Saturday, December 19, 2009

Times Union FOIL request on Harriman plan rejected

First published in print: Saturday, December 19, 2009

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ALBANY -- Empire State Development has rejected a Times Union Freedom of Information Law request to see a development plan for Harriman State Office Campus.

ESD last month announced that Columbia Development, an Albany firm, had won the role of preferred developer at the campus where the state plans a wave of construction. ESD, though, would not release Columbia's development proposal, prompting the Dec. 1 FOIL request.

ESD rebuffed that request in a Dec. 8 letter, saying that releasing the Columbia proposal would impair ongoing contract negotiations with the firm.

-- Chris Churchill

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Harriman campus gets offer for redevelopment - Some concerned no plans have been released yet

By Bob Bennett

The eastern section of the Harriman Office Campus houses state Taxation and Finance, pictured, and other state offices. Columbia Development Companies is currently in negotiations for the right to redevelop the campus. So far, plans have not been released and several local and state leaders do not know how many, if any, private businesses will be located on the campus.
Photo by Bob Bennett.

December 14, 2009

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Columbia Development Companies has entered into negotiations for the right to redevelop the W. A. Harriman State Office Campus. But the company has not yet unveiled specific plans for the office park, which concerns some nearby residents and their City Council members.

The state-owned, 330-acre office campus is situated to the east side of the University at Albany and now houses state agency buildings, including one that houses the New York State Police headquarters. And although the property currently benefits from tax-exempt status, an influx of new development could generate a lot of tax revenue for the state, but several city residents still have expressed concern because they have yet to learn the details of Columbia's plan.

"To this day I've not seen the plan that Columbia has developed," said Albany City Councilman Mike O'Brien, who represents a district that includes part of the Harriman campus. "My hunch is that the plan is rather abstract," he said. "I suspect it's not super specific."

A directory of the office campus’s 330-acre layout, which houses several state office buildings and about 7,300 state employees. Those on the Harriman development board say state workers will not be moved under redevelopment plans. Photo by Bob Bennett.

Albany City Councilman Dan Herring said he has also not seen the plan, but he too has some concerns because the campus "butts up to" many people's homes, and because those people don't know what's going to be built there.

"People are just concerned because they want to know if it's going to be compatible with their neighborhood," Herring said. "One reason we want some more details is to address their concerns, but the city is very pleased that it is being developed."

Both councilmen said part of their constituents' apprehensions stem from a proposal from the University at Albany, which approached the Harriman board about building dorms near those people's homes.

Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, said, "I have always had a problem with the way Harriman was done."

He said he has always thought the office campus should fall under UAlbany's control as a way to help facilitate its technology school.

He also said the state needs the tax base the campus could potentially generate, so he hopes the land will be leased to those in the private sector.

Peter Wohl, the president of the board of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corp., confirmed that UAlbany has approached the board about building dorms on the Harriman campus. However, he said the university was simply expressing its interest, which will be taken into consideration.

"There's a possibility that could happen," Wohl said, "but it was much more of an FYI."

He also said that nanotechnology, which has been a part of the master plan for redevelopment since 2006, is a first priority, and the board would very much like to build upon the research at UAlbany.

Wohl said the board is in pursuit of some research and development companies but that no one yet knows which companies could occupy the land.

Those companies are "sort of the ideal tenants," Wohl said.

The plan the board envisions would also include some residential housing, but research and development are the priority, Wohl said. The board is currently trying to get input from all of the stakeholders in the project, including the state and local governments.

"Let me express my understanding in the public's interest in the plan," Wohl said. "This plan very much envisions the community."

Wohl also said the project would generate some much-needed tax revenue for the city as well as the state. The plan envisions transferring ownership from the state of New York to private companies. During the initial phase of the plan, the Harriman development team would market parcels to interested parties, incrementally and in sub-sections, but the state would reclaim those parcels in a year's time if those businesses failed to draw revenue for the state.

"Obviously the state is feeling the pinch right now," Wohl said of New York's dwindling tax base.

Wohl also said approximately half of Harriman's 330 acres would be used — the other half is mostly occupied by state agencies.

The board also still envisions using the existing buildings, as former Gov. Eliot Spitzer's administration had previously proposed, and keeping all 7,300 state employees in place, Wohl said.

Tom Comonzo, the vice president of the public employees federation, said he's anxious to see the plan because there have been many proposals over the years that called for moving state employees. He also said the currents set-up is self contained and includes parking, so he would prefer to keep the employees there as long as possible.

Spitzer's plan for the office campus came after a 1998 proposal by the Office of General Services, which called for selling the land and moving all state employees to downtown Albany. Spitzer's plan also came after a 2003 plan Gov. George E. Pataki backed to demolish the buildings and start construction of a new office and technology park from the ground up.

