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. 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
Mohawk Realty Partners, Bonnie Novella – The Renovations of 762, 764, and 854 Eastern Avenue
Bonnie Novella is one among many new stakeholders in the Eastern Avenue Neighborhood that saw the opportunity to revitalize the community. Originally from the region and with family still in the area, Ms. Novella decided to move back and take her experience in real estate finance and transition into purchasing and renovating older homes to fit modern living needs. Ms. Novella met the Land Bank during the Breathing Lights pilot, after she had already purchased the property at 764 Eastern Avenue and committed to rehabilitating the property. At that time, the Land Bank was finalizing the acquisition of the neighboring “Zombie” property at 762 Eastern Avenue from Chase Bank. The Land Bank invested approximately $40,000 to stabilize the building, abating the asbestos and painting of the façade. By January of 2016, Ms. Novella saw the potential to also fix up the adjacent property, and made an offer to purchase the property from the Land Bank.
Improvements underway at 762 Eastern Avenue inside and out
854 Eastern Avenue
Ms. Novella has since started work on the renovation of 854 Eastern Avenue as well as recently acquiring two long vacant properties 764.5 Eastern (directly adjacent to 764 and 762 Eastern) and 739 Eastern Avenue) to add to her portfolio of renovations. Ms. Novella purchased the property at 854 Eastern in the fall of 2016 and the properties at 739 and 764.5 Eastern Avenue in the spring of 2017.
Condition of the property prior to renovation:
866, 868, 870 Eastern Avenue—Tribute Park
The Landbank has been working with the City of Schenectady to develop the future Tribute Park. The demolition of these properties greatly improved the appearance of the neighborhood, and is expected to make the neighborhood more kid and family friendly, by creating recreational opportunities in a safe place with unique attractions. Please visit our page on Tribute Park for more details.
846 (The Copper Keg)—Mahmood Hakak
The property came into the Land Bank’s possession in June of 2015 and was sold to Mr. Hakak in September of 2016. Besides the park and renovations to the homes, Mahmood Hakak has been working on 846 Eastern Avenue and is planning to establish a café and visual arts viewing center.
730 and 732 Eastern Avenue
The Land Bank worked with the owner of 732 Eastern Avenue to improve the façade of the long vacant building as part of the renovation of the property. The Land Bank also worked with the owner of 730 Eastern to perform due diligence regarding the condition of and subsequent demolition of the property.
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 Electrics, 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 repainting and the installation of new windows and exterior lighting. Other repairs were also carried out so that the building could be returned to commercial use. Metroplex contributed a total of $75,000 to the project.
St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church Complex
St. Mary’s Complex, located at 820-828 Eastern Avenue, includes a church, convent, rectory, and school. Currently, the Land Bank owns the convent, the city of Schenectady owns the school, and the rectory is privately owned. In late 2014, the Land Bank and other affiliated organizations began working with Sandra Vardine, a local entrepreneur and preservationist, to renovate the previously vacant church as a venue for the promotion of arts. In January of this year, Ms. Vardine opened the ‘Renaissance Restaurant.’ Since then, the entire St. Mary’s complex has been historically designated and the Land Bank is working with the City of Schenectady to redevelop and historically preserve the school.
Renovated Renaissance Hall
The Land Bank is constantly making efforts to improve the quality of life in Schenectady through fulfilling our mission. While much improvement has happened in the Eastern Avenue corridor, there is still a ways to go. The Land Bank’s next steps include the renovation and reopening of 839 Eastern Avenue and partnerships with SEAT and Better Neighborhoods Incorporated to establish low income apartments on Prospect Street, respectively.