Albany’s Eyesore: public nuisance, public threat

The Enterprise – Dylan Longton

It’s been a year since the Altamont Enterprise published an op-ed wherein I called for the demolition of Albany’s rotting Central Warehouse. Chronicling the past 40 years of developer misadventures, I argued then that since none of the half-dozen successive owners among whom the so-called “Eyesore” has changed hands had ever lived up to their pledges to renovate, remediate, or rehabilitate the dilapidated structure, it was time for municipal officials to consider a new approach.  

The response to my proposal was overwhelmingly positive — except in the opinion pages of the Times Union, which twice opined in response to suggest a different course. The Feb. 17, 2020 edition recommended using the giant 11-story walls as massive canvases to celebrate upstate New York imagery, thereby exuding “progress and creativity instead of stagnation and decay”, while the March 9, 2020 edition again proposed such murals, this time ignoring that even just preparing the building’s exterior to serve as a canvas — scraping and priming and such — would cost $1 million.  

But after yet another year of trafficking in these and other such unattainable fantasies, the only noteworthy activity at the Big Ugly Eyesore is the fact that — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — IT CAUGHT ON FIRE AGAIN!

Are. You. Kidding. Me? As in 2010, when the Eyesore’s interior was first engulfed in a conflagration for half a week, firefighters responded two days after Thanksgiving to extinguish yet another blaze in what Battalion Chief Geo Henderson told the Times Union was “a very high-risk building for us.”

So what’s the plan, folks? Are we going to ring in each new decade with an anniversary inferno down at the old Central Warehouse?

Is building owner Evan Blum going to financially reimburse the city of Albany for the fire department’s latest response to his failure to secure the property?

And how many times does smoke have to billow from this concrete monstrosity’s windows before it finally falls out of fashion to perennially propose that somebody pick up a paintbrush?

That idea was first advanced back in 2015. Nothing came of it then, nothing came of it last year, nothing will come of it two decades hence when the tired whimsey of murals is recycled yet again.  

But there’s more. When last I endeavored to document the building’s history by chronicling its past owners, I missed several acts in this tragic comedy of errors.   

Fortunately, I came upon intrepid reporting by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff, a former independent journalist who — via phone — helped me fill in the gaps, to include the fact that I’d omitted Brooklyn developer Joshua Guttman from the owners roster. To save column space, just google the name “Joshua Guttman” and peruse the very first search result, to wit, a Wikipedia entry that understates his role as a “controversial property owner.”  

We need delve no further into Mr. Guttman’s background; our current concern is the latest “controversial property owner” — Mr. Blum — who has littered the past four years with worthless promises to do something, anything with the building he purchased for pennies per square foot in 2017. Like his predecessors, he’s done nothing but breathe life into fanciful pipedreams while evidently endangering the lives of firefighters.  

You know who else is disgusted by the putrefaction of “Blum’s Blight?” As it turns out: Evan Blum. 

“It looks like Albany is decaying with that thing sitting there. If I get the permission, I will immediately eradicate that feeling,” Mr. Blum told the Albany Business Review in December 2017, in what can most charitably be described as a blatant lie. 

Though Mr. Blum has proven unreachable, I tracked down one of his former employees who, while declining to go on the record, nonetheless revealed Mr. Blum’s patternistic signature.

 She pointed me to New London, Connecticut, where — according to The Day newspaper — it was in 2005 that Mr. Blum bought an abandoned building while similarly peddling lofty promises of restoration and commercial activity. Sure enough, it was 12 years later that the city filed suit against him for a decade’s worth of flagrant zoning violations and inactivity. Here’s an illustrative quote from that 2017 article:

Richard Caruso, owner of the nearby Caruso Piano Gallery, said he has no expectations Blum will ever do what he claims. ‘When he first opened, I was tremendously optimistic. But the guy has never done any of the things he’s said he was going to do. At this point in time, I’ve abandoned all hope in him.’ Caruso said the city is as much to blame for not being more diligent in its efforts to press the issue. ‘That’s what your local government is supposed to do, especially if you’re trying to enhance the downtown.’”

How applicably familiar. What would history do without the cut-and-paste function?  

