Planners approve demolition of historic Odd Fellows hall

Wednesday, November 16, 2011
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The former Odd Fellows hall at 440 State Street in Schenectady is slated for demolition after plans were approved Wednesday by the city's Planning Commission.
The former Odd Fellows hall at 440 State Street in Schenectady is slated for demolition after plans were approved Wednesday by the city's Planning Commission.

— Wreckers await the former International Order of Odd Fellows hall in the very near future.

Members of the city Planning Commission narrowly approved drastic changes to a plan they approved in July, allowing building owner Tony Civitella to demolish the entire structure at 440 State St.

Chairwoman Sharran Coppola cast the deciding vote to allow the demolition after members of the commission grappled with the issue for more than two hours Wednesday.

The approval will allow Civitella, the president and founder of Transfinder, to immediately move forward on demolishing the entire building. His original plans called for the leveling of the rear of the structure, but to retain the ornate terra-cotta facade and about 20 feet of the building’s front. His proposal is to put $5 million into a modern building to headquarter his software company.

Only an engineering report obtained after Transfinder purchased the building determined there to be no feasible way to preserve the facade, which was described as inseparable from the brick substructure of the building. As a result, Transfinder altered plans and sought a full demolition and the construction of a new building similar to other modern structures in the city.

Commission member Matthew Cuevas had initially suggested the project be tabled for further review. Several other commission members also questioned why Civitella only submitted the drastically altered plans for the project on Monday afternoon.

“It’s really a lot to handle in a short period of time,” Cuevas said.

Go or no-go

But when they began mulling a delay, Civitella abruptly requested they make a decision. He suggested any additional delays to the project would prevent him from starting work this year, thereby pushing construction back until the spring.

The commission ultimately abided by his request and approved the new site plan. As contingency, they required him to come back next month for an architectural review of his building.

The decision came after several members of the public criticized the new plan. Schenectady Heritage Foundation Chairwoman Gloria Kishton questioned whether the condition of the terra-cotta was the real motive for Transfinder seeking a full demolition.

Owners of the adjacent Hampton Inn refused to provide Transfinder’s contractors with enough staging ground adjacent to the building, meaning the front of the property near the facade would need to be used. Kishton suggested this would be cost-prohibitive for the company.

“The Hampton Inn will not give you the access to do this cost-effectively,” she told Civitella. “You would not need to demolish it if you went in from the side.”

City resident Thomas Hodgkins blasted the new building proposed by Transfinder as being “a soulless piece of garbage.” He said the existing building exudes the values of benevolent order and that contributes to its character. “The were building this building to support the values of friendship love and truth,” he said.

The new proposal is for a three story building with large windows on each floor and a corner entrance. The design includes balconies and space for a garden on the third floor.

“I really think it will be a strong statement for Schenectady,” Civitella said.

Sonny Bonacio, the owner of Bonacio Construction, said elements of the old terra-cotta facade may be used in the new building’s interior. He said even if it were feasible to save the facade, “It’s really at the end of its life expectancy.”

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November 17, 2011
12:39 a.m.
hodgkinst says...

Classic Modus Operandi of the Metromob, wait until the last minute to inform the public, and then press the feeble and indebted board for immediate action with threats that they will take business elsewhere. Your taxpayer dollars at work. Long live the Plutocracy. Bow to you masters.

November 17, 2011
2:41 a.m.
2RIGBY4 says...

This "planning" is indictitive of shortsightness. Much like the planned condo project at the old Alco-in a flood zone sandwiched in between the RPI nuclear facility bldg. and STS Steel co. When one or boths existence start to impede progress there you'll likely see an" after the known fact" rush to resolve the issue. Same might be said for the SCCC dorm. project underway at Washington Ave., also in a flood zone,witness this years flooding of that area. Wonder how much this will cost the taxpayers, directly or the roundabout way. With the continued demolition of the citys past historic bldgs. this must mean the new definition of "moving forward".

November 17, 2011
7:53 a.m.
gina99 says...

What a disgrace. The planning commission has been ruined like every board and commission by the corrupt all Democrat machine. Sharon Coppola, Steve Strickman and Ray Gillen should all resign today. Plenty of empty buildings on Erie Blvd. or build a new building on ALCO mounds. A strong statement for Schenectady alright which has no room for historic preservation in the new Metroplex order. We should occupy the IOOF hall.

November 18, 2011
1:59 p.m.
robbump says...

The Hampton Inn had no problem encroaching upon the traffic on Clinton Street in order to build their hotel .. but they refuse to grant sufficient space to their neighbor to renovate? What a civic-minded company! (remember, they get parking spaces in the Metro-tax parking lot behind it ... take those away if they don't want to play fair.)

November 30, 2011
2:39 p.m.
skip says...

...Downtowns are local assets. ‘Downtown is invariably where millions of dollars of infrastructure investments have already been made by previous generations,’ Rypkema said. ‘Downtown revitalization through historic preservation is the best example in this country of sustained development.’ While about half the cost of a new building goes toward materials, he said about 70 percent of the money spent to revitalize historic buildings goes to workers, as much of the materials can be reused. The money those employees are paid is recirculated throughout the community.”.... this loss is sickening

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