A big chunk of downtown Albany was just sold, and there are some big plans for the buildings

Kenmore Hotel block downtown Albany

A large group of historic properties were sold in downtown Albany this month, and the deal could be a major milestone in the ongoing transformation of the neighborhood.

Over the span of two days last week, Redburn Development Partners closed on "The Kenmore Portfolio," which includes the prominent Kenmore Hotel and Steuben Club buildings on Pearl Street, as well as the Capital Repertory Theatre building.

Redburn is planning apartment conversions for many of the buildings, which it sees as a continuation of downtown's recent shift toward being a residential, "18-hour" neighborhood.

"We think that we have the correct vision for what's needed in downtown Albany," said Jeff Buell, one of Redburn's principals, today via phone. "I think it's an absolutely transformational project that must be done if Albany's going to be a 21st century city."

Here are a few more bits about what's happening.

The buildings

16 Sheridan downtown Albany exterior medium 2018-August
16 Sheridan Ave

The properties that are a part of this portfolio:

+ The former Times Union building at 16 Sheridan Ave
+ The Kenmore Hotel on Pearl Street
+ The Steuben Athletic Club building on Pearl Street
+ The building that currently houses the Capital Repertory Theatre, along with the attached parking garage
+ The Kennedy Garage on Columbia Street

Update: Mike DeMasi has more details about the structure of the deal, which includes a planned longterm lease for 1 Steuben. [Biz Review]

Buell did not disclose the purchase price.

Another two properties -- 39 Columbia Street and 55 Columbia Street -- are also in the mix. Buell said Redburn could close on those sometime after the first of the year.

(A Redburn proposal for conversion of 39 Columbia Street, with approximately 46 residential units, is on the draft agenda for the December planning board meeting.)

The plan

Kennedy Garage Columbia Street downtown Albany 2018-August
The Kennedy Garage on Columbia Street.

Redburn is currently planning residential conversions of 16 Sheridan, the adjacent (and connected) Kenmore and Steuben buildings, and the Kennedy Garage on Columbia Street. All together it's eyeing roughly 350 new residential units and 75,000 square feet of commercial space.

Ahead of the sales closing, Redburn has been pursuing approval from the Albany planning board for the conversions. Redburn got approval for a plan that includes 133 apartments at 16 Sheridan back in August. And in November it got approval for 59 residential units at 1 Steuben and 63 units in the old Kenmore Hotel. The board also got its first look at a proposed residential conversion of the upper floors of the Kennedy Garage at 43 Columbia Street -- one of the first parking garages in Albany -- for 27 units.

Jeff Buell said work has already started at 16 Sheridan, and Redburn is aiming to be finished by the end of next summer. "It's an aggressive schedule. It's a lot of construction in that amount of time."

He also said that Redburn has a signed agreement with an out-of-town operator for a "funky, cool" restaurant that will occupy a section of the building near the old loading dock -- a name will be announced in a few months.

Work on the Steuben and Kenmore buildings could start in the spring. Buell said the conversion of those buildings will be more complicated and could take 15-18 months.

Capital Rep building 2018-September

And the Capital Repertory Theatre building? It will continue to be the Cap Rep building for the meantime. Buell said Redburn will honor the theater org's lease, and is ready to work with The Rep as it plans its move up Pearl Street to a new theater in a converted space at Livingston Ave. (The theater project is on the draft agenda for the December planning board meeting.)

Buell said Redburn has been thinking about what to do with the building and would settle on what's next after The Rep moves out.

This is a significant deal

Downtown Albany has been experiencing a slow and steady change over the last decade into something more like a residential neighborhood as tens of thousands of square feet of old office space has been converted to apartments, with plans for more on the way.

Kenmore Steuben block

But local officials and other business owners have long viewed this group of buildings -- the Steuben and Kenmore buildings especially -- as a key piece of the picture because of their prominence and the square footage they represent. (The properties had been vacant and for sale for years, and the former owner had fallen behind on the taxes until reaching a settlement with Albany County last year.)

So adding 300some new households to the neighborhood and, potentially, re-lighting the retail space on Pearl Street would be a big step in the evolution of this part of the city.

It's also notable because of the history of these buildings. The Kenmore, especially, has all sorts of local architectural, social, and cultural history associated with it.

