Hotel developer: 207 Pine building in ‘sweet spot’

Chicago-based developer Jason Benedict explains his funding plan for a $13.5 million boutique hotel project at the Albany City Commission’s meeting Tuesday morning. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)

ALBANY — If Jason Benedict got nothing else in his introduction to Albany politics, he got a show.

The Chicago developer, who sat through the Albany City Commission’s meeting Tuesday to find out if his J Car Development team would get a $3 million loan from the city’s Job Enhancement Fund — one of the final pieces of the financial puzzle Benedict needed to move forward with his $13.5 million development plan for the old Gordon Hotel/Water Gas & Light Building at 207 Pine Ave. — had a front-row seat for the sometimes tragicomedy that is an Albany Commission meeting.

After being questioned about the structure of the building, getting a history lesson from Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell, who operated elevators at the old Gordon when he was a youngster, having to sit through a rehash of the process that led to the redevelopment plan, and then hearing a citizen, William Wright, insist that the loan approval be put off for 30 days and follow up with pontification on how “hotel jobs” are not good jobs because members of his family had worked at hotels, Benedict got his loan and said work will start on the 207 Pine building “in the next few day.”

The developer said his company would begin work on the data center that is part of the development with plans to have it operating within 90 days. His team, he told commissioners, will manage the data center.

“It’s a business that we’re doing elsewhere right now, but we plan to consolidate it here,” Benedict said. “We’ve had a pilot program going for the last four months, and it’s worked really well.”

Benedict said the second floor of the 207 Pine building will be used for the data center.

“There’s a fair amount of infrastructure work that has to be done before we move in,” he said. “We’re going to put advanced cooling technology in there and get a new server in place. Once we take care of those things, we’ll move pretty quickly.”

Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff, noting that a significant amount of the funding plan for the development comes from EB-5 funding, asked Benedict if he had a contingency plan if that funding source fell through.

“We feel like we’re in a high priority position for that funding,” Benedict said of the government fund that is paid by employers who bring foreign workers into the country. “It’s about creating local jobs, and not only will we be doing that, we’ll be training students at Albany State University for technology jobs that will keep them here in the community.”

The developer said, though, that if that particular funding source, estimated at $5 million of the project cost, doesn’t come through, he has a contingency plan in place.

“We, essentially, have four funds that we’re working with that are looking for projects like these,” he said. “We’re not concerned that funding will be an issue.”

Benedict said he sees no reason why development of the project cannot move according to the schedule presented in the project plan. That schedule calls for the data center to begin operations in July, closing on the property in August, permitting approvals in October or November, a groundbreaking and construction commencement in December or January of 2020, and a grand opening in January of 2021.

“Things look good; we’re excited about this project,” he said. “It looks like we’re squarely in the sweet spot for opportunity zone investment. Our team is ready to begin the day-to-day work on the project; in fact one of the lead team members will be moving to Albany real soon.”

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