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Budget blown, Glens Falls retools DRI concept

GLENS FALLS — Time changes everything, and the city’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative has been no exception.

Awarded in 2016, the $10 million state grant was designed to spark economic activity in the downtown area by using public funds to spur private investment.

After a fast start, progress appeared to slow, but work to complete the multi-phase project has never stopped, according to Jeffrey Flagg, the city’s economic development director tasked with overseeing the various components of the DRI.

“I think the biggest dilemma that we’ve got is the time lag,” he said. “It’s not just time lag. The time lag creates changes … circumstances change. Well, circumstances have changed.”

Rising prices forced officials to reexamine plans that have sat idle for more than two years as the state worked to complete a series of environmental reviews, delayed by the pandemic.

While details have yet to be finalized, Flagg believes the city has developed a new concept that would address the growing need for housing in the city and bring much-needed parking into the downtown area, all while putting a number of city-owned parcels back on the tax rolls.

“The fact of the matter is this is a pretty big change,” Flagg said. “And I think it does solve a lot of the needs we have.”

Original concept

Plans for how the city would spend the funds were unveiled in 2017 and it wasn’t long before visible progress had been made.

In 2018, SUNY Adirondack officially relocated its culinary program to 14 Hudson Ave., completing a major component of the multi-phase project.

Around the same time, the city began taking steps to demolish a series of buildings along South Street to make way for the Market Center building — touted by officials as the centerpiece of the city’s economic redevelopment plans.

A concept rendering of the 10,000-square-foot facility was unveiled in 2019, showing a hub of activity near 59-62 South St., where the glass building would be erected.

City officials, at the time, said the structure would not only be the future year-round home of the Glens Falls Farmers Market, but would host community events and other gatherings.

The renderings also showed a pair of privately owned, fully restored buildings next to the market, along with a towering parking structure and a brand new mixed-use building at 25-33 South St., the current home of the farmers market.

Plans also called for developing a “pocket park” along South Street at the corner of School Street, next to Dizzy Chicken.

Rising prices and delays

But more than two years after the plans were unveiled, officials have been forced to retool its Market Square concept due to a number of compounding factors that resulted in a $6.6 million price tag, nearly twice the allotted budget.

The price of materials have gone up since the original concept was revealed, an issue that has been exacerbated in the last year and a half because of supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic.

State lawmakers have since approved the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act in 2019. The legislation seeks to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2050 and requires publicly operated buildings to be free of emissions by 2040, forcing the city to incorporate costly geothermal heat and other climate-friendly designs into the plans, further increasing the price, Flagg said.

Amid all of this, Ed Bartholomew, the city’s longtime economic development director responsible for securing the DRI funds, died last year, sending city officials scrambling to pick up the pieces and advance the project.

Flagg was appointed economic development director earlier this year.

The rising prices and pandemic-delayed plans forced the city to essentially start over, drawing criticisms from some and questions about how the city is using the funds from others.

But Flagg said the process was necessary and forced to city to take a harder look at its original concepts.

“It’s taken us a little time to find out how much we need to change the direction, and it’s forced us to be a little more creative in what we’re looking to do with the space,” he said.

Moving ahead

In the weeks since learning their original plans would need to be scuttled, city officials have been working with architects and developers from Bonacio Construction — the company that will ultimately purchase and renovate the city owned parcels surrounding the Market Center — to develop new plans for the project.

The concepts are still in the early stages, but the proposed changes are significant.

Gone are the plans for a large 10,000-square-foot Market Center facility along South Street and a multi-story parking structure at the corner of South and Elm streets.

The city is now seeking to construct a parking structure on the existing Elm Street parking lot, about a block from where the Market Center will eventually stand and just a short walk from the heart of downtown. Conversations on the size of the structure and how cover the cost remain ongoing, Flagg said.

Instead, Bonacio has proposed constructing either a pair of multi-story buildings or one large mixed-use facility where the parking structure would have been built along South Street.

The property is currently city-owned and would be put back on city tax rolls once a contract between the construction company and the city is finalized, Flagg said.

He said it’s still unclear how large the new facility, or facilities, would be or what the final cost would be, but noted the proposal would address the growing need for housing in the city and bring much-needed parking to the downtown area.

“I’m confident we’ll have a commercial building here,” he said. “Commercial meaning not a parking garage.”

As far as the much-talked about Market Center facility, Flagg said the new plan is for a downsized structure of about 5,000 square feet that is somehow incorporated into the first floor of 36 Elm St., an adjacent building scheduled to be renovated as part of the DRI.

Bonacio Construction is currently in negotiations with the city to purchase and rehab the three-story, 15,000-square-foot facility along with the adjacent 45 South St. building, which will be turned into a mixed-use facility.

Both properties would be put on the city’s tax rolls once purchased by the construction company.

Flagg said the city would likely have to work out some type of lease agreement with Bonacio to use the facility, but noted by doing so, the Market Center would still be the original 10,000 square feet as originally planned.

The new structure would likely be three seasons and wouldn’t include any of the acoustics and costly heating the original year-round concept incorporated, but would still host the farmers market and a number of other events throughout the year, Flagg said.

The city is also trying to figure out how to incorporate “green initiatives” into the building concept, including examining whether a pocket park could be constructed on the property, Flagg said.

He noted the city is waiting to view design concepts and determine how to clear a number of logistical hurdles when it comes to construction, but believes the new concept will likely advance in some form.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” he said.

Chad Arnold is a reporter for The Post-Star covering the city of Glens Falls and the town and village of Lake George and Washington County government. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGArnold.

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