A LANDMARK SOON TO FALL EMPTY

New tenants sought as sole occupant of former Union Station will leave

CHRIS CHURCHILL BUSINESS WRITER
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Correction: A photo illustration on Page 1 Wednesday accompanying a story about Bank of America's plans to vacate Kiernan Plaza included a "for sale" sign. The owners have not said what they plan to do with the building.

ALBANY -- The only occupant of Albany's landmark former train station will move its employees elsewhere, leaving the building vacant for the first time since its celebrated restoration 23 years ago.


Kiernan Plaza was once Union Station, a grand and impressive gateway to the city. The train station closed in 1968 and sat empty and decaying until it was reopened as a bank headquarters and office building.


Bank of America now occupies the building. But a company spokesperson on Tuesday said the bank is consolidating its Albany operations to cut costs and will move all its Kiernan Plaza workers to a State Street building.


The consolidation, expected to occur early next year, will not involve job losses, the bank said.


Mayor Jerry Jennings said he recently was notified by Bank of America of the impending move. He said he has since toured the building to assess its condition and has asked his economic development department to aggressively market and promote the soon-to-be-vacant property.


"My feeling is that it should be a part of our downtown rebirth," Jennings said. "It's a beautiful building, inside and out."


Union Station opened in 1900, giving Albany a big-city train station that hummed with life day and night. But the station's glamour dimmed as train travel lost ground to cars and buses, and by the 1970s the Beaux Arts building was used as little more than an architecturally magnificent pigeon roost.


That changed in 1986.


That year, the building at 575 Broadway reopened as the headquarters to Norstar Bank, then run by Peter Kiernan. Thousands came to gawk at its renovated concourse. And the building, which had narrowly evaded demolition, was dubbed one of the great comeback stories of Albany architecture.


Kiernan Plaza has since changed ownership several times, with Bank of America taking control of the building five years ago. The company at the time vowed to keep the building occupied, even as it sold it to a real estate investor group and leased its space.


The plaza is now owned by Gramercy Capital Corp. The New York City company also owns 69 State St., where Bank of America is consolidating operations.


Gramercy did not return requests for comment Tuesday, and it is unclear what the firm is planning for the space.


Downtown boosters have long worried Bank of America would leave Kiernan Plaza, in part because the building -- with huge windows and so much space taken up by the concourse -- is inefficient and expensive to heat.


Real estate brokers, noting that Gramercy has not been advertising the Kiernan Plaza space, said the down economy has hammered commercial real estate and large tenants looking for downtown office space are few and far between.


That means that former train station could be in for a lengthy vacancy.


Nearly everyone who has seen the building's interior agrees it is among the most impressive interior spaces in Albany. Yet not many people have seen it in recent years: Though the concourse is occasionally used for galas and special events, admission generally is limited to bank employees, who enter from a back parking structure alongside Interstate 787.


"It's a real shame the public doesn't have access to it," said Tracy Metzger, a downtown Albany real estate broker. "Obviously, we're going to be looking for a new tenant and a new use. The question really is: What can it be used for?"


Jennings said he would push for a mix that would include retail at Kiernan Plaza. He and others said that the Bank of America departure might just present a chance for better use of the space.


"It's an opportunity for us to make it part of the city," Jennings said. "It was kind of closed up."


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


BOX:


Union Station


Since it reopened 28 years after it closed as a train station, Albany's grand former train station at 575 Broadway has has several different owners:


1986: Building opens as headquarters to Norstar Bancorp, which had purchased the derelict building in 1984 for $450,000.


1987: Norstar announces a merger with Fleet Financial, and the building eventually becomes home to Fleet's regional headquarters.


2004: FleetBoston Financial is acquired by Bank of America, headquarted in Charlotte, N.C.


2004: Bank of America sells Kiernan Plaza and other downtown properties to American Financial Realty Trust, a Pennsylvania real estate investment company.


2008: Gramercy Realty Corp. in New York City acquires American Financial for $3.3 billion.


Source: Times Union research


TIP:


Inside


A11 History of Kiernan Plaza.