SPARK OF LIFE IN OLD FIREHOUSE

Deal nearly complete to purchase building for renovation project

JORDAN CARLEO-EVANGELIST STAFF WRITER
Section: Business,  Page: C1

Date: Thursday, October 27, 2011

ALBANY -- The contractor who renovated the former Hudson River Telephone Co. building on Quail Street has nearly completed the purchase of the long-shuttered city firehouse on Swan Street, the roof of which partially collapsed last month after heavy rains.


Antonino Catalano Jr. and his father, Antonino Catalano Sr., have already begun repairing the roof of the building at the corner of Jefferson and South Swan streets, home of Engine Company No. 6 until it closed amid controversy in 1986.


Catalano said he has had his eye on the building for 15 years and put together a deal to buy it from its longtime owner, a California doctor, after last month's partial collapse.


Fire officials at first considered whether the building -- listed in city records as more than 11,000 square feet -- needed to be demolished.


"We want to get the neighborhood's input on what they'd like to see there," Catalano said. "There's not really a commercial hub in that area."


Catalano said the building -- which is actually five buildings stitched together by a common Depression-era facade -- could accommodate both store fronts and apartments.


The building is directly across South Swan Street from Empire State Plaza, making it a potentially prime commercial spot for state workers and neighborhood residents.


Catalano has already met once with members of the Hudson/Park Neighborhood Association in hopes of soliciting their input on what residents would like to see happen on the site -- a development that association president Richard Berkley called encouraging.


"I think it's fair to say that the neighborhood is optimistic," Berkley said. "Someone came in and is focused on preserving the building, and is interested in talking with the neighborhood in trying to get more of an idea for what it needs. And that's always a good thing."


Susan Holland, executive director of the Historic Albany Foundation, said she had been working with the firehouse owner for to find a buyer and that three -- including Catalano -- emerged after the Sept. 7 partial collapse, in which a roughly 40-by-20-foot section of the southeastern corner of the roof caved in.


Fire officials said the cave-in was likely caused by water accumulating on the roof from the recent heavy rains, including Tropical Storm Irene.


Holland, who lobbied to save the firehouse from demolition after the collapse, said her organization was glad to see the building go to someone interested in restoring it.


"It really means a lot me. I really want to preserve it. That's why I got involved," Catalano said. "We're putting it back the exact way it was built originally."


Berkley said the neighborhood will need to see Catalano's exact plans before it can pass judgment but added that the property's changing hands is an encouraging development.


"Having an involved local owner," he said, "is also a positive thing."


Reach Jordan Carleo-Evangelist at 454-5445, jcarleo-evangelist@timesunion.com or on Twitter @JCEvangelist_TU