Friday, July 20, 2007

Albany's Welllington Row - Updates

Wellington Row Developer Building Support

Plan lauded for "remarkable level of preservation" of historic architecture during key meeting in Albany

From Times Union

By Chris Churchill, July 20, 2007

ALBANY -- Preservationists and city officials are cheering the latest plan for the redevelopment of Wellington Row, the forlorn but historically significant string of buildings near the state Capitol.

The new proposal from Columbia Development Cos. -- the Albany firm wanting to build a 14-story office tower on the site -- meets the demands of historic preservationists by mostly retaining four of Wellington Row's five buildings while keeping all of the buildings' facades.

Under the $60 million plan, the buildings on either side of the former Wellington Hotel would be rehabilitated, with retail at ground level and apartments on upper floors.

The Wellington itself would be demolished, but Columbia would rebuild its facade on a new structure that would serve as an entryway to the mammoth, 400,000-square-foot office building.

"Given the circumstances, it's a remarkable level of preservation that Columbia has taken on," said architect William Brandow, a Historic Albany Foundation board member.

Wellington Row has long been an irritant to city officials and downtown boosters, who have watched the prominent site decline into a boarded-up eyesore at the heart of the city center. It has been hard, after all, to argue that downtown is succeeding with a key State Street site in such disrepair.

Columbia raised hopes when it bought the site for $925,000 last November from London-based Sebba Rockaway Ltd. But preservationists quickly objected to a Columbia plan to demolish most of the row and build an office tower immediately behind the historic facades.

Preservationists said the plan reduced the building fronts to window dressing, and they lobbied Columbia to reconsider.

The firm did so, and this week brought its revisions to the city's Historic Resources Commission, which reviews projects in historically significant areas.

"The purpose of the meeting was to make sure we're on the right track," said Columbia's Mike Arcangel, who is overseeing the Wellington Row project. "And it seems to be. It seems we've passed a litmus test."

The proposal has many hurdles to clear. It still needs a host of approvals from the city, and some preservationists are quietly questioning the size of the proposed office building, saying it may overwhelm Wellington Row and other area buildings.

"There's going to be a lot of details to review," said city planner Richard Nicholson. "We're at the big concept stage, which I would say was well received."

City officials are particularly pleased Columbia has added apartments to the project, a move that could further a long-stated goal of having more people living in the city center.

"What's nice about this is that is has all the elements," said Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. "You're going to have residential as well as retail and office."

Jennings called Wellington Row critical to downtown redevelopment. "There's no reason for us to have buildings that look like that and have them 100 yards away from a beautiful state Capitol," he said.

While four of the site's buildings will not be demolished, it is unclear how much of their interiors will be saved. Some have decayed beyond repair -- that's especially true of the former Berkshire Hotel at 140 State St. -- while others have elements that may not fit into Columbia's redevelopment plans.

Susan Holland, executive director of the Historic Albany Foundation, said the former Elks Lodge, at 138 State St., has a magnificent ballroom. But that space likely will be lost under Columbia's plan, she said.

Rebuilding the Wellington Hotel facade on a new building is the most unusual component of the Columbia proposal, and preservationists said they were awaiting details of how that segment of the project would proceed.

Arcangel said Columbia would carefully remove the facade, catalog and store its pieces, then rebuild it. Yet it wouldn't be a replica: The "new" facade would be several feet higher, as Columbia wants to increase the building's interior ceiling heights.

Such plans have raised hackles in other cities. In Chicago, for example, preservations objected to a plan that reconstructed the facade of the historic McGraw-Hill Building on a new hotel.

Some have called the increasingly common practice a "facade-ectomy."

But in Albany, preservationists say they acknowledge the state of decay Wellington Row has fallen into, and say they are pleased the developer has agreed to save much of what is significant about the site.

"Given the obstacles," Brandow said, "it's a good preservation project."

Albany's Wellington Row plan detailed

From Times Union

By Ryan Hutchins, July 18, 2007

ALBANY - Representatives of Columbia Development Cos. detailed the Wellington Row project tonight night before the city of Albany's Historic Resource Commission.

The plan includes a new 14-story building of about 409,000 square feet fronted by the facades of four existing buildings.

In the center, the Wellington Hotel would be replaced by an eight-story building that would resemble the historic hotel, with pieces of the original building incorporated into the new facade.

As well as the facades, about 40 to 50 feet of the buildings behind the facade would be kept standing. Some of the space might be rehabilitated for residential or special retail use.
Columbia Development Cos. bought the properties for $925,000 from London-based Sebba Rockaway Ltd. The original plan was to demolish the entire row.