CARLTON FLETCHER: Cautious optimism surrounds ADICA' pre-development agreement

OPINION: Development master plan encompasses 115.7 acres of land, most along Flint River

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

I live in a shell, Safe from the past and doing OK, But not very well. No jolts, no surprises, No crisis arises, My life goes along as it should. It’s all very nice but not very good. And I’m ready to take a chance …

Barry Manilow

The naysayers will come out … they always do. And there will be no shortage of people hoping against hope that the project fails simply because … well, that’s just the kind of people they are.

But early reaction to the Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority’s bold pre-development agreement with Shandon Development Properties, while cautious, has been overwhelmingly positive. The promise of private development, with only a minimal input of tax money, has apparently stirred up hope for new development in a district that has been stagnant since the construction of downtown government offices was completed.

“Albany Tomorrow was the agency that brought public development to downtown,” ADICA board member Thelma Johnson said. “We have an opportunity to be the agency that helps bring private development downtown. We have an opportunity to facilitate the creation of a ‘new downtown Albany.’”

The board voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a $337,000 agreement with Shandon that will allow the developer to move forward with creating a master plan encompassing 115.7 acres of downtown property, most along the Flint River, that could bring an estimated $49.5 million in new development to the inner city. Among the prospects being considered by Shandon, according to that company’s Patrick Plettner, are a new hotel/conference center, a Pins and Strikes family entertainment center, small mom-and-pop retail outlets adjacent to Riverfront Park, an entertainment events venue and residential units.

“We have a historic opportunity here,” businessman Orlando Rambo, part of a local development team recruited by Plettner, said. “To balk at more than $49 million in development for $300,000 would be, I believe, short-sighted.”

Others in the community agree with Rambo.

“Think back to when Peter Studl was pushing downtown development,” one local government follower said Thursday. “The developer then asked for $600,000. Even if we get only a little return for the money ADICA is investing, we’re getting a bargain.”

Others applauded the ADICA board for its bold approach to development.

“I think there’s been plenty of interest over the years, but no one’s had the guts to step out and take the risk,” one government official said. “This group is willing to take a shot. And even though it’s not their money, that group has put itself out there as ultimately responsible for the outcome of this development project. If things don’t happen, the public is not going to forget who made the call. That’s why I think it took guts for them to do what they did, and I applaud them for it.”

Even before the ink was dry on the ADICA/Shandon contract, Plettner was taking meetings with potential investors looking at downtown Albany — maybe for the first time in more than a decade — as a hot location with plenty of momentum. Downtown Manager Aaron Blair, for one, says he thinks the interest surrounding the inner city is a legitimate cause for celebration.

“I’ve talked with these developers, sat in on a lot of the meetings,” Blair said. “I’m very confident that this is not a huge risk for us to take. I think the interest is genuine, and we could see some benchmarks being reached before the year is out. This could be the turning point for the redevelopment of downtown Albany.”

Not everyone is convinced, however. City Attorney Nathan Davis, always cautious when it comes to spending taxpayer money, warned the ADICA board before its vote that it would be “risking taxpayer money on a $300,000 dream.” Davis mentioned other such development projects that never materialized, but the board declared the potential return worth the risk.

Still, Davis obviously wasn’t convinced.

After Plettner completed his presentation, which included projected overhead slides, and the board took its 7-0 vote, Blair, noticing the darkness encompassing half the room, said, “Turn on the lights.”

Under his breath, Davis said, “Too late.”

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.