs about 50-60 companies like that to prosper......I don’t think in the 15 years that I’ve lived here anybody in local government has even attempted to attract private industry to this city.....please don’t mention Fuller Road etc......

BS - one can also mention port of Albany, wiki says there are 35 people in oversight comission alone, plus another 1382 working for different companies at that location. However, we know how much pressure residents of 189 units in Ezra Prentice Homes apply to the port...

Port of albany great for the 1200 employees.... they need stuff to transport OUT to make the citizens richer not merely a conduit to importing goods IN to the city. PS albany government at its best locating housing projects in potentially dangerous industrial land and then blaming the industry.....lmao....every time I see kids on the rides a Hoffman’s with the oil cars rolling by I resign myself to the fact that local government is clueless....

PS looks like albany molecular has albany address but looks to me like it is actually in Guilderland......also is the Port of Albany a quasi government agency ???? If both are true still waiting for large scale employer-industry-manufacturing company in the city of Albany to be named......can’t have social programs and redistribution etc unless you have the wealth....seems like most other industrialized countries seem to understand this.....what am I missing

BS - according to Albany county tax maps, industrial park is entirely within the city of ALbany boundary.
As for port - it is more of conglomeration of private operations within single facility under some public oversight. Not truly a single business, single operation or single payroll, apparently. But probably a good enough fit for your purposes.

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