The most promising thing about Mr. Blum is the fact that, according to The New York Times, he faced criminal charges in 2000 for the partial collapse of a building he owned in Manhattan. (Promising, in that maybe such a fate will befall the Central Warehouse.)

Curious about the nature of those reported criminal charges? Put down your drink: reckless endangerment through improper/dangerous renovations, and filing false renovation plans.

This is the guy to whom we’ve entrusted our community interest in rejuvenating the Eyesore? Was even a modicum of due diligence performed by Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s staff before they permitted her to meet with him in 2017 and declare that “the city welcomes his plans”?

Two years later — right on schedule — Mayor Sheehan called Mr. Blum’s persistent lack of progress “incredibly frustrating.” Meanwhile, just across the river in Connecticut, local media were reporting that creditors had foreclosed on two of Mr. Blum’s properties for failure to make mortgage payments.

Taxpayers are functionally subsidizing Mr. Blum’s unconscionable neglect of this menacing public nuisance. It’s time — past time — that we dispense with delusion and knock down the old Central Warehouse.  

 How do we do it? Well, first, we need to correct the record. It’s been said that “[t]o raze the warehouse at this moment, Albany likely would have to seize it by eminent domain in a costly legal battle.” Wrong. That’s a fundamental misstatement of law.  

Pursuant to Article 11, Title 3 of New York’s Real Property Tax Law, when a property owner is delinquent in his taxes, a municipal government may foreclose on the tax lien, obtain title to the property, and then either sell that property at private auction, transfer it to the authorized land bank, or — and I’m extrapolating here — blow it to smithereens. 

Last month, I called several local officials (whose names I’m withholding as they were not previously cleared to speak on behalf of their respective agencies) to find out the total unpaid tax obligation for 143 Montgomery Street. One of them literally just laughed into the phone.  

Because out of 1,241 properties listed on the “Delinquent Tax List” (November 2020 report), the Central Warehouse is the sixth most tax-encumbered property in all of Albany County. And it isn’t even just that Mr. Blum failed to pay the back taxes when he bought the building — it’s that he’s refused to pay any taxes ever since.  

Readers accessing this column online can review the four years’ worth of unpaid school and property taxes that Mr. Blum has amassed since purchasing the building. See for yourselves by consulting Albany’s online property tax and school tax databases (Tax Map Number:  65.20-2-29).

This wouldn’t be a matter of government coercively confiscating private property; it’d be a matter of telling the dude who owns title to 515,512 square feet of crumbling concrete that he’ll not be permitted to disfigure Albany’s horizon while running up half-a-million dollars in debt to our local government.  

What makes Mr. Blum — who, to be precise, owes $472,863.41 in back taxes on the Central Warehouse — so uniquely special as to avoid such consequence? He’s clearly not going to do anything with the building. Albany must. 

“For nearly 20 years, the Central Warehouse has sat in a weird kind of real estate limbo,” a reporter wroteten years ago — in an article quoting a local developer as saying that “[j]ust about every real estate guy has looked at that building at one time or another, but we just couldn’t make it work. The costs were just too great.”  

Notwithstanding, and like so many before them, each of the officials with whom I spoke insistently enumerated the many logistical, financial, and environmental challenges posed by detonating the Eyesore. One of them instead depicted an attractive alternative, in which the building’s exterior could be wrapped with solar panels to power a warehouse poised to meet the ever-increasing demand of online shopping.  

Already possessing train tracks that run directly into its bowels, situated on the banks of a river, and high enough to accommodate a launch pad for an army of aerial delivery drones, the warehouse of this particular fantasy was as inviting as any of the fevered dreams that reality routinely dashes against the rocks. 

And that’s the rub, Albanites: The question is not whether anything can be done with the Central Warehouse, but whether it ever will be. And who wants to take that bet? We agonize over an eyesore that stifles area development and which thereby makes renovating it unappealing, but we fail to appreciate that, when confronted with a chicken-or-the-egg problem, sometimes your best bet is to just give up poultry.  

No one is coming to the rescue. It’s on us to protect our firefighters, cease the public subsidization, and liberate our daily commutes from this humiliating testament to Albany’s apathy. A seizure by tax foreclosure is a legal solution to the issue; it’s one the Albany Common Council should at least evaluate given its recent appetite for the ambitious (to include approving a feasibility study to reconnect Albany to the waterfront by dropping I-787 — a vastly more expensive undertaking).  