"Overall, [the plan] is a step in the right direction," said Mike Yevoli, the director of Planning and Development for the city of Albany. It takes nontaxable property and creates potential for new tax revenue from private businesses and new opportunities for residents … not only for jobs. It's ripe for development, as opposed to picking a green field somewhere else."

Yevoli said the plan calls for a more community-friendly layout, which could include housing, but he is unsure exactly what that layout will look like.

Other than housing and research and development facilities, the campus would also include commercial retail businesses and office space, Yezoli said.

But it's still unclear exactly what businesses will be built on the land because of the ongoing negotiations with Columbia.

Eight calls to the development company were not returned.

Bob VanAmburgh, the executive assistant to Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings, who is on the board, said the mayor has long been committed to finding someone to develop the land there.

"It's the last major track of contiguous land in the city, obviously he's concerned with development within the area," VanAmburgh said, referring to the mayor.

He said he has not seen Columbia's plan for re-development so he would not comment on what businesses might be located there in the future, though he did say nanotechnology could be a consideration, which both governors have proposed.

He also could not say whether the existing buildings will be re-used.

The park is currently occupied by the state police academy, a state police forensics lab and several other state agency buildings.

Wohl said it could still be a couple of months before any final decisions are made. But he added that he understands the public's impatience at this point — talk of the project has been going on for about 10 years now.

But Wohl added, "We're actually trying to get something done."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement has been posted!

The UAlbany Capital Construction Plan Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement has been posted, and is available from  As noted previously, we are at a fork in the road!  The DGEIS does describe the fork as follows:

Notwithstanding the planning and concept work to date and the likelihood of the southeast corner site as the location for the housing, at the time of publishing this DGEIS, the University is pursuing an alternate concept to fully locate this housing project on the adjacent State-owned Harriman Campus.

The Harriman Campus location in mind is approximately 11 acres, inclusive of the 3.3 acres mentioned above, and is directly adjacent to University property, due north of the southeast corner site. Specifically, on November 30, 2009, the University asked the Board of Directors of the HRTDC to consider this project for the Harriman Campus site. HRTDC, in conjunction with the NYSOGS, is the entity responsible for planning and development of the adjacent campus. To date, HRTDC and the State of New York have earmarked the Harriman Campus for private development with no land specifically identified for University at Albany projects. The outcome of this request is not yet known, but should this site be approved by the HRTDC and NYSOGS, the University may amend its housing construction plans, necessitating an amended environmental review, as appropriate, to address environmental issues and impacts specific to said new site.

For the purposes of this DGEIS document, however, the site selection for this housing project is deemed to be the southeast corner of the UAlbany campus, and the design concepts for that site that have been developed, described above, and publicly shared to date will be discussed and analyzed herein for environmental impact.
Please read these documents and let us know what you think!

A Fork in the Road

UAlbany published its legal notice stating that its Draft Environmental Impact Statement is ready, setting a comment period through January 22, 2010, and a public hearing on January 14, 2010.  The notice appears below.

At this moment, UAlbany has only two potential sites for student housing - the Southeast  Corner of the Uptown Campus or on the Harriman Campus.  While they are pursuing the Harriman Campus option, that option requires approval by the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corporation Board of Directors.  That meeting is scheduled for January 11, 2010.  Until the Board acts favorably on the proposal, UAlbany will be building on the original site.

The Impact Statement isn't available yet.  When it does appear, please read it very carefully, and raise any concerns that you may have by sending your comments to UAlbany, and showing up at the public meeting.

Stay in touch!

Draft Environmental Impact Statement of UAlbany Capital Construction Plan

State Environmental Quality Review
Notice of Completion of Draft
Notice of SEQR Hearing

Date:               December 9, 2009

Lead Agency: University at Albany, SUNY

Address:         1400 Washington Avenue Albany, NY 12222

This notice is issued pursuant to Part 617 of the implementing regulations pertaining to Article 8 (State Environmental Quality Review Act) of the Environmental Conservation Law,

A Draft Generic Environmental impact Statement (DGEIS) has been completed and accepted for the proposed action described below. Comments are requested and will be accepted by the contact person until January 22, 2010. A public hearing on the DGEIS will be held January 14, 2010 at the Hall of Fame Room, SEFCU Arena, University at Albany, SUNY campus at 7p.m. Copies of the DGEIS are available on the University at Albany, SUNY web site at: and at hard copy repositories located at the University at Albany, SUNY Facilities Management Office and the Main Library on the Uptown Campus,the Guilderland Public Library, and the Hawley Library on the Downtown Campus.

