Niskayuna Town Board candidates Linda Rizzo and Rich Fisher are wondering what’s happening with St. James Square.
At the Tuesday, Aug. 25, Town Board meeting, the two spoke of their concerns about the current state and future of the semi-vacant shopping center.
About a year and a half ago, Metroplex came to give a presentation that they were going to renovate and do some work at St. James Square. I’ve seen no work going on. I’m not the only one in the town asking this question, said Rizzo, who noted that she has spoken to several residents who share her concerns.
St. James Square was originally built in two phases. The first phase occurred in 1997 by developer Reginald Scott. It featured a Grand Union and several other small shops and restaurants, including Subway, a dry cleaner, a liquor store and a nail salon. An addition was built several years later by the same developer, who hoped to attract more restaurants and bars, but things went downhill for the center with the closing of the Grand Union in 2001.
Today, the shopping center has some vacant spaces. Its tenants include a Starbucks, a Friendly’s, a Chinese restaurant and some smaller retail establishments such as a liquor store and nail boutique.
`I realize that businesses like the St. James Square area are not the direct business of the town board, but since 2001 it’s been empty,` said Fisher. `It’s the closest thing we have to downtown Niskayuna, but I think it’s long overdue that someone takes the lead on this and says, ‘Let’s get involved and let’s get things moving.’`
St. James Square is not a complete loss for the town, as the owners are still paying taxes on the property. Niskayuna Town Supervisor Joe Landry said that the town and the Schenectady Metroplex are working to attract a large business to fill the space where Grand Union once stood, and that they have come close to striking several deals, but it is difficult to attract any businesses in this down economy.
`When the economy picks up, [St. James Square] will pick up,` said Landry. `Right now we have no loss. We’re getting the taxes now. There is a portion of it that’s vacant, but what people overlook is that there are a lot of viable businesses in there.`
Liz Orzel-Kasper, a Niskayuna Town Board member, said that people ask her all the time what’s happening with the shopping center.
`When this was proposed, I was very concerned about putting this up because I thought, ‘This is the center of town, and I hate to see blacktop,’` said Kasper. `He was very convincing to the planning board and the people that he had a lot of tenants lined up. When someone owns land, they can develop it within the law and he could develop it into whatever he felt as far as commercial spaces goes.`
Kasper said that at the time the development proposal received mixed reaction. The original proposal, according to Kasper, was for something that included upscale boutiques and dress shops.
`It sounded like it might go, but I never felt that we could be another Stuyvesant Plaza. We were not close enough to a large enough population that would support these very fine upscale stores,` said Kasper.
Kasper said that even though the supermarket was a large draw for business and traffic, retailers and restaurants didn’t want to pay rents that were, according to Kasper, high. Prospective tenants also didn’t like that part of the shopping center was not located off a main road. They wanted visibility from street traffic. There was also an issue with signage.
`We didn’t want it to be Neon-signville,` she said.
She said that she is sure that the Metroplex is working to help the property attract the tenants it needs to thrive.
She mentioned Mohawk Mall, which was booming years ago but faltered before coming back for a huge revival as Mohawk Commons in recent years.
`It’s beautiful,` said Kasper of Mohawk Commons. `I think malls are cyclical.`