Tuesday, December 1, 2009

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

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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.”

asichko@bizjournals.com | 518-640-6818

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