February 1, 2007
Albany -- Some critics say downtown redevelopment has stalled, but there's no arguing the area has gone through a major transformation. In the last seven years, Albany Tomorrow Incorporated oversaw more than a dozen projects worth more than $115 million.
A series of new projects will start this year, but nearly all that money is flowing to one side of the river. Is that A Tale of Two Cities?
Go to downtown Albany most any day, and you'll see people walking in Riverfront Park, Visiting the Flint Riverquarium, and staying at the Hilton Garden Inn. All those fairly recent developments have one thing in common. They're on the west side of the River.
That fact isn't lost on Gordon Hall. "There isn't enough thought goes into this side of town." For 18-years he's served up burgers and fish, and his famous secret recipe punch at Shabazz Fish Supreme just east of the Flint River."The struggle goes on."
Don't get him wrong. Hall thinks the development on the west side is great. "I agree with what has happened downtown." It's even helped his business a little. "Even with the park being there, I think east Albany businesses get some trickle of a benefit from it, with people having to pass us to go there."
But Hall believes east Albany is ignored. "There's not enough focus has been placed in east Albany so that this part of town can have that look of the other parts of town."
The look certainly is different. Cross the Broad Avenue Bridge and you see graffiti, trash, vacant lots. Even the man who guided all that Westside development agrees the eastside needs more attention. "East Albany is certainly deserving and in need of more planned activities and planned development."
But outgoing ATI President Tommy Chatmon insists the city is moving in the right direction. "You wish everybody could be in all the meetings and hear all the great plans of what it's going to be five years from now."
After focusing on projects to keep workers downtown, Like the new police headquarters, Then on amenities like the Riverquarium, ATI is now working on plans to bring people downtown to live.
And east Albany could jumpstart that effort. "Phase one would bring in about 150 condos." It's still in development, But Chatmon gave us a first look at a project called Flintridge Lofts. "It would be the most significant private investment in that area that close to the river in east Albany that we have seen."
The project would be built on this vacant land overlooking the river directly across from the Hilton Garden Inn and the planned Ray Charles Plaza. "Flintridge Lofts is going to be really a stimulus over there," said Chatmon.
It would include retail space on the first floor, Then four stories of upscale loft condos. The design phase should be finished in a couple of months, then ATI will work with the developer to get funding. "I think we'll know within six months exactly when Flintridge Lofts can come about."
That's not the only plan on the drawing board for east Albany. Looking at map the long range riverfront master plan adopted in 1999 includes an extensive system of trails and parks east of the river, But it could be several years before those are built.
Gordon Hall doesn't want to wait that long. "A facelift in itself would create a positive image for east Albany." He thinks better sidewalks and street lighting on the main eastside thoroughfares heading across the river would help current business owners and encourage others.
"The people with thoughts of going into business would say this area looks real good. I can locate a business right on Broad here," says Hall. And that could help both sides of the river grow, Turning a tale of two cities into one success story of a united downtown Albany.
Again, That Flintridge Lofts project isn't a done deal yet, But it would be about a $21 million project. A similar development on the west bank of the river is also in its early stages.