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Galesi Group's David Buicko Discusses Mohawk Harbor Progress

Lucas Willard

Capital Region developer Galesi Group is behind the massive Mohawk Harbor project in Schenectady, the location that includes the recently opened Rivers Casino. The company’s Chief Operating Officer spoke in the Electric City this morning about the past, present, and future of the site that was until recently home to a shuttered factory.

Schenectady, with its General Electric-defined skyline, has pushed hard to modernize itself in the 21st Century as many prominent manufacturers have downsized or moved away. State Street today, lined with new buildings and amenities, is the product of dozens of players pushing for economic development.

Now, the city is home to one of four upstate casinos, located on a site that was once a factory and then became a contaminated brownfield.

The Galesi Group began work on the site of the former ALCO plant along the Mohawk River seven years ago. Today, there’s a brand new Courtyard Marriott hotel, the Rivers Casino operated by Rush Street Gaming, which has been open since February 8th, and plenty more planned.

So far, Galesi Group COO David Buicko is pleased with the progress at the site and its positive effect on downtown.

“I think it’s working exactly like we wanted it to,” said Buicko.  “I’ve walked through a variety of restaurants and stores on weekends, and they are teeming with people. So from that standpoint you’ve got people who are experiencing Schenectady for the first time.”

The 60-acre Mohawk Harbor site beside the casino will include office space, housing, and retail. While Buicko acknowledged a slight delay in the construction due to some recent heavy snow, much of the first phase of the project is slated to open later this year.

“The apartments will be done in July. The office building will be done in July. The townhouses will done probably in October, maybe a little sooner. The second office building: October. Amphitheater. The boat slips in. There’s a lot happening in 2017 and it’s all happening very nicely.”

Once Phase 1 is completed there’s also a Phase 2 planned, though the specifics of who or what will be in the next phase have not been announced.

Buicko said that would be dictated by demand.

“We just don’t know how deep the market is yet.  You’ve got all the major employers around.  If you take a look at GE, GE R and D, Schenectady International, Knolls, Bechtel, Environment One, Golub, MVP, Union, Ellis, and I missed a bunch…there’s a lot of employees working there. So if we can capture just a small fraction of them, if they want to live in apartments, if they want to work in office buildings…downtown Schenectady is virtually full with office buildings so we’re very comfortable there are people going to be putting offices there,” said Buicko.

It appears to be a wait-and-see situation. But despite not knowing specifics as to what will occupy a completed Phase 2, Buicko is confident that additional retail and commercial space is needed.

“Is it a matter of do we need retail? I think so. Do we need more office? If those fill up, sure. Do we do a combination retail-office-residential? That’s been done before very successfully. So we’re going to see because we just don’t know how deep the market is.”

Transportation to Mohawk Harbor is something that Buicko and other partners are taking seriously. A bike path will connect the site to the Mohawk Hudson Bike-Hike Trail. CDTA and Metroplex are working to launch a trolley service to connect visitors to the downtown. The state is backing the development of a new Amtrak station further down Erie Boulevard.

But Buicko also has eyes on the state legislature as lawmakers debate over the budget. The issue of legalizing ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft has been a hot topic in recent years, and it’s something he’d like to see in Schenectady.

“My son, last year, had people come into the Travers. They all flew in from all parts of the country, they get to the airport, nobody needs a ride, they’re all checking…then all of a sudden, ‘How do we get up to Saratoga?’ So hopefully Uber is in the bill, everybody’s talking like it’s going to be. But it’s important. It’s embarrassing that downstate can have it and we can’t have it.”

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