With due resolve, our elected leaders could then explore innovative ways of financing demolition and removal, such as issuing municipal bonds or applying for state and federal grants. Albany would likely realize a return on investment when it subsequently sold the newly unencumbered real estate to more practical developers.  

Or it could just leave the debris smoldering in place for all I care — unlike the inescapable Eyesore as it now stands, we wouldn’t be able to see a pile of rubble from the highway. (Though for more on how the debris could be removed and the site then remediated, check out the local media report of my exchange with a reader who expressed such concerns following publication of my column last year.)  

If it were structurally unsound, we would find the money and means to knock it down. Yet because the Eyesore is structurally sound, we’re cool with forever permitting it to be the next fire away from lethal?

 Shhh! If you listen closely, you can almost hear those insufferable law school gunners protesting my proposal whilst stumbling through 1L year: “Albany will never take possession of the Central Warehouse, because then it would be criminally and civilly liable if someone were injured at the site.”

What an unconscionably cynical perspective to attribute to Albany’s city and county officials. There are already people jungle-gyming their way throughout that structure — to include graffiti artists tagging the walls, trespassing adventurers posting their exploits on YouTube, homeless citizens lighting fires inside the building — and our municipal officials are thus already responsible for their welfare, even if legal liability might not technically attach.

Don’t get it twisted: The blood from any death or injury sustained in that building will be on Evan Blum’s hands, as well as those of the county executive, county legislators, Common Council members, and Albany mayor — who’s notably on record saying that the Central Warehouse is “not a safe place be.” 

 On December 21, 2020, Mayor Sheehan announced her intention to serve a previously unanticipated but now inevitable third term. As justification for reneging on a prior pledge to adhere to a two-term limit, she cited projects that “still need her leadership” — to include “the downtown revitalization initiative” and a program to tackle blight in the city. 


I genuinely don’t want the satisfaction of saying “I told you so” another 10 years from now, long after Mr. Blum has surrendered the deed and there’s yet been no progress beyond further deterioration. Albany residents deserve a serious discussion about the Central Warehouse’s fate, not one that gives our imaginations free reign to conjure images of industrial-grade frescoes that, at best, would only invite the same graffiti vandalism that now and forever adorns its walls.  

No more pretending that cosmetically decorating the Eyesore is analogous to Albany’s laudable “Capital Walls” initiative, which beautifies local edifices the interiors of which aren’t prone to cyclic combustion. Refrigerator [building] art will not eliminate the lethal hazards of the Big Ugly Eyesore, nor raise the esteem of our Capital District, nor spur a would-be downtown commercial renaissance. Just stop. Take it down, before it takes down someone else.

A July 6, 2007 Times Union report quotes former Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings as saying of the Central Warehouse: “It’s an eyesore, period …. I’m sick of looking at that building.”  

 That was 13 years ago, in an article which posed what might’ve once been a reasonable question: “Could one of Albany’s ugliest ducklings become a swan?”  

I direct readers’ attention to Exhibit “The Last 30 Years.” The answer, of course, is “no”. 

Captain Jesse Sommer is an active duty paratrooper and lifelong resident of Albany County. He welcomes your thoughts at .

Joined: 01/08/2021 - 22:16
Interesting perspective

We should invite Paul tonko to seek stimulus funds to tear it down. Obtaining money for local projects is part and parcel of the job as a representative to the House.

Pat gill
Joined: 01/09/2021 - 07:22
Albany Eyesore

Thank you, Captain Sommer.

Joined: 01/13/2021 - 09:22

Not even to mention the condescending tone and unnecessary snark of this "writing", I have to ask, have you even considered how insulting it is to the people who live in Albany and in the neighborhoods surrounding the building to say that you would prefer the building sit on the ground as rubble? We are so sorry that the building offends your commute! Aren't there issues more relevant to your life to complain about? Also, you might be interested to discover that the County is the the enforcing agency for all municipalities, and they are subject to certain statutory redemption periods by which a property owner has certain rights. You might also be interested to know what the bank who took ownership of the building sold it to Blum, so your very dramatic outrage is a tad misplaced.