Name of Action: University at Albany, SUNY Capital Project Plan

Description of Action:

As part of the continuing evolution of University at Albany, SUNY Uptown Campus, a Capital Project Plan has been developed that involves a holistic perspective and encompasses the foreseeable capital needs of the Uptown campus over a five year planning horizon. The following list provides a summary of the projects that constitute this Capital Project Plan.

1. Student Housing Project: Construction of new student housing facilities with approximately 500 apartment-style beds
2. Campus Center Master Plan: Construction of student activity, and surge space of approximately 50,000 sq ft under roof
3. Construct New Business School Building: Construct new 90,000 sq ft academic facility
4. Relocate Data Center: Relocate campus Data Center to another site on campus
5. Implement Various Athletics Improvements: Phase series of improvements to athletics facilities
6. Purple Path Continuation: Construction of the Purple Path to encircle and incorporate pedestrian and bicycle paths around the perimeter of the Uptown Campus
7. Northern Landscape Improvement Project: Perform activities consistent with Landscape Master Plan
8. State Quad Parking Lot Expansion: Add approximately 250 spaces to west side of State Quad parking Lot
9. Multi-Discipline Science Surge Building: Construction of academic building of approximately 150,000 sq ft to facilitate Podium renovations
10. Service Building Renovation: Add approximately 24,325 sq ft addition for vehicle, operations, small engine and metal shops
11. Entry Improvements: Improve entrance aesthetics and safety at Washington and Western Avenues
12. Bus Rapid Transit: Based on recommendations in the Harriman - University at Albany, SUNY Linkage Study, locate Bus Rapid Transit stations on campus
13. Bicycle-Pedestrian Path: Develop a network of paths, improving connections between each quad, the Podium, and the Purple Path

Location: University at Albany, SUNY Uptown Campus
                 1400 Washington Avenue
                 Albany, NY 12222

Potential Environmental Impacts:

Potential unavoidable adverse environmental impacts may result as a consequence of the Capital Project Plan.

Construction Phase: Potential unavoidable adverse environmental impacts as a result of construction phase activities associated with the Capital Project Plan include:

• short-term disruption and exposure of soils as a result of excavation, grading; and restoration activities
• increased potential for sedimentation and erosion as a result of disruption and exposure of soils
• consumption of petroleum hydrocarbon fuels during construction phase activities and the subsequent release of air pollutants and GHGs, including carbon monoxide, particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide
• potential short-term and localized increases in dust and vehicle/equipment emissions to construction activities
• temporary construction-related noise, truck traffic and other campus disruptions.

The potential unavoidable adverse environmental impacts identified above will be term in nature and limited in scope. Following the completion of construction-related activities, restoration and mitigation measures will be implemented.

Operational Phase: Potential unavoidable adverse environmental impacts as a result of operational phase activities associated with the Capital Project Plan include:

• commitment of previously undeveloped land on the University at Albany, SUNY Uptown Campus for implementation of components of the Capital Project Plan

• modification or loss of existing terrestrial and forested habitats, vegetative cover, and landscaped open space as a result of implementation of the Capital Project Plan
• displacement of wildlife associated with existing habitats
• potential for increased surface runoff as a result an increase in impervious surfaces
• consumption of petroleum hydrocarbon fuels and the subsequent release of air pollutants and GHGs, including carbon monoxide, particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide
• noise and lighting impacts to surrounding residential neighborhoods resulting from the development of one or more of these projects in proximity on the Uptown Campus, such as the Student Housing Project (Project No. 1)
• localized and short-term increase in traffic levels along roadways in the vicinity of the Uptown Campus during normal campus activities and during periodic, recurring events, such as sporting events at the multi-use stadium.

The potential unavoidable adverse environmental impacts identified above are not anticipates to be significant. Appropriately designed and implemented mitigation measures will minimize potentially unavoidable adverse environmental impacts associated with the implementation of the Capital Project Plan.

Contact Person: Errol Millington, Director
Address: Office of Campus Planning
University at Albany, SUNY
1400 Washington Avenue, Service Building A
Albany, NY 12222

A copy of this notice must be sent to:

Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY 12233-1750
Chief Executive Officer, Town/City/Village of: Mayor of Albany
Any person who has requested a copy of the Draft/Final DGEIS
Any other involved agency
Environmental Notice Bulletin, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-1750

Copies of the DGEIS must be distributed according to 6 NYCRR 617.12(b).

