Paul Mitchell school, retail store to replace Big House project

Section: Business,  Page: C1

Date: Friday, July 10, 2009

SCHENECTADY -- The Big House is out. And Big Hair is in.

The long-planned and much-discussed Big House brew pub and nightclub project is officially kaput. But in its place will be a retail store and training school operated by hair-products company Paul Mitchell.

The hair emporium will occupy about 20,000 square feet of space at 411 State St., including the first floor and basement. The operation is expected to bring about 250 students, staff and customers to downtown Schenectady each weekday.

Brian Stratton, the city's mayor, on Thursday called Paul Mitchell "a great addition to our fast-growing downtown."

But the Big House? Well, it won't be part of the growth.

The restaurant said in 2005 it would move from Albany to Schenectady. And the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority invested considerable public funds in rehabbing its then-downtrodden building, including a $1 million loan to owner Stephen Waite; $350,000 for facade improvements; and $100,000 for asbestos removal.

Despite that help, the project couldn't overcome hurdles.

Among them was the poor condition and layout of the structure, and trouble getting it ready for necessary building and sanitary codes. That led Waite to scrap the brew pub, but as recently as last year he said he'd still go ahead with the nightclub.

But that plan was thwarted, in part, by a credit crunch that made it difficult to raise the needed money, according to Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen.

The Rotterdam-based Galesi Group in May took ownership of the building, which is across State Street from Proctors Theatre.

Waite could not be reached for comment Thursday.

So does Gillen consider the Big House investment as money wasted? Hardly. In fact, he insisted it's money well spent.

Galesi, he said, has taken over the $1 million loan, with payments due in 2011. And Gillen said the other money would pave the way for the occupancy by Paul Mitchell and existing upstairs tenants, including Waite's law office.

"We would have had a falling down building that's across the street from all this new development," Gillen said. "It was a very, very key building."

Chris Churchill can be reached at 454-5442 or by e-mail at cchurchill@timesunion.com.