Community members in downtown Albany focus on raising South Pearl Street

ALBANY — The McDonald’s that once commanded the corner of South Pearl Street and Madison Avenue is where Travon Jackson used to get his coffee before work every morning. At the time, it was perhaps one of two places where neighborhood residents could grab a quick bite.

But over time, the golden arches main franchise located on prime real estate at the gates of the city could not be sustained and began to crumble before being closed and abandoned.

“Wow, that’s another void in the neighborhood,” Jackson thought at first. “I saw a tide of gentrification, the tide of desertion.”

For some, like him, it was surely a red flag that the neighborhood was changing, perhaps not for the better, after Rite Aid left South Pearl Street and the Stewart’s up on Morton Avenue closed the year before. end of 2018.

The loss of these community staples as other businesses and restaurants opened along the north end of the corridor was a stark example of the disinvestment that the south end of Pearl Street has experienced over time.

Today, the corner of the lot with the low building adorned with a brightly colored mural represents the hope of residents who refuse to give up the potential of their neighborhood.

Two sides of Pearl Street

About this series

An organization is only as strong as its weakest link, which is why Pearl Street and the city as a whole could suffer if steps are not taken to invest more in it. This series of stories explores the street’s glory days as a commercial district, the forces that devastated the corridor – particularly South Pearl Street – and how today’s community is trying to nurture it.

• Pearl Street, a once-buzzing cityscape, struggles to thrive
• Both sides of Pearl Street, in photos
• Migration patterns define communities along Pearl Street
• Neighbors oppose plans to expand capital rescue missions
• Contrasting two Pearl Street companies and the challenges they face
• How Investments Affect Pearl Street Communities
• Community members in downtown Albany focus on raising South Pearl Street

In an effort to keep the property from being gentrified and turn it into something useful for the community, Jackson, who runs the Capital Region African American Cultural Center (AACCCR) across the rue and is also part of a non-profit development group, intervened.

The building’s revitalization plan is just one example of the work that several organizations and community members are undertaking to fill the gaps in the thoroughfare by restoring properties and working to provide residents with the amenities they need. need.

Uplifting projects underway

Jackson and his team at Bluelight Development Group purchased the former McDonald’s in December, in partnership with AACCCR, and are converting the space into a grocery store with a special section devoted to providing free produce and food to transient populations.

The team worked with several others, including Star Roofing, Albany Artisans, Capital Roots and MVP Health Care to bring the project to life.

The hub is scheduled to open on June 19, the US holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves. Jackson specifically chose that date for the store’s opening day because it’s “the day of freedom for (the) oppressed (or) those living in abject poverty in this country,” he said. Explain.

The Capital Region Community Loan Fund is working on another project along the corridor. The nonprofit organization is in talks to purchase the building that is now known as the Coliseum at 153 S. Pearl Street and renew it into a place where individuals can focus on building community wealth in the neighborhood. . It was redesigned as a mini vertical mall with retail and office space in the mid-2000s, and this new project would build on those efforts.

Designed on a community investment trust model, the fund would transform the building into a multi-faceted space that serves as a small business incubator, with retail stores and community gathering space while functioning as a dividend-generating investment. for stakeholders in the same zip code who would invest up to $100 for an equal share of the building and become co-owners who would have a say in what it houses.

Linda MacFarlane, the fund’s executive director, said it would be a long-term project that would last three to five years, but could generate a return on investment of at least 2% for those who buy into the trust.

“We anticipate it to be a big hit,” she said.

Other developments are occurring along the outskirts of Pearl Street including the Port of Albany expansion, Redburn Development apartments at the industrial end of North Pearl, MVP Health Care’s plan to invest 1, $4 million in community projects around the city as well as the future Hattie’s Chicken in the former Lombardo’s restaurant on Madison Avenue, a space it is hoped will create more opportunity along the Pearl Street corridor and in the South End neighborhood.

Anthony Gaddy pointed to the Port of Albany expansion as an investment to watch. The port is building a wind turbine tower manufacturing site which is expected to employ over 500 people.

As these community organizations strive to bring amenities and wealth to Pearl Street, the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District (BID) is also seeking to intervene by softening the harsh appearance of South Mall Arterial by painting murals on the concrete.

“You see it’s a place people love. It’s a community that invests in itself and attracts people to keep exploring,” said BID Executive Director Georgette Steffens.

Knit the fabric together

Rebuilding the urban fabric will take time, money – and a village.

Sarah Reginelli, President of Capitalize Albany Corporation and CEO of the Albany Industrial Development Agency (IDA), initially believes that Pearl Street and all of downtown Albany need increased residential density to muster the buying power needed to support businesses in the immediate area.

“We don’t have the kind of population density at this point or the spending habits to be able to support that level of ground floor retail,” she said.

On South Pearl, that means taking a tough approach to fighting the scourge and turning obsolete properties into public or private multi-family housing. And Reginelli said those goals will take a lot of money and multiple players, including the Albany Housing Authority and the Albany County Land Bank.

These business improvement agencies and organizations are tasked with upgrading buildings or making them marketable for projects that will be financially feasible for investors and the people who live there.

Similarly, Pearl Street must once again become a walkable strip. This will force the city to invest in its infrastructure to repair past planning mistakes. Some of this work can be funded by grants, but not all of it. Public and private investment will be needed to facilitate these changes.

The challenge was twofold, Reginelli explained.

“It creates the opportunity for people to live here and create density. The other challenge is being able to show the value proposition of being in the city of Albany, and … to talk about the assets that are here “, she said. “It’s really about making this equipment make financial sense, so that these organizations can invest responsibly.”

But more importantly, there is a need to break down the stereotypes that classify downtown gateways, Reginelli noted.

“Stereotypes in urban centers are certainly alive and well in revitalization work and must combat what accompanies the territory,” she said.

An essential part of this work will involve a sincere open-mindedness and listening to what the residents themselves envision for the place they call home.

For community stakeholders and residents, the desires for the future of Pearl Street are clear – it’s time to restore the avenue to its former grandeur and give those who led such efforts the opportunity to cultivate growth.

“Honestly, I long for a Pearl Street, especially the south end of Pearl, that balances local storefronts and small businesses with the philanthropic and nonprofit service organizations that the community needs,” said said Jackson.

“If we have to rush headlong into things that people think are impossible, then at least let’s make sure everyone who has fought before can run straight behind,” he added.

Plan for the future

Two sides of Pearl Street

Two Sides of Pearl Street benefits from a unique collaboration between the Times Union and the Albany Public Library. This partnership, supported by the non-profit organization Library Futures with help from Hearken and made possible with support from the Google News Initiative, aims to amplify the voices of community members by shaping and telling these stories.

What are your hopes and dreams for Pearl Street? What does each block need to thrive? Submit your questions through this form or at a branch of the Albany Public Library.

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