PROSPECTS FOR WAREHOUSE NOT UP IN SMOKE

Member of ownership group says fire won't end plans for redevelopment

CHRIS CHURCHILL BUSINESS WRITER
Section: Business,  Page: D1

Date: Tuesday, November 2, 2010

ALBANY -- One of the owners of the Central Warehouse believes the mammoth building suffered no structural damage during a fire last month and remains optimistic the complex will be redeveloped.


Michael Cleary, a principal in CW Montgomery LLC, said the group has sunk more than $1 million into the building north of downtown Albany, cleaning the warehouse in preparation for its potential second life.


"We've done a lot of design and structural work," Cleary said during an interview Monday. "We took all of the debris out of the building, which is one of the reasons the fire department was able to let the fire burn itself out."


A crew once hired to work at the building by CW Montgomery is accused of accidentally sparking the fire while looting it of scrap metal. George Ellis Jr., the crew's 35-year-old leader, faces two felony charges of grand larceny and burglary and a misdemeanor count of criminal mischief.


The crew allegedly removed more than 200,000 pounds of metal, according to records kept by a Cohoes scrapyard.


Police say Ellis told them that on the day of the Central Warehouse fire he and his workers were in the building cutting sprinkler pipes with a demolition saw and tossing the metal down an elevator shaft so they could load it into a truck, according to court records.


An investigator summoned Ellis to the warehouse later that day.


"I laid out the building for the fire investigator, and I told him all the unsafe spots," Ellis allegedly told police. "I didn't want to see anybody get hurt in there."


Cleary, a self-described hotel developer based in the Capital Region, said he does not know how the workers entered the Montgomery Street building.


"They were hired by us at one point in time and fired at one point in time," he said. "I don't even know what metal they were taking."


Nevertheless, Cleary said the alleged looting and subsequent fire, which burned for several days, have done the building no lasting harm.


"There's damage, but no structural damage," he said. "It's a very, very, very strong building."


Other CW Montgomery principals are Anthony Audi, a longtime presence in Capital Region real estate circles, and Jacob Frydman, a colorful New York City investor described in media reports as a producer for the television soap opera "As the World Turns."


The group purchased the Central Warehouse in 2007 and floated plans for turning the massive refrigeration complex into a residential and retail center that would be similar to redeveloped cold-storage warehouses in Chicago and Toronto.


"We were a victim of the financial meltdown," Cleary said, explaining why the redevelopment never occurred.


Cleary said he's hopeful the plan can be reborn and left open the possibility that CW Montgomery could relaunch the proposal when the economy revives.


"There could be light at the end of the tunnel," he said.


Jordan Carleo-Evangelist contributed to this story. Reach Chris Churchill at 454-5442 or cchurchill@timesunion.com.