Picture a building of Manhattan-style loft apartments, occupied by artists who collaborate and share their creative expression with the community, drawing businesses and residents to a once-again vibrant downtown.
The award-winning development company Kearney Realty & Development Group, based in Baldwin Place, New York, plans to make that happen with its newest project at 52 Church Street in Gloversville. The company is investing $20 million in the city, constructing 73 loft-style apartments, with high ceilings and large windows, giving them a hip, NYC vibe.
The company has discovered a path to success for downtown revitalization and has already proven that it works in three other cities in New York, with a fourth site under construction. Two more projects in the Mohawk Valley are currently under way. Glove City Lofts will be the seventh project.
Ken Kearney, president and founder of the Kearney Realty Group, does not take credit for the idea that led to these revolutionary projects. Sean Kearney, the Kearney Group’s Vice President and Ken Kearney’s son, came up with the vision to build mixed-use buildings that provide affordable housing for artists, dancers, writers, musicians, and other creatives, combined with units of middle-income housing. Add businesses, like a microbrewery, fitness center, or boutique, in the retail spaces on the first floor, and the effect is amplified. Paired with his father’s 30 years of experience as a developer, the father-son team has implemented a winning formula for urban renewal.
Ken Kearney is no stranger to breathing new life into deteriorated areas of town. That is how he began his career in Beacon, NY. However, over the years, he took on more traditional projects of affordable, senior, and supported housing. Sean’s idea has taken Kearney full circle, back to his roots of restoring downtowns.
“We combined his concept with what I had learned 30 years ago, and we took a chance,”
Ken Kearney said. It paid off, and now other upstate communities are benefiting from the Kearneys’ expertise and creativity.
Kearney searched for a long time to find the perfect property that would have the impact that he wants it to have on downtown Gloversville. It is not just about finding a property but choosing one that will connect other parts of the city and have a reach far beyond the single property.
“There is motivation to create unique, evolutionary projects that revitalize downtowns,” Kearney said. “As part of that and the synergy that you create, there are so many ancillary benefits when these projects are properly located and developed correctly,” he said.
The Church Street site will connect Gloversville’s Main Street to the area of Trail Station Park that is adjacent to the creek near City Hall.
“We hope to see a restaurant involved in one of the historic buildings close by,” Kearney said. “We feel that if we take our model and develop it in this location, we will have similar success that we’ve enjoyed with our previous projects,” he said.
The idea is that the artists’ community will be a catalyst for change in the entire downtown area.
“The positive energy that will start on Church Street and spread in a couple of different directions—once it impacts Main Street, the hope of course is that Main Street becomes a destination again,” Kearney said.
Kearney emphasizes that his company does not go into a community to monopolize development. “There’s a lot of property owners that have been up there for years that I think would welcome this new synergy,” he said. Kearney Realty & Development Group will be reaching out to other property owners to share information, ideas, and concepts that have worked well in other locations, all with the goal of fostering a strong sense of community that will bolster the revitalization efforts in the area.
After selecting the property, Kearney Realty & Development Group will secure all the approvals it needs, do a detailed study of any environmental hazards, and then submit an application to the NYS Division of Housing for funding. Kearney has high praise for the NYSDOH and actually finds the process a pleasurable one. “I credit NYS Division of Housing and their staff in working with me on every level–design, marketing,” he said. “There were a lot of nuances to be worked out, but it was all worked out with positive dialogue back and forth,” he said.
Kearney uses a combination of funding sources in addition to funds from the state, including tax credit equity from Raymond James Tax Credit Funds, private funding, banks, and low-interest loans from the MIHP.
The 18-month construction process will create 250 to 300 jobs for the region. After the project is completed, it will take about two months to lease out the apartments. “Then we cut the ribbon,” Kearney said.
The building is specifically designed to foster collaboration between artists and to help artists develop their skills and trades. The Lofts will offer common areas for artists to gather, performance space with walls mirrors, ballet barres, rubber flooring, and upgraded soundproofing. A “maker’s/innovator’s” space will house a slop sink, drafting tables, and workbenches for fine artists and crafters to work together. In addition, through a collaboration with the Glove City Arts Alliance, the building will house a gallery space where artists can exhibit their works.
Other amenities include laundry facilities, an internet café with complimentary access to high-speed internet, and exterior and interior bicycle storage. The Lofts will have an onsite superintendent living in the building and a management office.
New York State’s Office of Planning and Development, which operates the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, has recognized the role that public art and artist housing play in revitalizing upstate communities. Having artists brings vibrancy to the community and attracts residents, business, and visitors to the area, fostering the renewal efforts significantly.
In addition to artist housing, Kearney plans to find a craft brewery or restaurant to occupy retail space at street level.
Like art and artists, the Office of Planning and Development has formally recognized microbreweries as catalysts for downtown revitalization, and Kearney Development has proven that to be true more than once. For example, the company’s project, the Lofts at Dietz Street, has artist and middle-income housing as well as Hartwick College’s “Grain Innovation Center.” Its Queen City Lofts in Poughkeepsie houses artists and middle-income residents as well as the Zeus Brewing Company. In 2019, the company received the Upstate Project of the Year Award from the NYS Association for Affordable Housing for this development, showing that this winning combination works to energize small cities, making them places for business to prosper. Another building, The Lofts on Main, earned the city of Peekskill a Planning Achievement Award from the Westchester Municipal Planning Federation.
To make the Fulton County project even more attractive, the Glove City Lofts will be a green building,
compliant with the Green Building Initiative of New York State and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified, along with other sustainable development qualifications.
The COVID-19 pandemic boosted the demand for upstate housing, making Kearney’s loft-style apartments even more appealing. “Prior to the COVID crisis, and even more so because of the COVID crisis, the small urban centers are going to be more attractive,” he said. “People still want that urban feel with a sidewalk, and due to the crisis, I think you’re seeing an outflow of population to some of these urban centers. There’s an opportunity for some of these smaller centers to recreate themselves, to redefine themselves,” he said.
The Kearney Realty & Development Group looks forward to helping to turn Gloversville into a vibrant urban center in Fulton County, continuing its string of past successes in upstate New York.