CivMix readers got a sneak preview of the S.T.E.A.M. Garden when it hosted a panel discussion on starting, sustaining and growing a small business in October. So the facility’s grand opening celebration on Dec. 10 was both a trip down memory lane and a look towards the future.
At 279 Central Ave., Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Media – S.T.E.A.M. – is breathing new life into a once-vacant building, a neighborhood, and the Capital Region’s creative economy. The first phase of renovation of the former St. Patrick’s School is now complete, and the S.T.E.A.M. Garden is welcoming entrepreneurs and co-workers.
The S.T.E.A.M. Garden is a collaborative effort led by the Central Avenue BID and its partners to create an innovative living lab that offers co-work space and other vital resources to entrepreneurs and small startups that may not otherwise be able to afford office space.
The $1.8 million public-private partnership is supported by $500,000 in New York Main Street program funds through New York State Homes and Community Renewal. The bulk of these funds were used for architecture and engineering, window repair and replacement and other general construction activities. Additionally, Empire State Development is providing a $350,000 capital grant, recommended by the Capital Region Economic Development Council.
“This is an innovative project that brings together entrepreneurs, disruptors, students and creative people in a hybrid incubator space,” said Anthony Capece, executive director of the Central Avenue BID. “It’s a crucial component of our efforts to boost economic activity, generate jobs and create a high quality of life along Central Avenue and in the city of Albany.”
University at Albany President Dr. Havidán Rodríguez attended the event, and said in a written statement:
“Since its inception, the S.T.E.A.M. Garden project has been closely tied to the University’s larger vision to integrate our downtown campus into the core of the city. Our Schuyler Building renovation project, which will become the home of our new College of Engineering and Applied Science, compliments the opening of the S.T.E.A.M. Garden perfectly as we create a corridor of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Just 1,000 feet from the S.T.E.A.M. Garden, the Phillip Schuyler School was built in 1912 as a high school for the City of Albany and later served as an elementary school. UAlbany purchased the building in 2013. It fills North Lake Avenue between Washington and Western Avenues and is situated at the western edge of UAlbany’s downtown academic campus.
In addition, the S.T.E.A.M. Garden is part of UAlbany’s Innovate 518 – a NYSTAR innovation Hot Spot. This collaborative effort brings together incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurial service providers from seven counties that make up the greater Capital Region – from the Catskills to the Adirondacks. They foster entrepreneurial activity, provide startups with networking and mentoring, educational and financial resources, and pathways to funding and tax incentives.
Several alumni of St. Patrick’s School joined the celebration, including former Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, who was in office when the Central Avenue BID developed its comprehensive plan, AveNew 2000. In many ways, the seeds for the S.T.E.A.M. Garden were planted by AveNew 2000. One of the concepts in the plan was the “Townsend Technology Center for Web-based Businesses.”
All told, nearly 200 people were on hand for the ribbon-cutting and public open house, and everyone had a connection to the project. Sean Maguire, the Vice President for Workforce Development and Community Education at SUNY Schenectady County Community College, was looking for the large bronze plaque that commemorated the construction of St. Patrick’s Institute in 1905. While taking a picture of the plaque, he noted that “Rt. Rev. Mgr. F. J. Maguire, Rector” was his 4th great uncle.
In 1983, William Kennedy wrote that Central Avenue was “scraggly, raffish, unloved, unsung, but staying busy even so, trying to tidy up and get it together.” If the S.T.E.A.M. Garden is a sign of things to come, the Avenue will once again be an economic force to be reckoned with.
Colleen M. Ryan has always been a storyteller. An innovative communications professional with experience in government, nonprofit and business sectors, she recently launched CMR Communications.