Dominick Calsolaro

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Convention Center officials OK 1st land buy

Published on 7/31/2009 by the Times Union written by JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST, Staff writer

ALBANY -- The Albany Convention Center Authority this morning approved the purchase of a half-acre of land at the heart of its plans for a $225 million downtown convention center.
The $469,673 purchase from Greyhound is now a bus parking lot for the nearby bus terminal and represents the authority's first acquisition in its efforts to cobble together the roughly six acres needed for the project.

The move comes as Albany County is poised to sell the authority an additional 0.37 acres across nine parcels next month for $435,000.

That land -- on Hamilton, Green and Division streets -- is currently parking lots, according to the county.

Gavin Donohue, chairman of the nine-member authority board, said the goal is to have "complete control" of all the needed properties by year's end.

"Today's a big step in the momentum of this project," said Donohue, adding that, if everything goes well, construction could begin in the first quarter of next year. He conceded the timeline is optimistic.

The proposed 266,000-square-foot convention center's footprint spans roughly 47 parcels owned by about 12 different entities, said Duncan Stewart, the authority's executive director.

While to the naked eye the land appears to be vast empty lots, many of the parcels are small, having been divided over a century ago and once housed small buildings that no longer stand.

About 10 percent of the needed land is owned by the county or the Albany Local Development Corporation, a not-for-profit that serves as on of the city's economic development arms.

Representatives of downtown businesses, the company that manages the Times Union Center and local labor unions all spoke in favor of the land buy.

Critics of the project question its viability and the use of public money.

Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro, who opposes the project because he believes the benefits are exaggerated and the full costs not yet known, praised the purchase because consolidating the land will make it easier to re-sell it to a developer should the project -- already downsized amid the economic downturn -- never get off the ground.

Calsolaro also said the studies that extoll the economic benefits of the project -- estimated at $3.4 million in annual city, county and state tax revenue -- never look at the relative benefits of spending the same money elsewhere on other revitalization projects.

The project, proposed for a gritty section on the south end of downtown, still lacks a source of funding. The land purchases will be funded by $10 million released last year by Gov. David Paterson -- part of an original $75 million appropriated by former Gov. George Pataki.

The convention center authority plans to host an August 27 open house for people to see what the buildings could look like.

Jordan Carleo-Evangelist can be reached at 454-5445 or by e-mail at jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com.