Monday, December 7, 2009

WAMC: Progress on 2 Albany Projects (2009-12-07)

Here is an article and audio on the downtown Convention Center and Harriman Campus developments -

WAMC: Progress on 2 Albany Projects (2009-12-07)

Peter Wohl is interviewed, and committed to follow the 2006 master plan found here.

Time to share Harriman plan

First published in print: Monday, December 7, 2009

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So here's the Harriman office campus, 330 acres of the best, and perhaps last, developable parcels of land in Albany, ready for a very belated transformation. Soon enough, that dreary 1960s creation of some of the most bland and impersonal state office buildings imaginable could be ... well, what exactly?

We don't know, despite repeated efforts to find out.

Neither do the neighbors.

That's more than enough to cast dreary, potentially ominous, shadows over what should be encouraging news that a developer ­ -- a politically well-connected one as it happens -- has been chosen.

Could there be a more reasonable question than what Joe Cunniff, president of the neighborhood association along the adjacent stretch of upper Washington Avenue, is asking?

"I'd like to know if they're going to build a 300-bed hotel," he says. "Is a dorm included in all this? What exactly is in the package that was proposed?"

Something's wrong when the public can see the rejected plan for $2 billion worth of retail, office and residential construction submitted by Howard Carr of the Howard Group, but not the one proposed by the Columbia Development Cos. that's been approved by the state.

"They have a well-assembled team, and it looks to us like they can do a good job," John Egan, commissioner of the state Office of General Services and a Harriman board member, says of Columbia.

Perhaps they can. Work done by Columbia, along with its affiliated BBL Construction Cos., is everywhere in Albany.

Yet Empire State Development says ongoing negotiations with Columbia preclude the release of any details about what it's about to do with the Harriman site.

It's an unconvincing argument. The direction and quality of life in Albany is on the line. The accountability of the state government entity that makes those decisions is at issue, too. Failure to level with people about what's about to happen in their own neighborhood can only breed cynicism.

One crucial detail yet to emerge about what we can only presume will be a combination of housing, stores, a hotel and maybe a University at Albany dormitory is what will become of the road that surrounds the Harriman campus, cutting it off from the adjoining neighborhoods. That's really where the failure to use that land wisely begins.

Mr. Carr calls the road the moat that makes the campus an island of sorts. Mayor Jerry Jennings has argued as well, rightfully and forcefully, that the road must go -- in large part so more of those 330 acres could be developed and generate property taxes. A 2006 state master plan called for its removal, too. It's not overstating things to say that a plan that keeps even part of the road is compromised from the start.

It's enough to wonder. Does the fate of that road have anything to do with the secrecy surrounding the development plan?

It's time citizens of Albany saw what the insiders have in store for them.

The issue:

A developer is chosen for a huge project in Albany.

The stakes:

Why can't the public know the essential details?

To comment:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A lesson in what not to do

First published in print: Sunday, December 6, 2009

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In one University at Albany classroom, the method used to redevelop Harriman State Office Campus has become a lesson in what not to do.

Harriman, for the unfamiliar, is a state-owned campus that officials want to transform through private development. The state has selected a development plan, but has refused to release it.

"The process certainly doesn't inspire confidence and trust," said Gene Bunnell, a UAlbany planning professor. "It's an odd way they're going about it."

Bunnell said that in a recent class, he unfavorably compared the state's method at Harriman to the very public process used to redevelop the old Stapleton Airport in Denver into a successful new neighborhood.

Officials here did use public input to craft a 2006 Harriman campus plan, but that blueprint seems to have been abandoned.

"I don't know why they scrapped that," Bunnell said.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Alexander is open for business

Chris Churchill at the Times Union has a blog entry describing the new Alexander apartments, which are located on the north side of the Harriman Campus. It's worth looking at to see the type of development that might occur on the campus itself.

Direct Link

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reactions by Neighbors

I would submit that a substantial portion of the 11 acres (aka Parcel A) is nearly as close to the termini of Tudor, Clarendon and western Cambridge roads as the previously proposed "southeastern" site is to the properties along western Tudor. It is a minimal shift, in my view. I am no more comfortable with these 11 acres than the earlier southeastern/Tudor Road site. Again, convenience and expediency appears to be prevailing over the concerns of proximate neighbors. I remain unimpressed with the state's efforts to site these dorms in a location that does not intrude seriously on the neighborhood.

Leslie Knauf
34 Clarendon Road

I am sending this to some of my neighbors. I hope you hear from them.

As for my response---to transfer about 11 acres near the State Police headquarters and the sculpture building from the Harriman campus to the University campus for the construction of a 500 bed university dormitory seems nearly perfect to me. The University at Albany needs more dorm space and the Harriman campus--presently under used--is a fine place for a university dorm.

