First published in print: Monday, December 7, 2009
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.
A developer is chosen for a huge project in Albany.
Why can't the public know the essential details?
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