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Rail traffic resumes after Albany’s Central Warehouse snarled Amtrak routes across several states

Albany's crumbling Central Warehouse and a portion of the nearby Amtrak rail bridge that sits within its shadow.
Dave Lucas
Albany's crumbling Central Warehouse and a portion of the nearby Amtrak rail bridge that sits within its shadow.

Rail traffic has resumed after Albany’s crumbling Central Warehouse snarled Amtrak routes across several states Friday.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan was outside the Central Warehouse Tuesday morning to give an update on the status of the deteriorating building and restoration of Amtrak service.

The Democrat noted that city, county, state and federal agencies worked cooperatively to stabilize the building and with Amtrak to get rail service west of Albany back in operation.

“A work plan was determined and put in place to remove all of the loose masonry from the south facing wall of the building, as well as the smokestack that was on the side of the building, as that was determined to be an imminent danger to the track, were there to be a catastrophic failure of that. That work is complete," Sheehan said. "And there is continued work that is still happening under the emergency orders on the interior of the building, to pin certain areas that were found to have failed. But it is believed that that work will be completed, we hope, by the end of the week, maybe into next week. But we are at a point right now where the decision was made yesterday to resume that rail traffic.”

Amtrak issued a statement Monday night saying in part the work done allowed scheduled trains to run again, but with a speed restriction through the Central Warehouse area, in the busy downtown industrial center near the Hudson River.

Sheehan says work will continue and the city will continue to pursue legal action against warehouse owner Evan Blum in court.

Blum tells WAMC he got word of what happened Friday night and was in Albany Saturday morning.

“I drove up before they started work," said Blum. "And they refused to let me look at the building to see what was wrong with it. And I asked for a copy of their engineer’s report, they refused to give it to me, I asked the engineer his name, he refused to give it to me.”

City of Albany Director of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance Rick LaJoy says Blum is well aware of the condition of the building.

“We have been dealing with him for several years, we have several court cases with him, against him, for failure to comply," LaJoy said. "And those violations in particular, dealt with the loose and falling masonry that has been happening for quite some time on different sides of the building at a lesser scale, as well as making the building watertight. None of these actions have been complied with, which is why we're standing where we are today.”

LaJoy says the cost to the city so far is over $100,000 and counting. He notes a sudden catastrophic collapse of the building is not likely.

Blum says the unfortunate state of the structure dates back 30 years. He alleges that initially the city refused to give him a construction permit to begin remedial work on the building. Then the pandemic set in. Blum says officials refuse to meet with him and are scapegoating him.

" I'm trying my hardest and they're trying their hardest to squash me," said Blum. "If they want to see something done, they should at least have the decency and courtesy to talk to me sit down with me and work with me. I'll get it done. But the amount of money I had to spend on legal fees to protect what is rightfully mine could have fixed the building to a degree that they wouldn't complain about it."

Sheehan calls Blum "a recalcitrant owner"... “...who has a long history in New York City, in Harlem, in New London, Connecticut," Sheehan said. "He has been told what he needs to do to take care of this building. He has been told what he needs to do to remediate this building. And he simply does not believe that the rules apply to him. He does not believe that what engineers who have now looked at this building from the city, from the Department of Transportation and from Amtrak are telling him about how dangerous this building could become. It needs to be made watertight, or this deterioration will continue. And so it is incumbent upon him to be a responsible building owner, and whether he thinks that the rules apply to him or not, you know, it is not that that's not our issue. The rules do apply to him. There is work that needs to be done to make this building watertight. He is suing the county to try to retain ownership of this building.”

Democratic Albany County Executive Dan McCoy says the county is making a final motion against Blum in federal court.

“And now we're gonna start to take legal action against the Phoenix LLC and Mr. Blum, to really start saying we're gonna penalize you for all the money we're spending, for the BS lawsuits you keep throwing at us, you know, let us redevelop it, let us do something, you know," McCoy said. "If I can say to him, and I've met with him, I’d tell him 'look at, step out of this. Let us redevelop it, stop fighting the community, do what's right for the people. If you truly care and you're an artist, then let us redevelop it, so we can get rid of this eyesore.'”

McCoy says it would cost a small fortune to tear down the asbestos-laden 11-story 70,000 square foot building. Blum has until August 8th to take action to remediate the structure.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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