As for the development plan and the selection of a general developer, I know nothing about the plan except its general outline--office buildings, some apartments/housing with a very small number of retail stores. I know even less about the general developer. I wish it well. But to find a private use for the Harirman campus where several of the buildings will continue to be occupied by State offices (State police,Labor,Tax and Finance) for many more years seems like trying to find a reuse for a Cathederal--tough but not impossible.

The University is a great university and a resource for the region--to promote its further development is good for the city and the region. I look forward to the University using much more of the Harriman campus.

A disclaimer: As a former faculty member (Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics) at the University this opinion may contain more than a little bit of self interest.

Don Reeb

As a resident of Albany I am very interested in the development of the Harriman Campus. We have a unique opportunity to create a new neighborhood within the City of Albany.

In the past development in Albany has been plague with no vision, buildings go up helter-skelter with no rhyme or reason. No thought was given to future use of the riverfront when 787 was built or when Washington Avenue Extension was being developed.

Now it also appears that there is no master plan on the north side Washington Ave across from the Campus. Again the buildings seem to be going up wherever each developer wants them to go. No cohesiveness, no connection, not even visual pleasing. Case in point the Alexander; luxury high-rise apartments over looking…wait satellite dishes, Washington Avenue, I90, or office buildings. In a few years when they cannot fully occupy the building don't be surprised when it becomes Section 8 Housing.

We need to bring people back to the City, people who will be part of the community, people who will have a vested interest in Albany. Baby Boomers are looking to downsize to smaller homes, maybe town homes or condo units. We are losing them to the suburbs. A public park would be nice for the residents of that part of Albany. Dorms and maybe a second high school might serve the City better.

What we don't need is any more office buildings, all that brings is people who work here from 9 to 5 and leave the City, taking their earnings and spending elsewhere, while using the services that the City provides for free; fire and safety. Again at the expense of the property owners of Albany.

There is plenty of property in the Capital District for commercial use but this is a one shot deal that can bring more people to live within the City of Albany - let's not make this another wasted opportunity.

Sofeya (Pia) Lascaris
Democratic Committee Person
13th Ward

Plan OK'd, kept quiet

State grants Harriman development rights, won't release details


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First published: Wednesday, December 2, 2009

ALBANY -- The state and a private developer are proceeding with a plan for the large-scale redevelopment of Harriman State Office Campus -- but few people have seen it.

A state panel on Monday granted the right to redevelop Harriman to Columbia Development Cos. based on a proposal submitted last year by the Albany business.

But Empire State Development, the state's economic development arm, refused to release the development plan Monday -- and did so again Tuesday, citing ongoing negotiations.

That leaves some neighbors of the campus -- a 330-acre parcel near the University at Albany -- wondering just what is coming.

"Whatever was in that proposal should be public knowledge," said Joe Cunniff, president of Upper Washington Avenue Neighborhood Association, a piece of which borders the sprawling campus. "I'd like to know if they're going to build a 300-bed hotel. Is a dorm included in all this? What exactly is in the package that was proposed?"

The board of Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp. on Monday chose the Columbia plan over a proposal submitted by a rival developer. That developer, Howard Carr of The Howard Group, then released his plan, saying both proposals should be subjected to public scrutiny.

Carr repeated that assertion on Tuesday: "The public is never going to have a chance to give its input on this thing," he said. "I think the public is entitled to speak."

In February, the Times Union submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for access to the Columbia and Howard Group proposals. ESD denied that request because the process is active.

The Times Union submitted a second FOIL request Tuesday. The newspaper is waiting for an official response, although an ESD spokeswoman said the Columbia proposal will not be released until negotiations with the company are complete.

"We look forward to releasing the development plan when a specific agreement has been reached and has been approved by the Board," Jola Szubielski said in an e-mail.

In prior years, the public has weighed in on Harriman. The state held a series of public meetings, building consensus and gathering information used to compile a 2006 master plan for the campus.

That plan eliminated the wide road that rings the campus, emphasizing new connections to surrounding neighborhoods. It also called for moving state office workers from the campus, demolishing existing buildings, and building 3.6 million square feet of office, retail, hotel and residential space.

That plan, though, was largely abandoned by the administration of Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

In fact, the request for proposals, or RFP, issued last year made no mention of the master plan. And it put the center of the campus, home to 7,500 employees, largely off limits to development -- scrapping the plan to move workers or knock down buildings.

In reality, the state is bolstering its presence there, saying last year that it would build a $40 million laboratory for the Department of Agriculture and Markets on the campus.

It is now no longer clear that ring road would be eliminated, which could make it harder to connect to nearby neighborhoods or the University at Albany campus.

