It’s time to demolish the Central Warehouse

To the Editor:
There is a magnificent view of the city of Albany from, of all places, I-787 as you drive south after I-90.  

There, the bell towers of the early Federalist period First Church of Albany and historic St. Mary’s creep up the hill to merge with the Neoclassical façade of the Albany County Courthouse, the dome of the Greek Revival New York State Court of Appeals, the Romanesque bell tower of Albany City Hall, and then our magnificent Renaissance state capitol building, all backed by the Art Deco Alfred E. Smith tower and the Modernist office towers of the Empire State Plaza.

In the early evening, silhouetted by the golden glow of a setting sun in the west, and wreathed in pink to yellow clouds against a twilight blue sky, this might appear to be none other than the physical manifestation of Mayflower John Winthrop’s American “City on a Hill.”

“God shed His grace on thee!” almost seems to sing out from this historical and architectural cornucopia.

I say “almost” because you have to be quick to observe it — almost be looking for it — as that view no sooner appears from behind the decaying walls of the concrete cube of the Central Warehouse monstrosity, than it is completely consumed by the drudgery of the Quackenbush and Riverfront garages.  The music no sooner starts then it comes to an abrupt screeching halt.

Then you know you are in the down-at-the-heels, present-day city of Albany. The city of proliferating red and white Xs marking the spots where yet one more incident of decay will drag another neighborhood down with it.

They reinforce the view that this is a city no one needs to care about other than for quick in and quick out, to and from our more pleasant suburban nests, other than for tax-exempt government buildings and their not-for-profit hangers-on.

The Central Warehouse, like a tattooed bouncer standing sentry on I-787, enforces the view that the city of Albany is an undeserving delinquent on a perpetual downward spiral.

Don’t just take my word for it. Go see for yourself. The much-heralded new Albany Skyway is more than anything a walking tour of this Ode to Urban Blight.

The state of New York and the county and city of Albany are no doubt at this moment wondering where to spend the windfall of Biden’s federal infrastructure dollars. A great place to start spending would be to “unpollute the commute” by demolishing the Central Warehouse and opening up the city of Albany viewshed so that the Capital District citizenry might realize what a magnificent city we might once again have if that were gone. 

It would be an ice-breaker on the discussion of further development possibilities for the historically, architecturally, and demographically diverse city of Albany.

For Democrats, this would be a clear case to demonstrate the wisdom of electing supermajority governments at the state, county, and city levels, where difficult, hard-nosed decisions can be made now instead of kicking the can down the road as they often must do when they have to bargain with only a measly majority. 

That federal money, which only a Democratic majority in Congress could fashion into a bipartisan win, will be converted into something everyone can (not) see and feel proud of.

For Republicans now consigned to the gadfly role they are so good at, here is their opportunity to point out that even in supermajority Democrat utopia that New York State and Albany county and city should be, Democrats still can’t make these kinds of hard decisions and need Republican prodding and leadership to get them done.

Instead, in a truly amazing exercise of bipartisanship guaranteed to accomplish something we will all regret, the Albany County Legislature voted unanimously in March to transfer the Central Warehouse from Evan Blum’s art space Blum-doggle to Redburn Development and Columbia Development to try their hand at converting this wreck into — you guessed it — an art space, but now with condos!, parking!, nightlife!, and of course “giant wall murals!”

But unlike Blum, Redburn and Columbia are coming out of the blocks with a $65,000,000-plus public partnership price tag attached to it — which you and I, through development financing, are going to have to pay for.  We have already forgiven over one-half-million dollars in back taxes.

Look, this “crumbling” property sits in a decrepit warehouse district of Albany abutting I-787 and a railroad track — now temporarily closed because of the warehouse’s falling facade — where restaurants and bars seem to come and go and change hands with a frequency that already seems to whisper “economically unsustainable.”

Yes, there are on again-off again proposals and projects to turn this warehouse district into some kind of mixed-use contemporary cityscape, but any such architectural vision will only stand to benefit with the removal of the cubist blight that is the Central Warehouse.

Public development financing that would be made available to the Central Warehouse can of worms could probably be better spent on South Pearl Street projects, where real Albany citizens already live.

If this kind of prodding isn’t enough to motivate Democrats or Republicans to do something, maybe the implosion of this monstrosity as an action scene in a Hollywood thriller might help put Albany on the same movie-making map as Troy and secure forever some political leader’s name with such legend and foresight in screen credits. 

I admit, I might be grasping here, but who really wants to pay for a concrete cube of art space, condos. and Parking?

The bottom line is, the Albany County Legislature needs to let its voters know the cost to them of the development or demolition of the Central Warehouse and let them vote their preference. They need to do this fast while the federal infrastructure money is still unallocated and before this monstrosity self-implodes and hurts someone — and robs us of the screen credits.

So, if you too want to “liberate Albany” from the Central Warehouse and “unpollute your commute,” then please take a moment to let your county legislator know your strong views on this matter. You can easily find their contact information at Please call them now. They love to hear from you.

William Cooney


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