December 15, 2011

Is Incubator Ready To Hatch?

By: Chris Churchill, Business Writer

Source: Times Union

ALBANY — Officials from the city and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering at the University at Albany continue to pursue turning a landmark former train station into a high-technology business incubator — despite the state's decision not to grant a $4 million request for the project.

Representatives from the city and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering met this week with the downstate owners of the imposing granite building at 575 Broadway in Albany, but have been tight-lipped about what, specifically, was discussed.

NanoCollege spokesman Stephen Janack said the school "appreciated the opportunity to have a dialog" about Union Station, now called Kiernan Plaza. He also said the NanoCollege remains committed to developing a presence downtown.

Michael Yevoli, the commissioner of planning and economic development in Albany, declined to discuss the meeting, though he said the city is working hard to find a use for a building that's been vacant since Bank of America departed early in 2010.

"It's a top priority," Yevoli said. "It's a significant, integral part of the fabric of downtown."

The NanoCollege plan for a Kiernan Plaza incubator calls for a fund to buy and retrofit the train station, which would be owned by Capitalize Albany Corp., the city's economic development arm. 

State support for the incubator was requested by the Capital Region Economic Development Council plan submitted to the state, but the requested $4 million was not among the projects that received money during a process that concluded earlier this month.

It's possible, though, that the state could award the money through other channels, or in later rounds of economic development funding.

"We need the $4 million as an anchor," Alain Kaloyeros, chief executive at the NanoCollege, said in November, later adding that "the concept is to basically take a landmark and keep it a landmark, while turning the inside into a hub for innovation and business development."

Kaloyeros outlined a three-point plan that would have smaller companies incubating at Kiernan before moving to the Harriman State Office Campus in uptown Albany.

Then, Kaloyeros said, the growing companies could subsequently construct their own buildings at Harriman, making the 330-acre campus a hub for private job growth.

Union Station, owned by Gramercy Capital Corp. in New York City, opened to passenger travel in 1900, but closed as a train station in 1968 and subsequently became a bleak and decaying symbol of downtown's decline.

 That changed in 1986, when Norstar Bank and Pieter Kiernan spent millions on a renovation celebrated as one of the region's great efforts at the preservation of historic architecture.

 The building continued as a banking center until the Bank of America exodus.