BY RJ DELUKE
Saratoga Springs city officials plan to review two expansive, multimillion dollar projects that would–if eventually approved by the city–result in a combination of shops, apartments and parking spaces on the city-owned land along High Rock, Maple and Lake avenues.
Representatives of two development groups gave presentations on Nov. 10 at a special City Council meeting. The projects differ, but both specify parking spaces for Saratoga City Center, the general public and residents who would occupy the proposed housing.
Parking is deemed by the city as the key segment of any project that comes to fruition on the property, especially a large portion for City Center.
Paramount Realty Group LLC in Syracuse presented its $77 million proposal. Hyman Hemispheric LLC of Voorheesville also outlined its ideas, without giving a cost estimate. Though Jeff Hyman of Hyman Hemispheric previously stated his plan is in the area of $82 million.
Mayor Joanne Yepsen is assembling, in short order, a technical review committee to assess the proposals. She also said a parking task force will look at overall needs of the downtown area. The flow of traffic and how it would be affected by a major downtown residential-business complex will also be examined.
Yepsen said she likes the idea of a mixed-use project, but wants to ensure it allows a flow of activity between High Rock businesses, the Farmer’s Market and the rest of downtown, “so it feels like one city and one town; not cutting off life, but including it.”
Representatives of both projects said that connectivity with Broadway and downtown is one of the prominent goals.
One commissioner, Chris Mathiesen, cautioned the city may want to proceed with building just a parking garage on the lot–a project whose controversy resulted in the city seeking different proposals–and possibly saving space for expansion of City Hall.
But Commissioner John P. Franck said using the most valuable building lot in the city for a municipal building “would be just horrible.”
“This is about stewardship of assets,” he said. “I could not think of a worse investment that to build a municipal building on the most expensive lot in the city. We have other properties we could potentially purchase” for future expansion.
Commissioner Michele Madigan was concerned the proposals may be too big for that section of the city. Commissioner Skip Scirocco said both were good proposals and he favors a mixed-use project of some kind.
All the commissioners said there was a lot of information to digest before anything moves forward.
One point of concern for all was the proximity of City Center parking spaces to the actual center and how access to and from those spaces could be improved beyond what developers proposed.
Both development teams had stated future dialog with the city could result in beneficial changes.
City officials will be compiling questions to be submitted to the developers and the answers will be a springboard for future discussions.
Richard deVito, a partner with Paramount Realty Group LLC in Syracuse, and Susan McCann of Community Builders presented the $77 million proposal that calls for 259 spaces for the center, 30 for city use, 140 for residents and 178 for the public.
The housing would be a combination of senior housing (64 units), workforce housing for young professionals (42), condos (36) and market-rate apartments (24). retails would be a mix of shops and restaurants. There would be access to Maple Ave. and an attractive walkway down the center from High Rock to Lake Avenue.
From parking revenue and the land agreement, deVito said over 30 years, revenue to the city would be about $3 million.
It would be built in phases, deVito said, but if the city selects his company in the coming weeks, “We’re financially ready to go with this development … It’s our expectation that if the city were to award this development to us, we expect we would be able to begin the construction of the garage as soon as spring of 2016. That’s critically important for not only the city, but city center and the community as a whole … We have done all of our homework and we are ready to go, financially, architecturally, engineering-wise. We are ready to go.”
Mann said, “We truly believe this is the highest and best use for this site. This is such a dynamic city. It’s a city that people value and want to come to because of the retail, because of the housing, because of the mix of things that are here … Parking is absolutely needed, this is a destination city. People come and they drive … It would be a mistake to put a parking garage where the rest of it around it is so dynamic.”
Jeff Hyman of Hyman Hemispheric, Peter Stevens of JCJ Architecture and Michael Phinney of the local Phinney Design Group did most of the talking for their project.
Some 600 spaces are included in that proposal, along with about 100 apartments, both market rate and workforce. The entire complex would be ringed by retail and there would be “pocket parks” and other green space within the property.
“This is the last great lot in Saratoga Springs,” said Phinney. He said its his team’s intent to hold workshops with all the stakeholders to determine what is acceptable and desired in the design.
“We are very much committed to a public process where we will take our design as it exists now and further develop that in greater detail through a series of public workshops … We’re committed to that process” and concerned with creating public space and green space that would enhance and beautify the city.
Stevens said the preliminary plans envision a commercial component along Lake Avenue. The center portion of the lot could be the parking garage and the north end of the site would be mostly housing, with retail ringing the entire site. Most of the connections to downtown and High Rock would be east-west in nature.