Friday, October 23, 2009

Harriman board says developer may be picked within 6 weeks

The Business Review (Albany) - by Adam Sichko

The board overseeing the state’s Harriman office campus in Albany, N.Y., said it could select a developer for the campus within the next six weeks.

The board for the W. Averell Harriman State Office Campus met Oct. 20, for the first time in 15 months. The board is attempting to revive dormant plans to redevelop almost half of the 330-acre campus—an initiative that stalled amid the recession, changing leadership and the state’s problems with record-high deficits.

Throughout this decade, the state has pursued an ambitious plan to renovate the campus to lure high-tech companies to the site, and build retail shops and residential units. Three developers submitted bids to redevelop the campus in 2006, but former Gov. Eliot Spitzer decided to start over. The ongoing credit crunch and the state’s dire fiscal condition have further stalled progress.

Two developers submitted plans in September 2008. One team is led by Howard Carr, president of The Howard Group, in Colonie. The second team is headed by Columbia Development Cos. of Albany.

Board members now say they could pick a winning plan as early as the next board meeting, which will occur no more than six weeks from now.

“We want a resolution on it. We must act one way or the other,” said Peter Wohl, the president of the Harriman Research and Technology Corp. “They [developers] deserve to know.”

Wohl said the meeting should be viewed as a positive step toward “reinvigorating” the Harriman plans. The previous board meeting was held July 2008, under different leadership at both the Harriman board and Empire State Development Corp., the state’s economic agency.

“We will not go another 13, 14, 15 months without a board meeting,” vowed Dennis Mullen, the chairman, president and CEO of Empire State Development. The Harriman board and campus development falls under the state agency’s jurisdiction.

Mullen said credit markets will largely dictate the pace of development at Harriman. He said the tight credit markets, a by-product of the recession, have hit developers and small businesses the hardest.

“When the markets turn, there will be a flood of interest in developing this property at this value,” Mullen said. “The challenge is simple: Get this back on track, understand we’re in a challenging market, and prepare a go-to-market strategy for when cash starts flowing again in the development community.”

Little action occurred at the meeting. The board voted to confirm Wohl as the board’s president, following his appointment to the post in late May. Wohl also oversees the Capital Region and the North Country for Empire State Development.

The board went into closed session to discuss what a meeting agenda referred to as “campus development strategy.” The closed session was legal under a provision of state law allowing such sessions for boards to discuss “proposed acquisition, sale or lease of real property,” according to attorneys with Empire State Development.

No votes were taken during the closed session, said John Egan, a Harriman board member and commissioner of the state Office of General Services. He and others would not say what was discussed during the executive session.

“This is still viable. Harriman still has tremendous value,” Egan said of Harriman. “We’re just waiting for the economy to turn around.”

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