Another important angle: The Sheridan, Kenmore, and Steuben projects will be subject to the city's new inclusionary zoning requirement. Buell said back in August that rents for the Sheridan building would range from $800-$1,700 -- and 3/4 of the units would have an "all-in" price that would include utilities and be below $1,400 per month.

A supermarket, eventually?

Jeff Buell has previously stated an intense desire to see a supermarket in downtown Albany. And at a planning board meeting back in August, he told the board he'd be willing to offer an operator free rent to make it happen.

On Monday he reiterated a desire to make something happen on the front, encouraging anyone interested in pursuing it to contact Redburn.

Earlier

+ A walkthrough of the old Kenmore Hotel and Steuben Club buildings in downtown Albany

+ A look around the Maiden House residential + retail conversion in downtown Albany

Comments

Yes to having a grocery store in the neighborhood, please!

A transformational moment, exciting...but I am more afraid that the regions fear of change will hamper and deflect what this developer has in mind. Let's embrace the novel and newness, allow someone from outside Albany introduce ideas that have worked (for years!) Elsewhere. Its the developer's risk, not the city or regions risk. If it succeeds we gain population and tax base. If it fails, the empty/underutilized buildings remain as they are today. IMO Better to support them and get out of the way than chase them away with onerous requirements and roadblocks. Change is needed.

High time for this to occur. With Troy and Schenectady leading the way dip you big toe into the wave of the downtown revolution, Albany!

Looking forward to hearing the creative grievances of the "equity" crowd.

THIs is great great news. No just do it. It’s a sin to have such beautiful buildings lying dormant....I pray that in my lifetime Albany is restored to a vibrant functional city once again....this city has so so much potential it’s beyond belief! Couldn’t even imagine the boom that would happen if taxes were in line with other vibrant cities.....

I hope Buell can get some good retail in the Pearl St. buildings. I'm not sure what would work there as people love to be able to park close to shops (part of the problem - I call it laziness), but there has to be something that could be feasible in the old Kenmore. @BS, I agree - if the property taxes in Albany were normal (1-1.5%) of the valuation, Albany would be booming. Part of the issue is Albany gets shafted by the state. Syracuse and Rochester get far more state aid per capita than Albany - it's like 3-1.

I wondered why North Pearl was failing... its because of developers (speculators) aggregating and otherwise mothballing prime properties so they can control the outcomes... City should slap a penalty on aggregators... Need diversity of talent in cities... Monocultures are fragile... Look at what happened on Clinton Avenue in the 80's... and which is no doubt going to happen again...

All it takes is a financial downturn and poof... Troy is an example of many owners...

This is one of the most exciting projects in Albany and I wish Buell et al all the best. To restore these beautiful buildings and understand what it takes to restore a vibrant and viable downtown is so refreshing.

Is there any chance that any of these properties will be hosting a full service gym downtown? It seems like there are small gyms, mostly dedicated to building tenants throughout downtown, but no large facilities available to the general public. For residents and workers it would be great to have something close by.

I'm disappointed that almost the entire lot of residential units downtown are rentals with almost no condominium units available. the rental market is fine but it attracts only one strata. condos / coops represent ownership which give bedrock and voice 2 the community. that's when real change happens. until I can find a nice unit to buy that isn't overpriced, I'll stay in my house 10 minutes away from downtown.

You'll hear us, alright.

Um, attention Wegman's! If there's truly no agreement to stay out of each other's territory, this would be a slam dunk move for Wegman's.

It would draw downtown residents purely for proximity, and it would honestly draw plenty of others out of their way to shop there just because they love Wegman's. If the space isn't suitable for their taste, perhaps a Trader Joe's would work. The Wolf Road store is always mobbed. I worked at the TJ's in a basement on Boylston Ave in Boston and it was a small store but did very well.

We need a mix of condo and rentals. Give buyers an opportunity for a stake in Albany, not just relatively transitional renters. The fabric of Albany is strengthened w a mixed format.

Re:Condos. They are much much harder to get financing for and more difficult and costly all around to develop. On top of that this downtown projects are renovations/conversions with their own higher costs due to unforeseen circumstances with building conditions, structural/mechanical issues, etc. That's why you don't see many condos in cheaper markets like Upstate - no one wants to pay the price they would have to be to make it happen.

Sorry, but no supermarket in the world is going to move to that area, even if the rent is free. There's is just too much crime and there isn't exactly a large talent-base from which to hire.

The margins on retail food are too small to support the immense amount of internal theft and shoplifting that a store would experience.

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