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Photo by Mark McCarty

A Resurgence for Real
The history of Troy’s revitalization has not been without its false starts and exaggerated promises. But today’s efforts, city boosters say, are producing concrete results.

“I see a resurgence as far as the city is concerned, much more so than in the last 20 years,” Hedley says. “We used to get maybe one call a month. Now I get one call a day. Before when you brought people in, they had no interest. Now they stay for an hour and a half.”

Hedley has been in the city for 44 years, remembers when it was bustling with shoppers, and believes Troy can find its niche again. He envisions the Market Square Block as an upscale shopping center similar to Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland. He sees similar hope in the effort to recreate the city’s Little Italy section, complete with a market, and other neighborhood revitalization efforts. “I see a great renaissance, I really do,” he says. “I see a real movement. We just have to keep it going.”

Troy architect Vincent Lepera ’68 has been a firsthand witness to many of the developments, real and proposed, over the years. “I’m the eternal optimist,” he says. “I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, and as times go along, I become ever more wary of the good times that come along.”

In the 1980s, Lepera worked with developer Charles DeSeve, who had purchased several of the city’s most prominent buildings and had grand plans for revitalizing them. Instead, DeSeve ended up in personal bankruptcy, and the dreams that many had pinned on him collapsed. “We did all the architectural work for DeSeve. We were badly hurt when he went down,” Lepera says. “It nearly destroyed my business.”

Antiques District

Photo by Mark McCarty

Still, he says, “Charles DeSeve had the right idea. His failure came about because he wasn’t realistic as to how the projects would develop. He went bankrupt personally but many of the projects were completed and are still occupied: the McCarthy Building, the Keenan Building.”

In the 1990s, it was developer Mark Simmons who bought and renovated a number of downtown structures, including the River Triangle and Dauchy Buildings. Some had hoped that Simmons would also take over the Market Square Block now owned by Hedley, whose upper floors — including three glorious ballrooms — have been vacant well over 20 years. Many of Troy’s leaders see this moment as different, because there are multiple projects happening at once. “You can’t do it alone. I don’t care who you are,” Hedley says. “You don’t want one person to own all the property. It’s like having a building with one tenant. That tenant leaves, you’re in trouble.”

New Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian says he also is impressed that the developers are using private funds, not relying on government. “A lot of the investors are using their own money, and that’s important,” he says. “I’m very confident and optimistic. There has been a lot of private investment.”

Another project poised for fruition is the effort to create greater access to the riverfront. The South Troy Working Waterfront Plan calls for moving heavy industry to the southernmost end of the city, opening up space slightly north for lighter industry and recreation. “We have an opportunity to create a new industrial park in the south end of this city where these businesses that have long been hamstrung can grow,” says Lepera, who has worked on the idea for decades. But as of press time, the City Council had yet to act on the proposed rezoning.

The city’s historically contentious politics often have been a stumbling block to development. Since Democrats and Republicans can and have won both council majorities and the mayor’s job, and elections for the council are held every two years, it has led to political logjams. “The politics in Troy is responsible for some of these investments losing some wind because of the invective,” Lepera says. “Developers need one thing from a political machine: stability. That’s the one thing you don’t have in the City of Troy.”

Gurley Building

Photo by Kris Qua

Tutunjian disagrees. Before taking office in January, Tutunjian, a Republican, said the rezoning will be done. “That will be coming up soon,” he says. “Obviously, you need the proper zoning to enable this type of development.”

Troy has another influential friend in State Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno. Bruno, a Republican from Brunswick, has used his clout as one of the most powerful legislators in the state to send millions of dollars to fund various projects in the city. From $2.1 million in state aid to wire the Rice Building, to state employees moved to Hedley’s office complexes and the Frear Building, Bruno’s impact has been substantial.

“We all owe our lives to Senator Bruno right now,” Carroll says. “Maybe this city would revive. It would take far longer. Senator Bruno made a difference for all of us. We have been brought back from the brink enough so that people are willing to take a risk.”

Hedley agrees. “While he is able to do what he is able to do, we have to take advantage of it,” he says.

But many of Troy’s most promising developments also have occurred on their own, without the aid of government. No one from City Hall decided to create a row of antiques stores on River Street, nor did the city’s governing bodies set out to create a variety of topnotch restaurants. For example, when the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was revitalized in the ’80s, restaurants began to crop up around it.

With serious investors, involved citizens and business owners, and concrete plans for revitalization, Troy is beginning the 21st century with much promise — and tangible results. “Given fertile soil, seeds will grow,” Lepera says.

Tim O’Brien has covered the city of Troy for the Times Union for more than 15 years.

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Rensselaer Magazine: Spring 2004
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