ALBANY -- The Department of Health will move nearly 600 employees from buildings in Troy to the Corning Tower, state officials confirmed Wednesday.
The move is part of a larger "re-stacking" of state workspace, announced last month by Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito. It's pegged to save $9 million in the Capital Region, where the state leases just over 5 million square feet of office space.
Because of employee attrition, vacancy rates in state buildings -- including the Corning Tower, the largest structure in the Empire State Plaza -- are now averaging around 25 percent, and the state is ending leases in privately owned buildings as it consolidates more employees in its own facilities.
The move, along with the shift of 245 employees from the Office of Children and Family Services -- including IT workers now located in the Ten Eyck building -- to its Rensselaer campus are the first tangible actions. The moves are expected to take place in the first quarter of 2012.
The Corning Tower currently houses top managers of both OGS and DOH, as well as health department research labs. The DOH move will decrease its vacancy rate to around 5 percent.
"A 25 percent vacancy rate in state-owned and -leased buildings is a waste of tax dollars, inefficient and unacceptable," OGS spokeswoman Heather Groll said.
Workers will come from two buildings just north of Troy's downtown on River Street, straddling the Collar City Bridge: Hedley Park Place and Flanagan Square. The state leases 66,602 square feet in the Hedley building for $799,985 a year, and 70,080 square feet in the Flanagan building for $819,936. The Hedley lease expired in June 2009, the Flanagan lease in July of this year.
Both buildings are owned by First Columbia. Kevin Bette, the company's president, did not return a call seeking comment.
But others in Troy had been working with his company to try to prevent the moves. News of the possible shuffle emerged last week when Carmella Mantello, a Republican candidate for mayor, raised the possibility of a move as a campaign issue. She lost the election to Lou Rosamalia, a Democrat.
Elizabeth Young, president of the Downtown Troy Business Improvement District, said First Columbia officials along with the local chambers of commerce met last week.
"It's certainly discouraging," she said. "The state workers that occupy some buildings are vital to the success of downtown. I'm hoping there's still a possibility they could stay."
Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, has his district office in the Hedley building and has family roots in the nearby neighborhood. He said First Columbia is preparing an analysis comparing the cost of moving and renovating with simply extending the leases.
"Hopefully, OGS will review that paperwork to really analyze whether it's cheaper to keep them in the existing facility," said McDonald. "Let's make sure we're saving money, but let's look at the community."
River Street north of the Green Island Bridge has undergone a mini-renaissance in recent years, with a strip of bars and restaurants immediately south of the Hedley building. There are plans to locate a new Bombers Burritos franchise on nearby King Street.
And local officials, including former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, R-Brunswick, fought to move the state jobs there. New York for decades has had a policy of leasing space in poorer urban neighborhoods, hoping to anchor economic reinvestment.
It's unclear how committed officials remain to that policy. Cuomo, announcing the re-stacking in October, said he was cognizant of the possibly detrimental effects of moving offices, but seemed more focused on the state's bottom line. OGS officials have previously aimed their efforts at extending existing leases for lower rents, which according to a 2010 report has saved over $14 million in the past three fiscal years.
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