"The ring road is 1950s design, and it's exclusive in its nature," Carr said. "Harriman is an island and the ring road is a moat."

On Monday, Mayor Jerry Jennings, a member of the board, repeatedly made clear he wants the ring road gone entirely, in no small part because it would free up more acres for development that could go on the city's tax rolls.

Recently, residents around the campus have been battling their other massive neighbor, the University at Albany, and its attempt to build a new dorm on UAlbany's southeastern corner near Tudor Road.

Ironically, those same residents have pointed to the sense of inclusion they initially felt in the Harriman master plan to highlight what they believe was the university's failure to include their input on the dorm.

UAlbany's plan for the 500-bed, apartment-style dorms are inextricably linked to the future of the Harriman campus because the university has already moved to take 3.3 acres of Harriman land to accommodate the new student housing.

On Monday -- the same day that the board backed Columbia's proposal -- university officials briefed the board on a new plan that would require the transfer of roughly seven more acres of the state office campus, worth an estimated $3 million, to UAlbany in order to move the dorm farther north and pacify neighbors.

That proposal, which university President George Philip stressed is only preliminary, would require the southwest corner of Harriman's ring road to be moved.

Neighbors of both campuses have unequivocally said they would rather see UAlbany expand into Harriman than any closer to their homes. But some city officials are anxiously watching the university's expansion and fretting it will gradually eat up land that Albany deserves.

Councilman Michael O'Brien, who represents the 12th Ward north of the state office campus, expressed concern when the state seemed to abandon the master plan it so painstakingly crafted. O'Brien has not been privy to the Columbia plan and said he's eager to know just what the company wants to build.

"I'm happy in the sense that it looks like something is going to happen," O'Brien said. "My big concern is always the best use of the land for the city of Albany."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rejected developer slams Harriman board

Tuesday, December 1, 2009, 12:01pm EST
The Business Review (Albany) - by Michael DeMasi and Adam Sichko

Direct Link

The leader of a real estate development company that lost the competition to develop the state’s massive Harriman office campus in Albany, N.Y., claims political influence won out over the best plan.

Howard Carr, president of The Howard Group, said the relationship between Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings and the winning developer, Columbia Development Cos., played a part in the decision by the board of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp.

“If...Columbia and BBL are always going to get the projects in the city then tell us all so we don’t waste our time and effort,” Carr said.

Columbia and BBL are affiliated companies in Albany that have tackled several large-scale projects in the city, including redeveloping historic Wellington Row downtown and the run-down Park South neighborhood. The companies also built the Patroon Creek office park across from the Harriman campus.

Calls to Jennings and several other board members were not immediately returned. Joe Nicolla, president of Columbia Development Cos., also couldn’t be reached for comment.

Carr’s accusations are unusual for Albany, where private sector developers typically shy away from publicly criticizing local elected officials. Carr, however, said he wasn’t concerned about burning bridges.

“What are they going to do?” he said. “Not give me this job?”

His claims came after a closed-door session Nov. 30 in which Harriman’s nine board members, including Jennings, unanimously picked the team led by Columbia as the preferred developer for the 330-acre office campus. No reason was given for the selection.

Reached later for comment, Peter Wohl, president of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., cited Columbia team member M+W Zander U.S. as one of the reasons its proposal was preferred.

M+W Zander is the general contractor for the $4.2 billion computer chip plant that GlobalFoundries Inc. is building in Malta, N.Y. M+W Zander also built most of the Albany NanoTech complex near the Harriman campus.

“Their experience in these large-scale technology and R&D projects ... obviously bode well for them,” Wohl said. “You can’t discount having a member like M+W Zander, which has connections in the technology and R&D fields worldwide and can market this worldwide, well beyond the capabilities of some traditional developers we’ve seen.”

The state is targeting 139 of the Harriman campus’ 330 acres for redevelopment. The remainder will continue to be used by state agencies that employ 7,300 people.

The competing redevelopment proposals have not been released to the public since they were first given to the Harriman board in September 2008.

Carr said he felt free to disclose his team’s plans now that Columbia has been picked, and hopes the public will pressure the Harriman board to reconsider.

“My attitude was the state kept this under lock and key,” Carr said. “They never brought in any outside players. We were prohibited from speaking with the university due to procurement issues, or to any other stakeholders.”

Carr said his team, which includes Turner Construction Co. in Albany and C.T. Male Associates in Latham, spent more than $250,000 on its proposal for the site. Calls to officials at Turner and C.T. Male weren’t immediately returned.

