Nearly two dozen members of the public spoke at a well-attended planning commission hearing Wednesday night at city hall concerning the proposed 11-screen, luxury cinema at One Monument Square in downtown Troy. No final decisions were made. The development team, led by Bonacio Construction and Bow Tie Cinemas, was directed to explore the public’s suggestions before the next meeting.
Those speaking in favor of the project included restaurateurs Vic Christopher (Peck’s Arcade), Jinah Kim (Sunhee’s), Tim Taney (Slidin’ Dirty), and Jim Scully (Bacchus). Kate Ollier Manley of the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce also spoke in support.
The development team has projected that the $23 million project will draw 10,000 patrons per week. Supporters cast the multiplex as a near-certain economic boon to downtown, with Taney even suggesting that, had the site not witnessed “six years of opposition [to] building on the city’s most prime piece of real estate,” several downtown businesses that had shuttered over the last 18-odd months might have survived.
“I think we’ve got a home run here,” Vic Christopher said, citing Bonacio’s track record in Troy. “We have a dream team on our hands, and I trust implicitly that Bow Tie Cinemas is about as good as it gets.”
The proposal, in short, in case you’re not up to speed: 1.18 acres; 11 screens; 1,256 seats (luxury ones that take up the space of four regular seats); 2 floors (rising to 56 feet); 105 parking spots; 100 bicycle parking spots; one elevator; a large lobby with a bar/concession stand/lounge; one BTX (à la IMAX) screen; “party rooms”; a relatively open staircase (with seats) leading to the river on the building’s north side; and two rather large, blank walls, one toward the south end of the River Street-facing side and one facing the Hudson River.
On this last item, as the lead architect told the crowd Wednesday night: cinemas can’t really have windows. The big-boxiness of it all seems a primary concern for the project’s skeptics, both for architectural and street life-related reasons. A new rendering of the view of the building from the west, with the rear wall broken up into panels that could potentially be vertically lit and emblazoned with large-scale art, did not totally ward off this critique.
“This really is just a huge wall,” Tracy Kennedy, a resident affiliated with We Care About The Square, a group with which Vic Christopher sparred online in the week leading up to the meeting, said of the Hudson River-facing facade. “It reminds me of the Central Warehouse on 787,” she added, “the one that burned for days and we can never take down.”
Russ Brooks, who is also affiliated with We Care About The Square and served on the advisory committee that selected the Bonacio-Bow Tie team over its lone competitor, expressed disappointment that the number of screens, initially pegged at 8-10, had increased to 11, contrary to the committee’s request for a possible reduction.
Barbara Nelson, the former chair of the planning commission and current executive director of TAP, Inc., a nonprofit design center, presented alternative sketches that depicted the project as a three- or four-story structure, allowing space for an additional 70 parking spaces and a strip of retail along River Street. “I know it’s a huge, huge lift to ask for that sort of a redesign,” Nelson acknowledged. “But I do hope that there is room for negotiation.”
Overall, though occasional shots were taken at the design (“kinda looks like a monstrosity,” one speaker said), the public hearing seemed more collaborative than adversarial: Fewer screens, perhaps? Less Clifton Park-ish? More parking? More historic-seeming, somehow, but without seeming like a cheap replica? The multiplex no longer seemed a question of if, but rather how. Indeed, the land development agreement, approved by the city council in early May, was at last signed and executed Wednesday, a member of the development team told The Alt.
“Let’s not scuttle this project,” said Joe Fama, the executive director of the Troy Community Land Bank, who clarified that he was speaking only in his individual capacity. “Let’s continue to take a good, hard look at what it does, but let’s get this thing built.”
The project developer is seeking nearly $1 million in mortgage recording and sales tax breaks, along with an as-yet-unclear amount of property tax breaks, from the city’s industrial development authority, which may not finalize that arrangement until at least September. Nearly $4 million in additional state and local grants largely tied to Riverfront Park improvements and parking are also likely to be used. The city zoning board of appeals has already approved variances for signage. The parcel’s agreed-upon sale price is $600,000.
Though the extent to which the development team will incorporate the public’s suggestions into their proposal remains to be seen—and notwithstanding at least two commissioners’ stated support for something akin to Nelson’s proposal—there were indications that the project would not be radically altered.
“There’s a palette of materials here, there is a scale, and there is a thoughtfulness that I recognize,” said Sara Wengert, a commission member and principal at architecture+, a Troy-based design firm. “This proposal’s actually pretty close.”
After the meeting, The Alt spoke briefly with Bow Tie Cinemas CEO Joe Masher, who said that public sentiment toward the project “was actually a lot better than I expected.”
Asked about Nelson’s proposal, Masher said “it’s probably a non-starter just because of cost” and the surfeit of already-available retail space in Troy. “Why have empty storefronts when a luxury theater could bring in more people with more seats?” he asked rhetorically.
Masher disputed the criticism that the theater seemed more appropriate for Clifton Park than Troy’s Victorian streetscape, saying that Clifton Park “would be lucky to have such a beautiful theater.” He added, however, that the development team would “take everybody’s suggestions into consideration and modify [the proposal] as fiscally responsibly as we can.”