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The Right Approach


RICE BUILDING TO NOURISH YOUNG BUSINESS

"It's not just a building, it is a piece of public art," Joseph Fama '70 insists. "It is part of our mission to utilize Troy's architectural treasures in our efforts to redevelop and revitalize the city."

Benjamin Homer Hall, an attorney and poet, built this High Victorian Gothic flatiron at the cusp of River and First streets in 1871. Now known as the Rice Building, the flamboyant edifice is dressed with large, colorful Moorish arched windows. The original interior, drab in comparison to the exterior, housed narrow labyrinthine corridors, winding stairs, and a rickety elevator. Its small, dark rooms were occupied by lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, and other professionals. Eventually the building fell into complete disrepair and the Troy Savings Bank acquired it through foreclosure. "It was on the road to demolition. And demolition of that building was unthinkable to me," says Joseph Fama '70, director of the Troy Architectural Program Inc.
 "It's not just a building, it is a piece of public art," Fama insists. "It is part of our mission to utilize Troy's architectural treasures in our efforts to redevelop and revitalize the city."
 Fama, Michael Wacholder, director of the Rensselaer Technology Park, and Kevin O'Bryan, vice president of the Troy Savings Bank, brainstormed to find a way to save the Rice Building. They combined into a nonprofit entity called Rice Building Incorporated with the goal of turning the building into a new second-stage incubator center for growing businesses.
 
Gary Gold (2)  

Rice Building
Troy's Rice Building is being transformed into a second-stage incubator center for growing businesses.

Senator Joseph Bruno saw the project as a way to stimulate Troy's economy, so the state allocated $2 million. Troy Savings Bank will give the building to Rice Building Incorporated and lease the land to that entity for a term of 99 years. Construction is well under way and expected to be completed in October. TAP acts as an administrator as it ensures that the grant applications are properly filed. Lepera & Ward, P.C., (see sidebar) is the architecture firm working on the project.
 Thanks to the state aid, this triangular structure soon will contain five floors of office space for businesses. The renovations maintain some stairwell finishes, and much of the original trim has been salvaged. The large window openings bring ample sunlight into the open-plan spaces. Special treatments on the floors indicate where the original walls were.
 The renovated Rice Building will provide approximately 20,000 square feet for companies seeking quality space in Troy and close affiliation with Rensselaer. It is anticipated that some of the tenants may be graduates of Rensselaer's Incubator Center, which currently has 22 occupants in its campus and Watervliet facilities.
 The Rice Building project is expected to have a positive impact on the economy and the community. "This innovative venture between the state, Rensselaer, Troy Savings Bank, and TAP will be a major step in revitalizing downtown Troy," says Kenneth Gertz, director of government relations at Rensselaer. "It will bring new jobs and businesses to the city."
 Fama believes that "this project could be a forerunner for a whole new market for Troy of small, technology-oriented businesses who could come here into fully wired buildings and find a great place to run their companies. These projects will show both the city of Troy and Rensselaer how productive a partnership they could have."
 Wacholder agrees. "Troy is turning around dramatically. And one of the reasons is all of the different technology initiatives that are going on at RPI. It has a real possibility of someday becoming a tech-town. It's already a pretty strong cultural town. And so I'm very optimistic about Troy's future. And I'm optimistic about RPI's future. They go hand in hand."


Laura Christine Mandat '99 graduated in May with a bachelor of architecture, a B.S. in building science, and a minor in communication. She originally wrote this article for the course Writing Feature Articles. She resides in Troy and hopes someday to work on an architecture magazine.

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