#parents | #teensvaping | Zombie house brought back to life on Eastern Avenue

SCHENECTADY — On a stretch of Eastern Avenue that has seen demolition of two dozen derelict buildings, one of the larger neglected structures has been revitalized and was sold to a new owner last week.

The Capital Region Land Bank last month announced completion of renovations to 839 Eastern Ave. and its conversion to three two-bedroom apartments. Its sale this week for $215,000 gives the Land Bank more funds for future projects.

The buildings side by side at 839 and 843 Eastern Ave. were both zombie properties — structures that are vacant, deteriorating and caught in a limbo that can include foreclosure, abandonment and owners who are impossible to find or even identify. 

For years, the two properties had been targeted as important to the revitalization of Eastern Avenue. But the Land Bank cannot fix or flatten what it does not own, so after a couple of false starts, it:

  • Convinced the bank that owned 839 to foreclose and put it on the auction block, where the Land Bank bought it for $1,010. 
  • Convinced the bank that owned 843 to sell the building to the Land Bank for $1 and donate $10,000 to help pay for demolition.
  • Demolished 843 and combined the parcel with 839 to provide parking and a bit of lawn.
  • Hired a certified minority-owned business, BKJ Construction of Schenectady, as the general contractor for the overhaul and retained Better Neighborhoods Inc. to provide construction management services.
  • Listed the renovated property and sold it for $215,000.

The new owner is Ali Saeed Algabyali, a Brooklyn native who owns 845 Eastern Ave. and one other property in the city, and has a solid track record as a landlord here, officials said.

The Capital Region Land Bank’s model is to acquire abandoned or foreclosed properties in Schenectady and Amsterdam, fix them if possible or demolish them if necessary, then sell the vacant land or refurbished structure to someone who will be a more responsible owner. The Land Bank then rolls the proceeds from the sale forward to the next project.

The mathematics worked out favorably for the Land Bank with the 839-843 project, which cost the Land Bank $330,000, all told. To pay for it, the Land Bank got the $10,000 donation from the bank; a $75,000 facade grant from the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority (which administers the Land Bank); $204,000 from Enterprise Community Partners (which funnels grant money the New York state Attorney General’s Office secured in legal settlements); and $215,000 from the buyer. 

That’s a net of $174,000, minus whatever the Land Bank spent on the false starts, which included a plan (later dropped) to return the building to commercial/retail use and a period of ownership by a previous buyer who bailed out on the project and disappeared.

The Eastern Avenue corridor has been the scene of extensive work by city and county agencies in recent years, as the Capital Region Land Bank and Metroplex try to remove enough blight and assist enough construction that a critical mass of revitalization is formed, new residents and business activity arrive, and nearby property owners are inspired to make upgrades of their own.

The biggest piece is Renaissance Square, a $19 million project on and around Irving Street that will see creation of 55 housing units through renovation of the derelict former St. Mary’s School and demolition of three vacant commercial properties across Eastern Avenue from Renaissance Hall, the former St. Mary’s Church.

There also have been numerous smaller steps, including a new playground, housing projects by Better Neighborhood Inc. and YouthBuild, and a new restaurant.

The corridor is bookended by the former Annie Schaffer Senior Center, recently converted to 30 apartments, and the former Elmer Avenue School, proposed for conversion into dozens more apartments. 

Land Bank Chairman Richard Ruzzo said in a news release that completion of the 839-843 project is one more piece of the puzzle.

“As we finish this renovation, we look back and see a great example of the Land Bank’s work in action. After figuring out who owned the blighted structure and getting the bank to list it for auction, the Land Bank purchased the property, renovated it with local contractors and now we are selling it with all proceeds being reinvested back into our community.

“This was once one of the most blighted properties on Eastern Avenue and now it will be an asset to the neighborhood and a home to new families.”

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