Thursday, October 29, 2009

With no vision, Harriman lags

First published in print: Monday, October 26, 2009
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Back in the late 1990s, after years of delays, the modernization of Albany International Airport finally took off under the slogan, "getting it done." And done it got.

What, we wonder, might the slogan be for the long-stalled redevelopment of the Harriman State Office Campus, which we're now told is full of new energy, even if no one knows what to do next.

"Ready to figure out how to get it done"?

"All revved up, not sure where to go"?

Or perhaps simply, "This space available."

That last one's as true now as it was seven years ago. The Harriman campus remains 330 acres of unrealized potential.

And 330 acres of what one would think would be some of the most prime acreage in upstate New York -- utilities all in place, direct interstate access, a major university next door, state government a quick drive down the street, and a choice of urban, suburban and rural housing and lifestyles within less than an hour's drive.

Yes, we know the economy hasn't been particularly hot lately. But what about the last seven years?

Admittedly, the airport and Harriman are two different kinds of projects. The airport was a straightforward undertaking­ -- a site with a single use, a project with a clear design. Harriman, an aging office campus occupied by about 7,400 state workers, at this point has no blueprint.

Nor, it seems, a strong, clear vision. First there was Governor Pataki's idea to demolish all the state buildings and turn the campus into a high-tech hub. Four years later, a master plan emerged, for a mixed-used urban neighborhood of high-tech companies, stores, restaurants, residences, grand boulevards and a large park.

Then came Governor Spitzer and an entirely new plan -- keep state workers there and build four new office buildings. Now there's another governor in place and the possibility that, with the next gubernatorial election a little more than a year away, there could be yet another with a whole new opinion on the matter.

Last year, two developers submitted plans for the campus. The Harriman Research and Technology Corp., which was charged with overseeing the Harriman redevelopment, never responded. Its board didn't even meet for 15 months before gathering this week, only to adjourn for another month and a half.

A project on the fast track this isn't.

As for a vision, that appears to be gone. Harriman now seems to be consigned to piecemeal development -- a new state food lab here, a new SUNY dorm there. Over the last seven years, several dozen developers took a look at Harriman, and walked away.

Here then, perhaps, is what the Harriman planners should do next: Find out why. The answers seem all too apparent.

The issue:

Seven years after it was announced, the Harriman Campus redevelopment remains stalled.

The stakes:

The waste of time rivals the waste of prime land.

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