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
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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.
Today, the Troy Atrium houses nearly 600 state workers.
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.