January 11, 2003
Section: Albany/NYS
Edition: Schenectady Albany; Final
Page: B-04

Judge awards Albany title to old St. Joseph's Church


Gazette Reporter

ALBANY - State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Keegan on Friday awarded the city title to St. Joseph's Church by eminent domain. "I applaud Judge Keegan's ruling today and I look forward to working with Historic Albany in restoring this grand, historic building that has such a prominent place in history of Albany," Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings said in a statement. The previous owner of the Gothic-style Arbor Hill building, local restaurateur Elda Abate, plans to appeal the decision. Abate's attorney, Randall Kehoe of Albany, called Keegan's decision a "rubber stamp" ruling. "The city today brought a petition based on what they call an emergency," Kehoe said. "They already [took] possession a year ago; now, to already have possession and then a year later to claim an emergency is an misnomer. . . . It's not an emergency; it's a falsehood because an emergency cannot last for one year." The city had been trying to take control of the former Roman Catholic church at 38 Ten Broeck since it condemned the building in December 2001, deeming the structure "unsafe and unfit." The church, where Mass was last celebrated nearly a decade ago, was recently named one of the state's most threatened historic places by the Preservation League of New York State. Public Safety Commissioner John C. Nielsen closed the building after engineering reports indicated it was in a "dynamic mode of failure," only several months after the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese sold it Abate for $1. The city reports it has spent more than $250,000 to stabilize the church and keep it from collapsing. Abate had been asked to help pay for it, but did not, according to the city. Earlier this year, City Court Judge Cheryl Coleman fined Abate $72,000 for code violations. On Friday, Abate called Judge Keegan's ruling an "example of the corruption" in the city of Albany. "This is the most beautiful building in Albany. . . . Nobody else wanted it. I had told the city about my business plans and they all approved and that's why I bought it," she said. Abate, who said she still owes about $10,000 in taxes on the property, had planned to use the old church as an entertainment hall for weddings, receptions and other large events. The city plans to turn St. Joseph's over to the Historic Albany Foundation, which has received a $300,000 state grant to further stabilize and rehabilitate the church. "It is my intention," Jennings added, "to work collectively with everyone who has the best interest of St. Joseph's to find a dignified and useful purpose for the building."

Contact Marilyn Hipp at 395-3112 or hipp@dailygazette.com.

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