Sunday, April 11, 2010

Budget mess stymies Harriman redevelopment

The Business Review (Albany) - by Adam Sichko

The lack of a state budget has prevented officials overseeing the state’s Harriman campus to hire appraisers and advisers in the ongoing redevelopment process.

The state’s 2010-11 fiscal year began April 1 without a budget. The state is operating on bare-bones, emergency spending plans that keep the lights on, until Gov. David Paterson and legislators hammer out a budget.

The lack of money means state officials have been unable to hire a development adviser or an appraiser, per requests for proposals (RFPs) issued earlier this year.

The appraisal, in particular, is key to ongoing negotiations with the developer chosen to work on the campus. The most recent land assessment was done in 2007—before the recession hit.

The board of directors for the W. Averell Harriman State Office Campus was initially scheduled to vote on winning bids this month, but that will no longer happen.

“As soon as there’s a budget, we can go forward with that,” said Peter Wohl, president of the Harriman Research and Technology Development Corp., which runs the Albany, N.Y., campus.

In November 2009, the Harriman board gave Albany-based Columbia Development Cos. the rights to redevelop 140 acres, or about 40 percent, of the 330-acre campus. (For more on the company’s plans, see

Throughout last decade, the state has pursued an ambitious plan to renovate the campus to attract 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 remainder of the Harriman campus will continue to be used by state agencies that employ 7,300 people.
The development adviser will help represent state interests in the ongoing contract negotiations with Columbia, in a retainer-like setup, Wohl said.

The appraisal, meanwhile, is crucial to the negotiations. Harriman land was last appraised before the recession rocked the real estate sector.

“We know the market has changed. Anyone alive with a pulse realizes it’s not as hot as it once was,” Wohl said.

In 2007, the Harriman land was assessed at between $300,000 to $400,000 an acre, Wohl said. He said it won’t be an issue if an updated appraisal reveals the land has lost some of its value.

“We still consider that property and that site some of the most valuable in all of Albany County,” Wohl said. “And regardless of the economic conditions outside, the improvements that will be made to the property will increase the value of the remaining acreage.”

Harriman officials are also seeking to hire a consultant to help with the environmental siting process, called the State Environmental Quality Review Act, or SEQRA. The law requires developers to identify, and address, the “significant environmental aspects” of whatever work is being proposed or permitted. It’s a process that often takes nine to 12 months to finish.

The Harriman board is scheduled to meet on April 19. | 518-640-6818

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