Tom Nardacci has a vested interest in small cities, and this week his Troy Innovation Garage is hosting the first in a series of discussions surrounding the prospects of their future.
The local businessman has his fingerprints left throughout the Capital District’s Tri-City area. In the Collar City, he converted a long-abandoned building into the Troy Innovation Garage, the home of Aurelius Coworks. He founded Bull Moose Club, a second coworks office space in downtown Albany. And in Schenectady, his public relations firm, Gramercy, was paramount behind Schenectady’s effort to land Rivers Casino and Resort.
Aurelius Coworks recently announced its “The Future of Small Cities” initiative, a series of roundtable discussions paired with masterclasses designed to bring nationally-recognized experts to the Capital District to explore topics such as urban waterfronts, climate change, design, public art, gentrification and community.
Nardacci said he had an atypical childhood while growing up in his grandparents’ Rensselaer corner store on Broadway. He lived in a blue-collar neighborhood in a city whose economic health disproportionately depended upon the old BASF plant which shutdown in 2000. Coversations on local politics were abundant, which would lead to his later run as City Council President.
A short time after launching the Troy Innovation Garage, Nardacci said he realized, “I created a modern-day version of my grandparents’ store. My grandparents’ store was the stabilizer to our neighborhood. It’s one building that means something special to the block.” That stabilizer lies the foundation for a larger community, something Nardacci said is what real estate investors are looking to establish. “People are coming here to do commerce, do trade, but also to be a part of something.”
Throughout the series, which is currently scheduled to run through April, guest lecturers from Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Bogotá, Raleigh and Chattanooga will present case studies relevant to issues of importance to the Capital District.
New York Times-Bestselling author, writer and journalist Reif Larsen
is to host the discussions, the first of which is titled “High Water Marks: Redeveloping the Urban Waterfront” on Thursday, Sept. 19. Guest speaker Ray Gastil, former planning director for Pittsburgh, spearheaded the steel city’s conversion to a sprawling urban community. Part of that effort was defined by the city reclaiming access to its waterfront. After decades of neglecting the Hudson River, Albany, Troy and Rensselaer are working to do the same.
Two years ago, the Capital District Transportation Committee turned to the public to hear Albany’s concerns over the 787 corridor. When the highway was built in the mid-60s it severed the city from the Hudson River. Today, as many as 88,000 motorists travel upon it each day. It’s a main thorofare for residents traveling between south of Albany to Cohoes. Nonetheless, as ideas were exchanged, a popular possibility was to tear it down for a more neighborly boulevard.
The committee was tasked with developing a regional plan for federally funded transportation projects. The corridor study fell under what is now known as its “New Visions 2040: New Visions for a Quality Region,” identifying principles for transportation planning and investment. Other projects from this study included the conversion of a 787 off-ramp at Clinton Avenue into a walkway, and the merger of the Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail with the Mohawk Hudson Bike Hike Trail. The latter projects are underway, but demolishing 787 as a whole was ultimately viewed as a logistical nightmare, both too expensive and too political in scope. Politics, is something Nardacci aims to avoid with this endeavor.
“I think that we’ll get a lot of variety in differing parties,” said Nardacci. “I do think we’ll get the spectrum, and that’s what we want. The hope is that we’ll be able to create a dialogue, take comments, take thoughts, take questions, and have this group that will talk a little deeper about it.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.