Chris Churchill

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Troy

Is Troy’s Atrium mis­take a mar­ket op­por­tu­nity?

Ashop­ping mall in the heart of down­town? It seemed like such a good idea. It was the 1970s, after all, when old cen­ter cities seemed like relics. If they could be­come more like sub­ur­then bia, maybe, just maybe, cities could sur­vive.

But it wasn’t long be­fore the Troy Atrium, which will turn 40 next year, was be­ing seen for what it is: A ter­ri­ble mis­take. The block-sized com­plex be­tween Third and Fourth streets strug­gled to keep re­tail­ers from the start. The once-glow­ing pre­dic­tions from city of­fi­cials — “It turned the town around!” — quickly seemed fool­ish.

In­stead of a boon, the Un­cle Sam Atrium was a prob­lem.

It still is one. Troy’s old cen­ter has un­der­gone a won­der­ful re­birth in re­cent years, but most of the ac­tion is hap­pen­ing in the area west of the Atrium. The blocks to its east, mean­while, are less suc­cess­ful, largely be­cause the Atrium and its at­tached park­ing garage act as a bar­rier that di­vides down­town.

I called David Bryce, who owns the

Con­tact colum­nist Chris Churchill at 518-4545442 or email cchurchill@ time­sunion. com

Atrium and a lot of other prop­erty in cen­tral Troy, ex­pect­ing push back to the oft-heard crit­i­cisms of his build­ing. In­stead, he agreed with al­most all of them.

“Ur­ban re­newal put a lot of ster­ile build­ings where old build­ings should be,” Bryce said. “I bought the build­ing in 1999 plan­ning to rip it down.”

The Atrium is a sur­vivor. Though it is a re­tail dead zone, save for a ter­rific used book­store, the build­ing is suc­ceed­ing as an of­fice build­ing, mostly for state work­ers. Nearly 600 work there, ac­cord­ing to Bryce, and that is no small thing.

Still, the pub­licly owned atrium that gives the com­plex its name re­mains a life­less, if not de­press­ing, court­yard most days of the week — ex­cept on win­ter Satur­day morn­ings. That’s when the Troy farm­ers mar­ket moves in­side and oc­cu­pies the court­yard.

This is an in­ter­est­ing time for the mar­ket, founded in 2000. Buoyed by its growth and suc­cess, or­ga­niz­ers are think­ing se­ri­ously about its need for a per­ma­nent home.

To that end, or­ga­niz­ers have hired the Pro­ject for Pub­lic Spa­ces, con­sul­tants who have helped with the de­vel­op­ment of mar­ket build­ings around the coun­try, in­clud­ing the Bos­ton Pub­lic Mar­ket. They’re invit­ing the pub­lic to a work­shop on Wed­nes­day evening in the Franklin Plaza Ball­room. It starts at 5 p.m.

The work­shop is about the mar­ket’s fu­ture. What does the pub­lic want?

“We’re open to all sug­ges­tions and pos­si­bil­i­ties,” said Zack Met­zger, a farmer in Brunswick serv­ing as the mar­ket’s pres­i­dent.

The ques­tions be­ing faced by the mar­ket aren’t nec­es­sar­ily easy. And given that its shop­pers have an emo­tional at­tach­ment to it, any an­swer seems cer­tain to pro­voke at least some dis­plea­sure.

On warm sum­mer morn­ings, the mar­ket is one of this re­gion’s great out­door plea­sures. But be­cause sales suf­fer when it rains, farm­ers would ap­pre­ci­ate pro­tec­tion from the el­e­ments.

In a per­ma­nent home, can the mar­ket keep its sum­mer­time feel even if there is some­thing akin to a roof?

Would the mar­ket ex­pand be­yond Satur­days? And if not, could it jus­tify space in a per­ma­nent struc­ture?

In re­cent years, the mar­ket has been linked to pro­pos­als for the long-planned re­de­vel­op­ment of the old City Hall site at One Mon­u­ment Square. If you know any­thing about Troy, you prob­a­bly know the spot has been a frus­trat­ing hole for city of­fi­cials — and a hole it re­mains.

Still, a per­ma­nent mar­ket at One Mon­u­ment Square has ap­peal. The site is cen­trally lo­cated, and on sum­mer days, the mar­ket’s ven­dors could spill out of its build­ing to oc­cupy the very streets where it now suc­ceeds.

But don’t sleep on the Atrium, the mar­ket’s win­ter home since 2002. Turn­ing part of the build­ing into a per­ma­nent mar­ket might fix the long-stand­ing prob­lems with the build­ing’s de­sign and might help to re­pair the dam­age done to down­town by its con­struc­tion four decades back.

Bryce told me the build­ing’s Broad­way fa­cade is damn ugly, and he’s right. The Atrium’s blank wall along Fourth Street is not much bet­ter.

But what if, as part of an in­door-out­door mar­ket, holes were punched in the fa­cade to open the build­ing up to sur­round­ing streets? What if the ugly Broad­way fa­cade, which looks out on an usu­ally wide side­walk, be­came the mar­ket’s en­trance and also a plaza for ven­dors?

Such a pro­posal wouldn’t please every­body. Noth­ing will. But even its crit­ics of the plan would con­cede this: It’s a bet­ter idea than tear­ing down in­ter­est­ing old build­ings to build a bland shop­ping mall.

Skip Dick­stein / Times Union

To­day, the Troy Atrium houses nearly 600 state work­ers.

Chris Churchill

Lori Van Buren / times union ar­chive

the in­te­rior of troy’s Atrium mall in 2015. the pub­lic is in­vited to a work­shop about the fu­ture of the farm­ers mar­ket on Wed­nes­day.

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