How Central Warehouse Albatross Became Albanian

Albany – Shore Al Ain. fragmentation space. brutality. Loft apartments.

A review of news coverage and previous development proposals for Central Warehouse tells a familiar story: The new owner takes charge only to run into trouble. A bank takes over and sells it for one dollar. New owner, new promises, new dreams, to be sold again.

While it’s not a tale as old as time, the failure of private owners and government officials to make meaningful changes to the 400,000 square foot warehouse is a tale of stagnation, misfortune, and “negligent demolition” as it collapsed over the past. 30 years.

“This is the kind of building we often talk about negligent demolition,” Mayor Cathy Sheehan told a news conference after dilapidated construction forced Amtrak to suspend commuter rail service for more than three days.

“Well, negligent demolition puts people’s lives at risk and could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”

It really is a massive structure of concrete and steel. Each floor covers an acre. At one point, the upper floors were covered in layers of ice that were 18 inches thick.

The beginning of the end, or at least the beginning of its last productive use up to this point, began when Richard Geretti bought the building out of foreclosure in 1980. Gerity was the scion of a local real estate family, and at first, the business was good.

He added thousands of square feet of deep freezing space to meet the growing demand. But Gretty, a very religious man, had an eccentric streak. In 1983, he painted a huge purple “Year of the Bible” sign on the side of the warehouse facing Highway 787, sparking a four-year battle with the state. He had given him permission to paint the sign until his death, and in 1987, Geriti and the state reached an out-of-court settlement and the sign was painted.

By the early 1990s, with large debts, Geretti began selling his assets and the company that controlled Central Warehouse declared bankruptcy. He told the Times Union in 1992, “I was a slave to the banks and then I got redeemed…God told me to get rid of things.”

In his instructions to Gretty, God failed to include the next steps for the Central Repository.

For more than 60 years, the building has been a productive cold warehouse. Built in 1927, the once popular idea was to stockpile enough food to feed the city for months. In 1935, the Central Warehouse Company was established. Train tracks leading to the building brought food directly from the railways.

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But with the changing food storage business and less need for grocers and others to store their goods off site, the warehouse has deviated from its original purpose.

In the 1960s, it was a site for distributing food to city residents for welfare while doubling as a fallout shelter during the Cold War. Police Sports Association used to store Christmas game donations inside.

By 1996 the building was in foreclosure. The then state attorney general, Dennis Vako, intervened to prevent Trustco Bank from cutting the power to the building, fearing that thousands of pounds of ammonia would explode through the valves. Frank Crisavoli, a retired owner of a food distribution company, later charged her for $1 and promised to clear $120,000 in back taxes.

According to the Times Union archives, “It’s a sad state of affairs when you can buy a 500,000-square-foot building for a dollar.”

It won’t be the last sale.

Crisafulli sold the structure in 2001 for $500,000 to a development group that wanted to use the building as a warehouse. It was flipped the following year to New York City developer Joshua Guttman for $800,000.

Suggest retail space on the lower floors and a garage on the upper floors without windows. In June 2004, he listed it on eBay for $3.6 million. Although there were no successful bidders, Gottman eventually managed to find a buyer, CW Montgomery, who purchased the building for $1.4 million in 2007.

CW Montgomery, whose directors included Jacob Friedman, who later bought Kenwood Abbey, only to be banned in 2019, has proposed converting it into an apartment complex, with the city’s support.

“It’s a dirty eye,” Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings said at the time. “We’ll do everything we can to help that happen, because I’m tired of looking at this building.”

At this point, officials have already concluded that any successful redevelopment plan is likely to replace the concrete facade.

The CW Montgomery later said its plans had been scuttled by the 2007 financial meltdown. Thus the building remained vacant.

This led to perhaps the most famous day in the building’s history, before large parts of its facade fell near the Amtrak railroad tracks last month.

On October 22, 2010, the building caught fire, sparked by scrap metal thieves who had previously worked for the building’s owner. The group stole over 200,000 pounds of metal. Because of their problem, they got just over $26,000.

Flames engulfed the cork insulator throughout the building, sending plumes of smoke over the city. The building has been on fire for several days after city firefighters put out the first blazes.

Sunmark Credit Union was able to wrest control of the building from CW Montgomery in 2012 and market it for $199,999.

Which brings the saga to Evan Bloom. Blum, an architecture oddities and antiques dealer in New York City, purchased the building in August 2017 from Sunmark Credit Union for $1. Much like when Crisafulli bought it two decades ago, there was also a $270,000 tab in back taxes.

And refraining from the city was an echo of previous acquisitions. A fresh start and warnings that work must be done.

“The first thing to do is stabilize the building and shut it off to the water, and get it to the point where it can become a giant art project,” Sheehan said at the time. “This building is a priority for the city of Albany and the region.”

Then nothing. City officials have repeatedly tried to persuade Blum to secure the building. They took him to Code Court and secured a judgment of more than $77,000 for past violations. Last year, the county moved to foreclose on the building due to back taxes, leading to at least two bankruptcy cases and lawsuits from Blum as it tried to keep the property.

Over the past few weeks, Bloom has said repeatedly that he believes the city and Albany County are conspiring together to force him to give up the building in order to turn it over to local developers.

In a brief phone interview Friday, Bloom indicated that he would repair the building, but needed a sit-down conversation with city officials to clarify what needs to be done.

“I need the property, I have a use for it,” he said. “If they wanted to meet me and summon the dogs, I could get it done. All they had to do was talk to me, that’s all they had to do.”

City officials have repeatedly said that Blum knows what to do. Bloom has blamed his past inaction on his father’s illness and the coronavirus pandemic.

Rick Lagoy, the city’s director of buildings and regulatory compliance, said that since 2011, building owners, including Blum and Sunmark Credit Union, have been cited almost annually for failing to make them weatherproof.

City contractors spent the past week removing loose stones from the building’s facade. If the building wasn’t waterproof and weatherproof, LaJoy believes the city would return for more emergency repairs.

“Every year it’s been the same,” he said. “At some point our luck will run out.”

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