Since 2013, the Land Bank has worked with the City of Schenectady, private property owners and local foundations to diligently remove blight and restore liveliness to the Eastern Avenue corridor. In total, over 25 demolitions have removed long-standing blight. Signs of reinvestment are everywhere from a new park, new and upgraded businesses, and restored and new construction housing units. The progress to date has been inclusive of the community with multiple public meetings and the engagement of the Eastern Avenue Neighborhood Association, other community members and business leaders.
Neighbors participate in Design Sessions and Community Plantings
Demolition of 2 Nott Terrace Heights leading up to the MiSci Museum (left) and 722 Eastern Avenue (right) in 2014
Eastern Avenue as a Breathing Lights Focus Area
In October and November 2017, hundreds of vacant buildings in three cities—Albany, Schenectady and Troy—came alive with the glow of possibility. The temporary public art installation called Breathing Lights, funded through a $1 million grant by Bloomberg Philanthropies, used one of the region’s historical assets, lighting technology, to illuminate the issue of disinvestment and blight in three cities. Local artists, architects, engineers, product developers, professors and students collaborated to install hundreds of lighting panels that were placed in street-facing windows of abandoned properties to give the viewer the perception of occupancy.
Breathing Lights utilized the Eastern Avenue neighborhood to “pilot” the technology and installation techniques in 2016. The buildings were lit nightly between 6 and 10pm with a diffused glow that mimicked the rhythm of human breathing. It was through this unique installation that individuals interested in renovating 854 and 852 Eastern Avenue were discovered.
854 and 852 Eastern, both as part of Breathing Lights, prior to renovations (left -courtesy of the Daily Gazette) and 826.5 Eastern Avenue, the former Saint Mary’s Convent
Tribute Park- 860-870 Eastern Avenue
The Land Bank took a community-led idea for a new pocket park and worked with the City of Schenectady to develop Tribute Park- named to honor of the workers who built Schenectady. The demolition of these properties greatly improved the appearance of the neighborhood, and the new greenspace and splash pad established a more kid and family-friendly neighborhood.
Restoration, Renovation and New Construction
The Land Bank has partnered with multiple private and not-for-profit partners to bring new investmenet to the Eastern Avenue Neighborhood. Below are just a few properties that have experienced, or are currently undergoing, significant renovation:
The SEAT Center and the Land Bank were proud to turn two vacant buildings into the site of a new LEED certified single family home
Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County and the Land Bank have partnered on multiple renovations and new construction projects together with the latest project rethinking the 2-family flat style home into a larger family home with a single family unit. The model is anticiapted to offer homeowners the chance to “down-size in place” or support multigenerational households.
Multiple other renovations have also taken place with the support of the Land Bank:
Partnerships with Metroplex
The Land Bank has partnered with the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority on a few projects focused on revitalizing Eastern Avenue’s commercial corridor. Arket Electric, at 827-831 Eastern Avenue, was one of these projects. The project involved updating the appearance of the commercial property with new siding, painting, signage, fencing, green space, and lighting, totaling to the amount of $80,000.
The Land Bank also worked with Metroplex to acquire and renovate the properties at 821 and 823 Eastern Avenue. The project included the undertaking of property improvements such as new windows. The building was later demolished for the new Renaissance Square development where the storefront windows will be reutilized.
Renaissance Square: Former St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church Complex
St. Mary’s Complex, located at 820-828 Eastern Avenue, includes a church, convent, rectory, and school. At one point the whole campus was either abandoned or vacant. The Land Bank worked with the City of Schenectady to historically preserve the campus. In late 2014, the Land Bank and other affiliated organizations began working with Sandra Vardine, a local entrepreneur and preservationist, to renovate the vacant church as “Renaissance Hall” a venue for the promotion of arts. A restaurant was established in the basement-level which is now operated by Taj Mahal, a popular Indian restaurant. Ms. Vardine also acquired the former convent at 820 Eastern Avenue from the Land Bank and is renovating that property.
The centerpiece of the Eastern Avenue revitalization project is a co-developed project by Home Leasing LLC (Rochester, NY) and Schenectady’s Better Community Neighborhoods Inc. The former school building at 104 Irving is part of a $20 million project to create 55 high quality apartments and new commercial space. The apartments are priced for people who already live and work in the neighborhood. The collaboration between Home Leasing and Better Community Neighborhoods Inc will continue with the future preservation of Elmer Avenue School as senior apartments, also affordable for neighbors who desire to stay in the neighborhood.