Spontaneous Combustion in Albany?

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

On October 22, an enormous (11 stories, 500,000 square feet) abandoned warehouse on the Albany, New York waterfront caught fire. Smoke blanketed a large section of the city’s downtown and an adjacent highway. After five days, the fire at Central Warehouse continues to flare, with firemen hosing it down from the outside due to fear of possible combustibles within.

What-to-do-with-Central-Warehouse has been a downtown Albany development question for years. Abandoned since the late 1980’s, Central Warehouse (CW) reached rock bottom in ’97 when it was sold for a dollar and back taxes. Since then it’s passed (some might say flipped) through a number of hands, with the price steadily rising along the way. The last sale took place in 2007 for $1.4 mil. The buyers were a team composed of Axiom Capital, an Albany-based commercial real estate financing firm, and CW Montgomery LLC, a group of undisclosed partners. At the time, Axiom thought the state might kick in a $5 million rehab grant from the Restore New York program.

Over the years, no rehabs of CW happened. But much talk was talked about turning the building into a condo/commercial/retail palace. Sure, the highway overpass and railway bridge right outside the building’s non-existent windows were a tad problematical. As were the non-existent windows themselves, and assorted environmental hazards within the structure. CW, a former refrigeration and dry storage facility, is a veritable concrete fortress. Chock full of environmental bads. Punching out windows and removing the bads would be difficult and ultra pricey. Not impossible tho. As for the highway overpass, if the CW’s young professional residents looked past the stream of cars flowing past their windows, they’d have a glorious view of the Hudson River. The railway bridge? Mooning Amtrak from the comfort of your loft-style condo is a great way to cap bar crawls.

Yep– the plans to revitalize CW were grand. Alas. As the real estate bubble deflated, so did the plans.

But back to that blaze. Among the hands through which Central Warehouse passed were those of Brooklyn developer Joshua Guttman of Albany Assets LLC. It was Guttman who in 2007, allegedly sold CW to Axiom and the undisclosed partners of CW Montgomery. Joshua Guttman (not related to Caspar Gutman, the morbidly obese, obsessive seeker of the Maltese Falcon) has a history of troubled development projects turning smoky. Prime example: the 10 alarm Greenpoint Terminal Market fire of May, 2007. The immense Brooklyn waterfront property was left in ruins. Declared to be arson, the fire was ultimately laid at the door (shopping cart?) of a vagrant.

Incidentally, the Central Warehouse fire is being considered suspicious. Vagrants have been spotted on the premises. (So have some mysterious workers who seemed to be removing copper fixtures.) But unlike the Greenpoint Terminal Market, CW isn’t in ruins. Yet.

Update: Central Warehouse (aka 143 Montgomery Street) is apparently still on the market. Offered at $4.9 million by Carrow Real Estate Services of Albany. With possible grants still available for rehab. Carrow is headed by Charles M. Carrow. On the company’s website Charles Carrow is described as a board member and treasurer of the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District (BID). The BID knows good grants! However, Mr. Carrow isn’t listed in either position on the current BID site. More news: the culprit behind the fire at CW may have been nabbed. The mysterious workers allegedly done it. Though previously engaged in legit labor at the warehouse under the auspices of CW Montgomery et al, the varmints allegedly snuck back in to crib fixtures. While popping pipes, their torches ignited the building’s cork-lined walls. Will the resulting damage mean “New Price” for Central Warehouse? And if a buyer bites, will the possible grants materialize? Stay tuned…

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