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Officials torn on how to redevelop vacant landmark

The old Central Warehouse building in downtown Albany has been a vacant eyesore since the early 1990’s. But last Friday, things got worse. The massive 400,000 square-foot structure caught fire, and rather than endanger firefighters’ lives, crews decided to let the fire burn itself out. After five days of smoldering, it was time to decide what the building’s fate will be.

Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings says it’s time to do something about a building that’s been a big problem in downtown Albany.

“We’re going to talk to the owners to figure out what we’re going to do. This is a prime location. We’ve been trying to do something here for a while,” Jennings told the Innovation Trail.

The 83-year-old building is a big part of Albany skyline. Commuters on I-787 can’t miss it as it rises into their view on the way to work. The 11-story building was built as a coal storage facility. There’s even a rail line that runs through it. It’s been through a few different owners over the past decade. The Times Union reports that it was sold in 2007 for $1.4 million to its current owner CW Montgomery.

Mike Yevoli, commissioner for the city’s Planning and Economic Development Department says the owner had put together plans to redevelop the building. The proposal included a mixed-use retail, office space and residential facility. But those plans never materialized.

Suggestions for what to do with the site have been rolling in. Comments from “Place and Spaces,” a blog within TimesUnion.com, range from demolishing the building to turning it into a four season recreational facility. Commenter AVW wrote “There are not enough places for indoor recreation in Albany. The city doesn’t have an aquarium, or a zoo, or a theme park, or anything ‘fun’ that is family friendly.”

In the aftermath of the fire, Jennings and Yevoli don’t know for sure what’s going to happen to the old building. According to the Times Union, the Central Warehouse is up for sale again for $4.9 million. Yevoli questions whether it could be re-developed.

“The building has outlived its usefulness. It used to be a coal storage facility. There are barely any windows. The building is reinforced steel. Today warehouses are more sophisticated to maximize productivity,” Yevoli says.

And here’s another problem: it would cost more than $1 million to demolish the building according to Jennings. City officials just want something done no matter what. They hope the fire is an opportunity to finally make something happen that will create more economic activity in the city. We’ll keep you posted.