SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — The Board of Directors of the Metroplex Development Authority met last evening and approved funding to help renovate two historic buildings in Schenectady.
The first project involves renovating the former St. Mary’s convent at 826 Eastern Avenue as a space for working artists. The St. Mary’s complex, which includes the convent, church and school is listed on the Federal Register of Historic Places. Metroplex worked with a private developer to renovate the school as apartments. The convent renovation project, titled The Artistry Studios, will be coordinated by Albany Barn Inc., which set up the Electric City Barn at the former St. Columba’s School on Craig Street, another successful historic renovation project. In total, Metroplex has successfully renovated 40 historic buildings in Schenectady County.
“So many alumni from St. Mary’s contacted us when the school was being rehabbed and were thrilled to see the building restored,” said Ray Gillen, Metroplex Chair. “Now we turn to the convent as we continue the development momentum in the Eastern Avenue neighborhood. We thank the Albany Barn for this latest effort to bring interesting programs and services into creative city spaces.”
The renovated convent will feature up to twenty studios for working artists ranging in size from 80 to 400 square feet. The area in front of the convent will be landscaped and improved. Metroplex is providing a $70,000 grant to support the renovation work. The Electric City Barn is a makerspace with a performance venue and other meeting spaces but lacks space for artist studios. To meet demand for this type of space, the Barn worked with Metroplex and the building’s owner to set up The Artistry Studios project.
The convent is owned by Sandra Vardine who played an instrumental role in preserving the St. Mary’s complex. Albany Barn’s investment in Schenectady has also been supported by the Wright Family Foundation and the Schenectady Foundation.
The Eastern Avenue Neighborhood has seen over $50 million of new investment including the removal of over 25 blighted buildings, a new splash pad at Tribute Park and the renovation of multiple buildings for affordable and market rate homeownership and rental housing. The renovation of the former Elmer Avenue School as Elmer Gardens senior apartments is underway and the City of Schenectady is currently repaving Eastern Avenue.
The second project approved by the Metroplex Board is located at 102 State Street and involves renovation of the historic Blockhouse Building. Built in the 1830s, the building has been used as a tavern/inn, general store and as a tire shop. In the 1980s the building was home to Blockhouse Beef and Brew. It has been vacant for many years. The Blockhouse is located adjacent to the Frog Alley Brewery complex owned by JT Pollard which is home to a brewery, distillery, 72 apartments, Bountiful Bread, Annabel’s Pizza and programs operated by SUNY Schenectady’s highly regarded culinary, chocolate/desert and brewing/distillery programs. JT Pollard will team up with Tim Trier owner of Clinton’s Ditch, 151 Bar and Restaurant and other venues, to renovate the building. Metroplex is providing $300,000 in funding from the Lower State Street Façade Improvement Program funded by the NYS Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant awarded to Schenectady.
“We thank JT Pollard and Tim Trier for taking on the challenge to rehab this historic structure at the entryway to Schenectady,” Gillen said. “This will continue the progress we continue to see on lower State Street where CDTA is currently building a new mobility hub adjacent to the Blockhouse building.”