Troy’s Urban Renewal Renewed
City Hall Gone, Uncle Sam Still in his Grave

1341 Troy’s city hall was sacked by the Trojans themselves this summer to make way for new urban renewal. CLUI photo.THEY TORE DOWN CITY HALL in Troy this year. The mayor, poetically, called the event “an addition through subtraction.” And though few miss the building, another few were disappointed to learn that the city government is still around, relocated just a few blocks away, for the time being. Where it will go, nobody knows.

The modernist brutalistic angular and moldy old city hall was built in 1974, when urban renewal projects were sweeping the country, addressing economic blight as if it was a problem created (and cured) by architecture. A row of Victorian commercial buildings in the center of town was demolished to make way for the free-standing new seat of government, and its concrete parking garage.

A year ago, after months of delays, the mayor ordered demolition to begin on December 31, 2010, the last day of the year, so he could keep his promises, and so as not to jeopardize the state’s $2 million Restore NY grant, already appropriated for the purpose. The demolition was soon halted though, as the city council had not given the go ahead, the contractor’s methods were being challenged, and the neighbors were complaining. The partially demolished building sat for six months while the contractor sought out bonds, and the city was cited for starting the demolition before the asbestos situation had been assessed and abated.

Things were straightened out and demolition started up again in June, and by July the building was gone. The city then officially transferred ownership of the site, 1 Monument Square, to the developer who won the contract to build a new mixed use project there, Troy City Center LLC. The project is part of a larger redevelopment of the city’s downtown Hudson River waterfront, also being planned. Today’s urban renewal renewing yesterday’s. Perhaps appropriate for a city whose motto is Ilium fuit, Troja est, a line from Vergil’s Aeneid, about the ancient Grecian war for the city of Troy (Illium), literally meaning “Ilium was, Troy is,” and generally meaning that the past is dead, and lives on.

City Hall erased itself without a clear plan for the future. It is currently in leased space in an old Verizon building, a building which is owned by a local losing bidder for the redevelopment project, who also owns the building next door to the old city hall, and who was making complaints about the shoddy and hasty demolition effort. The city does not expect its lease in the Verizon building will be renewed in their favor.

Other sites considered, and so far rejected, include the massive and ornate old Proctors Theater, empty for decades, and the old Kentucky Fried Chicken block, where the fast food building has been shuttered for nearly a decade. But it is unlikely there will be money to build a new city hall from scratch anytime soon, and the city is full of empty space, needing use. A plan to move to downtown’s Dauchy Building, already owned by the city, is on hold for various reasons, including choking on the $2.2 million it is expected to cost to move there, and the fact that due to lack of space, relocating there may require turning the old porn theater next door, shut down by the city a few years ago, into the city council chamber. Tee hee.

As with most small cities, local politics, played out through buildings, can be as revealing as they are entertaining. But it seems this city’s fictions are often stronger than its facts. This being, after all, where Santa Claus made his first appearance (In 1823, when The Night Before Christmas was published for the first time, in the local paper), and where “Uncle Sam” lies buried in a local graveyard. Ilium indeed. And so on.

1342 Uncle Sam's grave. CLUI photo