On Saturday morning your humble Albablogger got the chance to visit the site of a very interesting new project in a location most Albanians probably don't spend much time thinking about: the abandoned, block-long Freihofer complex on Spruce Street. One neighborhood resident told me that despite having lived in Sheridan Hollow for almost thirty years, he'd never really looked at the building, though he does remember that before the factory closed he would sometimes smell chocolate chip cookies on the wind in the middle of the night. Other people visiting the site mentioned family members who had once worked there. When the factory shut down in the early eighties 150 people lost their jobs, and since then the complex has fallen into serious disrepair. Most people now would have no reason to visit this part of Spruce Street. Local Developer Dino Kacani wants to change that -- and not by turning the building into luxury apartments.
The space is huge, so a lot of different concepts will be used to fill it up. As of now, the main idea is that the building would act as an incubator to help local food businesses get off the ground without having to invest in their own space, with a commercial kitchen and market stalls available to tenants. The market stalls will be next to the open, overgrown area you can see in the second photo above, which will be turned into a large glassed-in atrium and shared courtyard space where people can sit down and eat. Larger manufacturing spaces in a different part of the complex would go to bigger operations, like the vinegar and cold-pressed juice companies Kacani is currently in contact with.
The idea that the local residents on the tour seemed most interested in was a small grocery store/food market, which would be a major addition to a neighborhood that's officially a food desert. Kacani said that he's been in touch with three different companies or organizations about potentially creating a market in the space -- including the Honest Weight Food Coop -- but he seemed particularly excited about a concept created by one organization that charges members for groceries on an income-based sliding scale.
The remaining space in the massive complex would be filled by self-storage units (an unglamorous but practical way to find productive use for all of that space) and three small apartments on the upper floors that could potentially be rented by busy business owners who want to stay close to their new market stall or little bakery.
Of course, at this point nothing is guaranteed. According to the information that Kacani made available to attendees at the open house, the project will cost around ten million dollars over several stages -- and that's if nothing else in the complex suddenly collapses. Albany has seen several major projects fall through due to financing issues over the past few years. But all of the neighborhood residents and reps from local government visiting the site on Saturday seemed excited about the project and eager to see it succeed. It's possible that, after a 40 year slump, Sheridan Hollow might sometimes smell like cookies baking at 3 AM again, and local folks might be able to get a decent job on Spruce Street.