Two years ago, architecture students in Barbara Nelson’s Community Planning course partnered with local contractor Jan Siemiginowski on a project to restore a long-vacant property at 15th and Congress streets. This spring, they saw the fruits of their labor with the opening of Muza European Food.
For Siemiginowski, who also owns parcels adjacent to the restaurant, the cozy eatery marks the first step in an ambitious proposal to make 15th and Congress “one of the finest corners in Troy.” For students, the restaurant represents the culmination of a hands-on venture that took them from the drawing board to city hall to demolition and reconstruction.
Equally important is what the project means to the community: another example of Rensselaer’s commitment to encourage economic development.
“The Rensselaer Plan extends to the environment beyond campus,” says Nelson, an adjunct professor in the School of Architecture and project manager in campus planning and facilities design. She taught the course with Sid Fleisher, fellow School of Architecture faculty member and woodshop manager. He has since retired.
“The Plan recognizes and embraces our responsibility to participate in the renewal of the surrounding neighborhoods,” Nelson says.In keeping with that responsibility, since 2001 students in the School of Architecture have played key roles in collaborative community efforts. Some, such as the Housing Rehabilitation and Restoration Plan for the Hillside, Beman Park, and Mount Ida Neighborhoods and the Alley Improvement Project, were broader in scope. Others, such as Muza European Food, focus on single establishments.
“Sustainable urban renewal includes projects large and small,” Nelson says. “With the Muza restaurant, students had direct involvement in a project that replaced a vacant building with an establishment where people can eat, talk, and laugh. That’s exactly the type of business that makes a neighborhood safer, more livable, and more attractive.”
Nelson approached Siemiginowski in fall 2004 about having Community Planning students assist with the development of his Congress Street properties. After reviewing the tracts, the instructors and students decided to focus on the smallest of the buildings, which Siemiginowski had targeted for a restaurant.
Students sketched ideas, developed floor plans, and helped design and prepare the financing proposal and the submission to the Planning Board. Once approvals were obtained, students worked with contractors and assisted with gutting, framing, and wiring.
“This gave the students a chance to see how a business is built from the ground up,” Siemiginowski says. “They pulled all the paperwork together, helped with the application, and went to City Hall to see how the process works. That was a big help to me.”
Architecture student Ryan Shoop ’07 enrolled in the Community Planning course for the opportunity to help design and build a project in the community.
“What was most interesting was working with a real client, with someone who actually wanted to build what we were designing and had their own ideas and concerns,” Shoop says.
Shoop has since graduated and now works in an architectural firm in Connecticut. In the weeks before Commencement, he made sure to patronize Muza European Food.
“It didn’t turn out quite the way I thought it would, but I recognized the floor plan the kitchen, the counter and the bathroom,” Shoop says. “I’m really glad it turned out as nice as it did. It’s a nice little restaurant, close to campus, and the food is delicious.”
Muza European Food serves lunch, dinner, and takeout Tuesday through Sunday, starting at 11 a.m. The current menu features such ethnic dishes as pierogis, goulash, golombkis, and crepes, but owner Jan Siemiginowski plans to expand both the menu items and the hours of operation. This fall, expect Muza to add traditional breakfast fare and catering services offering Italian, American, and Polish dishes.
The restaurant is located at the corner of 15th and Congress streets. To order takeout, call 271-MUZA (6892).
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