Their plan envisioned nearly 8 million square feet of new buildings over a 15-year period, including retail, offices, research and development space, recreational areas, a hotel, performing arts venue, student housing and residential homes.

Carr said the $2 billion-plus development would link the Harriman campus to the adjacent University at Albany and the high-tech workforce at Albany NanoTech.

He said the state would reap more than $150 million through the sale of land and profit-sharing over 15 years without having to spend any taxpayer money on the project.

The selection of Columbia as the preferred developer means the Harriman project is now farther along than ever before in the seven years since former Gov. George Pataki started the process.

Throughout this decade, the state has pursued an ambitious plan to renovate the campus to lure high-tech companies and build retail shops and residential units. The initiative stalled repeatedly amid changing state leadership, the recession, tight credit markets and the state’s problems with multi-billion-dollar deficits.

Negotiations with Columbia Development will begin immediately, Wohl said. Among items to be negotiated are how much the state will invest in the project, who will pay for necessary zoning changes and site evaluations—and how long Columbia Development will have to secure tenants before the state intervenes.

Other members of the Columbia team are BBL Construction Services LLC, of Albany; CHA, of Colonie; Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE: TOL), the nation’s largest luxury home builder; and Ocean Hospitalities Inc., of New Hampshire, part of the firm that purchased The Sagamore resort in Bolton Landing last year.

Dorms on Harriman Conceptual Rendering

Here is an image from yesterday's ACT recording of the Harriman Board Meeting that shows the new dorms, parking lots, and realigned ring road.

Columbia Development wins Harriman project - The Business Review

Monday, November 30, 2009, 1:31pm EST | Modified: Monday, November 30, 2009, 3:30pm

The Business Review (Albany) - by Michael DeMasi and Adam Sichko

Direct Link

Columbia Development Cos., of Albany, N.Y., has been selected to redevelop the state’s massive Harriman office campus in Albany.

The nine-member board of directors of the W. Averell Harriman State Office Campus voted unanimously Monday to choose Columbia Development to lead efforts to overhaul almost half of the campus.

The project is now farther along than ever before in the seven years since former Gov. George Pataki started the process.

“We’re thrilled. We’re heading down a path we’d been hoping to head down for years,” said Peter Wohl, president of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., which runs the campus.

Throughout this decade, the state has pursued an ambitious plan to renovate the campus to lure high-tech companies and build retail shops and residential units. The initiative stalled repeatedly amid changing state leadership, the recession, tight credit markets and the state’s problems with multi-billion-dollar deficits.

The state is targeting 139 of the Harriman campus’ 330 acres for redevelopment. The remainder will continue to be used by state agencies that employ 7,300 people.

The latest round of bids was submitted more than a year ago. Columbia Development is leading one of two teams that competed for the right to redevelop the Harriman campus.

Joseph Nicolla, president of Columbia Development, was unavailable for comment. No details of Columbia’s plan were revealed at the Harriman board meeting.

Negotiations with Columbia Development will begin immediately, Wohl said. Among items to be negotiated are how much the state will invest in the project, who will pay for necessary zoning changes and site evaluations—and how long Columbia Development will have to secure tenants before the state intervenes.

“The board is not interested in saying, ‘Here’s 10 years, see what you can do with it.’ They are saying, ‘What can you come up with in a year?’ ” Wohl said.

In its bid, Columbia partnered with two big area companies: BBL Construction Services LLC, of Albany, and CHA, of Colonie.

Also involved in Columbia’s winning bid was M+W Zander U.S. M+W Zander is also the general contractor for the $4.2 billion computer chip plant that GlobalFoundries Inc. is building in Malta, N.Y.

“Their experience in these large-scale technology and R&D projects ... obviously bode well for them,” Wohl said of Columbia’s bid. “You can’t discount having a member like M+W Zander, which has connections in the technology and R&D fields worldwide and can market this worldwide, well beyond the capabilities of some traditional developers we’ve seen.”

Toll Brothers Inc. (NYSE: TOL), the nation’s largest home builder, is involved in Columbia’s plans. So is Ocean Hospitalities Inc., of New Hampshire, part of the firm that purchased The Sagamore resort in Bolton Landing last year.

The other development team to submit a bid was led by The Howard Group, in Colonie.

Howard Carr, president of The Howard Group, attended Monday’s meeting but left when the board went behind closed doors to talk about the Harriman campus. After a 20-minute discussion, the board emerged and formally voted to select Columbia as the winning bidder.

In response, Carr said he was disappointed. He noted the project’s rocky past as he reacted to the vote.

The Harriman board solicited bids from developers once before, in 2006. A winning bidder was never named, and the project was rebid last year after months of delay.

