What you missed at Troy’s 1MSQ charrette last week

What you missed at Troy’s 1MSQ charrette last week

TROY — A central civic space, large enough to host festivals, performances, and film screenings. A two-and-a-half-story destination restaurant that overlooks the Hudson River. Up to 34,000 square feet of flexible space, possibly dubbed “Troy Hall,” for the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market. A welcome center, facing a more pedestrian-friendly Monument Square. A “modern interpretation of a clocktower.” Micro-retail storefronts. A series of terraces, with amenities like seating and a communal fireplace, that lead down to a revamped Riverfront Park. And, of course, two levels of parking.

All this made it into what was described by the city-hired consultant team as a kind of visual composite of the community’s wishes for One Monument Square, the 1.6-acre former site of city hall that has languished, empty, for years.  

Unveiled last Thursday on the final night of a well-attended, three-day design charrette, held just steps away from the subject parcel at The Arts Center of the Capital Region, the three-dimensional digital model of the site seemed to reflect a pretty polished design. But the consultant team, a partnership between River Street Planning & Development and PLACE Alliance, emphasized its conceptual nature.

“This is not a design like you got when you went out to the [real-estate] development community and developers sent you in a package of materials,” said Margaret Irwin, owner of River Street Planning, referring to past requests for proposals issued by the city that yielded project ideas that, for one reason or another, failed to materialize. “We don’t expect someone to build this.”

In fact, it’s not really a design at all, Irwin said, but rather “just a starting point.”

The consultant team intends to present a more refined design, or whatever the appropriate word is, in September. It also plans to complete design and construction documents for the “public esplanade” portion of the site, a 50-foot-wide strip of land along the water, by the end of this year.

Notwithstanding the consultant team’s characterization of the visualization as a kind of conversation starter, it was also evident that the model was far more than a mishmash of dreams, thrown together without any attention paid to the site’s intricacies and limitations.

For instance: Front St., at the river level, crosses the site. Anything built over it must allow the passage of emergency vehicles. To satisfy that requirement while also including two levels of parking, the consultant team initially floated a design where the civic space (and the structures, like Troy Hall, that would face it) rested about five feet above River St. and Monument Square.

This, presented on the public workshop’s second day, raised concerns about accessibility. By the next and final day—through several different theoretical tweaks, including raising Monument Square itself, a kind of traffic calming measure—the consultant team brought the net rise down to about two feet, or four steps.

The mixed-use concept, which centers around a substantial amount of public (or at least public-seeming) space, garnered praise from attendees on Thursday. But at least one rather obvious question wasn’t immediately answerable.

The design, one audience member told the consultant team on Thursday, “is really quite delightful…without being Disney-istic or Victorian.” But “you’ve got to convince somebody to actually pay for this, which is really the crux of the matter,” he said.

“We have to convince someone to partner with the city on a project,” Margaret Irwin replied. “There’s opportunity for multiple ownerships of different pieces.”

The Alt attended all three days of the public workshop and heard the phrase “public-private partnership” tossed around a bit. On the workshop’s second day, we asked Mayor Patrick Madden about one related idea we’d heard: that certain spaces incorporated into the design, like potential office space or condos or apartments above Troy Hall, would—essentially, somehow—subsidize the public space.

“I think it’s possible to some degree,” the mayor said. “But until we understand what that public space looks like and take the temperature of the private sector, who are likely to invest in a project here, we won’t know if it’s an even trade-off or if we still have to find additional ways to subsidize the public space.”

There’s also the prospect of a state grant. The city has applied this year for Gov. Cuomo’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative, and its proposal identifies One Monument Square as one project that the prospective award could help to fund.

The consultant team floated some fairly major changes for Riverfront Park—namely, removing its parking lot, adding a row of angled parking along Front St., and relocating the Korean War memorial to a spot near the Vietnam War memorial. These changes would allow for the creation of a large green space. (One Monument Square is sort of the southern terminus of Riverfront Park, and their fates are intertwined.)

There’s also apparently an effort underway to put a playground in the park. “We know that the city’s going after some funding [for a] pretty substantial playground,” one member of the consultant team said last week. (We’ve played phone tag this week with deputy mayor Monica Kurzejeski, seeking details on this.)

Katie Hammon, executive director of the Downtown Troy Business Improvement District, told The Alt that a downtown playground was included in the city’s DRI proposal. The BID has also created a playground committee, which “will work to better define the possible area for the downtown playground, likely in Riverfront Park, and clearly define the scope of work and costs associated with it,” Hammon said.

It seems that, following a concerted public push in the days before the workshop began, a place at One Monument Square for the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market may be assured. As envisioned, Troy Hall, which one consultant team member described as the project’s “big architectural move,” would potentially feature a one-and-a-half-story ground level with garage-style doors. (The farmers market would still occupy the city’s streets in warmer months.)

The mayor told us he’d love to see the market have a permanent space, but also says the idea “presents some real challenges,” given that, up to now, the market has used indoor space only on Saturdays in the winter.

“So how do you then use that space in a way that generates the revenue that’s necessary to maintain it?” he asked. “And how do you program it so that the space isn’t empty on the remaining days of the year? Because that doesn’t add to the vibrancy of the downtown.”

“It’s an important challenge for us to try to address because the farmers market is such a critical piece of what makes Troy cool,” the mayor added.

This story currently only includes photos taken during the workshop by The Alt. We asked the mayor’s office for copies of renderings visible in our photos, but a spokesman said last Friday that “the individual with access” to them was traveling and that they would “be provided at the earliest convenience.” As of June 27, we haven’t received any, but will update this story if we do.

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