Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Times Union website is reporting that Bank of America will consolidate its Albany offices to the State Street building and move out of Kiernan Plaza (formerly, Union Station) early next year. Every time I think of the building I wish the inside were accessible to the general public in some context consistent with downtown Albany's recent attempts at drawing people in instead of forcing them out. Mayor Jennings was quoted in the article: "My feeling is that it should be a part of our downtown rebirth...It's a beautiful building, inside and out." Also, "It's an opportunity for us to make it part of the city...It was kind of closed up." It is a good sign to hear the mayor apparently has such a sentiment and it would be wonderful if a plan could actually be developed and financed within the next century to ensure the building's life continues and becomes even more relevant.
The few photos I've seen of the interior of the building show that it is architecturally stunning, refined, and continues to reap the benefits of its renovation in 1986. Times change and so does the methodology that goes along with dealing with cities' aging infrastructures. In 1968, when Union Station closed as a transportation hub in favor of Amtrak's new rail station across the Hudson in Rensselaer, the building lay vacant and subject to the demise so much of Albany suffered during the same period: eviction, vacancy, demolition, and, in many cases, vacant lots for years before rehabilitation. Thankfully, this building never reached demolition as people began to wise up to the values of reusing such architectural gems. Norstar bought the property after years of vacancy, vandalism, and general lack of maintenance which made Union Station an eyesore. The building was renovated and rechristened as Peter Kiernan Plaza as Norstar bank moved in for its headquarters. Norstar became Fleet Bank and Bank of America has been there for a few years. As bank headquarters go, I guess security is a reasonably important thing. A couple years ago, on a weekend excursion downtown with my camera, my fiance and I wondered if one could simply walk in and possibly see the lobby or some part of the interior of the building from the entrance in back, by the parking garage, in the old area where passengers boarded the trains to New York, Boston, Chicago, etc. Two guards rather rudely made us leave and looked at us as if we were from outer space for wanting to go inside the building.
This would be a tremendous opportunity for Union Station, a wonderful relic of Broadway's past in Albany, to show off all of what it was built to show off. Reuse as "mixed use" (retail, convention, residential, etc.,) as Mayor Jennings suggested is a great idea, but any idea which would boast the building being a public asset and not another sign of holed-up elite (government or corporate) would further the tradition this building and Norstar began in the early eighties when they went against the grain by simply saving the building. Some quarter of a century later, it is time to show our maturation as a city by giving this building back to its rightful owners, the citizens of Albany, and show it off to those coming through Albany to visit, as they did for so many years when their trains arrived and departed from Union Station.