“Just because they picked [Columbia] doesn’t mean they go with them,” Carr said of the Harriman board. “These guys have backtracked 16 times already.” | 518-640-6818

Two New Blog Entries at the Times Union

The Times Union has two new blob entries concerning yesterday's developments.

Harriman board to hear about UAlbany dorm today [update]

Columbia Development tapped as Harriman developer

Read both, and comment away!

Two Recordings of Harriman Meeting

The November 30, 2009 Board meeting was recorded by Albany Community Television (Thank you, Joe Cunniff and Elise Van Allen. You did a great job!) and by Empire State Development Corporation (click on the link for '2009/11/30 - HRTDC Directors Meeting').  Both recordings skip over the Executive Session when the Board selected Columbia Development as the preferred contractor.

On the ACT recording at 15:00 minutes into the meeting, Mayor Jennings expresses his thoughts concerning development on UAlbany's Southeast corner. You should see this for yourself!

Harriman choice criticized

Panel's vote for Columbia Development is politically motivated, rival says

CHRIS CHURCHILL, Business writer
First published: Tuesday,December 1, 2009

Direct Link

ALBANY -- An Albany firm closely tied to Mayor Jerry Jennings on Monday won the right to develop one of the city's most significant and potentially lucrative parcels of land -- leading a rival developer to charge that the decision was politically motivated. The board of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., which includes Jennings as a member, chose Columbia Development to lead the transformation of the Harriman State Office Campus, a 330-acre parcel where the state has long wanted a dense new neighborhood of offices, stores and homes.

Those plans had seemed stalled -- until Monday's surprise vote.
"They (Columbia) have a well-assembled team, and it looks to us like they can do a good job," said John Egan, Office of General Services commissioner and one of nine Harriman board members.

Harriman officials and the Empire State Development Corp., the state's economic development agency, have refused to release Columbia's construction proposal or a rival plan by The Howard Group of Colonie.

They did so again Monday -- citing ongoing negotiations.

But Howard Carr, president of the The Howard Group, released his company's plan after learning of the board's decision. The proposal calls for $2 billion of retail, office and residential construction over a 15-year period.

Carr also noted that Columbia, which is affiliated with BBL Construction Cos., has built nearly every project of consequence in Albany in recent years, charging that "political considerations" and ties to Jennings help BBL win work.

"If Columbia and BBL are going to get every project in the city, just let us all know so we don't have to waste the effort," Carr said, estimating that his firm spent $250,000 developing its Harriman proposal.

Jennings and Joe Nicolla, president of Columbia Development, could not be reached for comment Monday.

A Times Union report in July explored the relationship between Jennings and BBL/Columbia, disclosing that BBL President Don Led Duke had hosted Jennings in his VIP suite at Giants Stadium and that Nicolla had hosted a lavish fundraiser for Jennings at his Guilderland home.

BBL/Columbia projects include the office park at Patroon Creek -- across from the Harriman campus -- and the tower at 677 Broadway. The firm is now building the Wellington Row development on State Street; redeveloping the Park South neighborhood; and has been chosen to play a major role in the construction of the Albany Convention Center.

Jennings, in prior interviews, has insisted that his relationship with BBL and Columbia does not help either company, an opinion echoed by Led Duke.
"What we do, we earn," Led Duke said in July.

On Monday, Carr asked that Harriman officials release the Columbia plan so the public could assess both proposals. Noting that both plans were submitted more than a year ago, he also said he was "completely taken by surprise" by the timing of Monday's decision.

Carr said he has contributed to past Jennings election campaigns, but not the most recent one.

The Harriman campus consists of state office buildings set amid parking lots and large lawns. The state built the campus in the 1960s, but it is now considered underused and an example of outdated urban planning theories.

In 1998, the Office of General Services, the agency that oversees the state's real estate, suggested selling the campus and moving its 7,000 workers downtown.

In 2003, Gov. George Pataki proposed a $300 million plan to move workers, raze most of the campus' buildings and transform the site into a new neighborhood.

Four years later, Gov. Eliot Spitzer scrapped that plan, insisting the development occur with state workers and existing buildings in place.

Harriman officials said current plans for development, along with the Columbia proposal, are in line with Spitzer's model, and residential and retail construction has been de-emphasized in favor of office and high-tech development.

"There are no plans right now for any demolition," said Peter Wohl, who heads the Harriman Corp.

The board vote awarding development rights to Harriman was unanimous and came after a brief executive session. Board members did not discuss the Columbia plan in public.

Egan and Peter Wohl both said the state and Columbia will enter into negotiations designed to hammer out design and construction specifics.

Staff writer Jordan Carleo-Evangelist contributed to this story.