Some new life could be in the cards for the old Tobin Packing Company grounds in West Albany.
The city of Albany and Town of Colonie are entering a working agreement that could transform the old First Prize Center on Exchange Street into a mixed-use facility with residential and business activity.
Joe LaCivita is the director of planning and economic development for the Town of Colonie. "There's been tenancy in and out of there over the years, y'know, whether it be the storage of the trailers and the RV's that are there. But there are some small businesses actually that are in there. A plumbing company, a sign company. So, it's not as vacant as it may have been."
At one point the Tobin site was scouted by a developer as a prime place for a gambling casino. And there were other interests in the land. "There's been several businesses that looked at that location over time. I know they looked at a Super WalMart there. They tried to site Cabella's at one point. They tried to site even a Bass Pro. It always got looks from different development communities and different development uses, but never got what we're seeing today."
Why "looks" but no "action?" "One of the things that stopped every process when people started really looking at it was the fact that the demolition cost of that monster of a building would be. We've heard upwards of $2.5 million just to bring the building down."
Third Ward Albany Common Councilman Ron Bailey hopes the site's past as an economic driver for his Albany neighborhood can be resurrected. "I remember as a young man growin' up, a lot of people from my community used to work at Tobin First Prize. And when I looked at the drawings of what they wanna put there, the first thing I looked at is jobs for the people in my community.
Monday night the Albany Common Council approved an intermunicipal agreement with the town, paving the way for creation of a joint board, a five-member panel that would conduct a combined planning review and oversee development of the 32-acre site along Interstate 90 on the Albany-Colonie line. Albany's part is zoned industrial, while Colonie's allows for commercial, office and residential use. LaCivita says the land's "split-zoning" works in favor of re-development. "This is not gonna be something that we'll approve behind closed doors. It's gonna be open. I know the developer Bill Hoblock and his team that are looking to move forward with this, wanna work with the community, wanna work the municipalities. He's been at this for a little bit of time and he's always said the same thing. 'Nothing is gonna be accomplished without an open review,' and that's what we wanna hear, you know, as this goes forward."
Eleventh Ward Albany Common Council Member Judd Krasher cautions while there is "exciting potential," development of the site may take years. "There's going to be a whole host of environmental reviews. Community input. Community forums to seek that input. And then of course, once all of that gets cleared, demolition of the building. This is going to take a long time."
Aside from community involvement, Krasher hopes the city will not opt to give the developer huge tax breaks, a practice he characterizes as "corporate welfare."