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Clarkson plans to redevelop downtown’s Congdon Hall and Snell Hall

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POTSDAM - Clarkson University’s commitment to revitalize its downtown campus has entered into its next phase as the university has accepted a proposal from Omni Housing Development and Sequence Development to redevelop the Congdon Hall and Downtown Snell Hall buildings (adjacent to Congdon).

The mixed-use project introduces the region’s first venue providing cultural arts and interactive learning experiences to residents of the north country. It will also feature residential units designed for graduate and post-doc students and market-rate housing for professionals.

The Regional Arts and Interactive Learning Project (RAIL), an innovative collaboration between the St. Lawrence County Arts Council and the North Country Children’s Museum, will provide space for artists’ business incubators, a changing gallery exhibition, professionally equipped art studios and K-12 interactive learning stations in the STEAM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics).

The university currently plans to enter into a long-term ground lease with Omni-Sequence to redevelop the buildings. At the end of the ground lease the property will revert to Clarkson.

The combined initiatives are designed to bring more economic activity into businesses and cultural offerings in the downtown Potsdam community, provide options for a growing graduate student population, and create dynamic opportunities for entrepreneurship and learning in the 21st century.

“This is the next step in our active investment in the future of our downtown campus,” according to Clarkson President Tony Collins. “Clarkson is committed to the region’s vision to cultivate innovative clusters like the arts in our rural communities, encourage small business start-ups and elevate global recognition of the north country as one of the special places on the planet to visit, live, work and study.”

“We view this project as a dynamic partnership between the University, RAIL, the village of Potsdam and the larger north country community,” Jeffrey A. Buell, president of Sequence Development, said. “It offers a unique opportunity to provide high-quality housing downtown, while fostering cultural and economic development throughout the north country. We don’t believe it is enough to just redevelop these buildings, we want to create a destination that will bring more people downtown and breathe new life into Potsdam.”

Both buildings in Clarkson’s project will be nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. The renovation brings Downtown Snell Hall full circle to its beginning service to the Potsdam Community. Original construction for the current building was completed in 1919 for the Potsdam Normal School and would eventually house its Crane School of Music, before the State University moved to its current campus on Pierrepont Avenue.

Congdon Hall was the former home of Potsdam College’s Research and Development Center and the Congdon Campus School, before becoming a residence hall. Clarkson gradually occupied offices, classroom and residence spaces and eventually purchased both buildings during the 1950s to accommodate its expanding enrollment.

In Congdon Hall, Omni-Sequence currently plans to create an apartment community that makes use of its unique spaces. The two-story gymnasium will be repurposed into a state-of-the art fitness facility, and laundry facilities and common spaces will also be added.

Downtown Snell Hall will become a dynamic mixed-use facility that includes arts and learning uses on the first and second floors, with attractive professional housing on the third and fourth floors.

The Regional Arts and Interactive Learning Project is slated to occupy 35,000 square feet in Snell. The North Country Children’s Museum will occupy the first and second floors of the north wing and has plans for exhibits, museum shop, community room and offices. The St. Lawrence County Arts Council will utilize the first and second floors of the south wing for a gallery, retail gallery, art studios, arts incubator space, visiting artist studio, offices, an “industrial” arts space and virtual learning resource center, along with a café and community/assembly space.

Downtown Snell Hall will also feature market-rate housing that will help area employers recruit professional staff more readily. The third floor will consist of a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments that make great reuse of the former classroom space. Each will have unique finishes, tremendous views and high ceilings. The fourth floor will also play into the historic layout of the building, creating 11 larger “loft”-style apartments that will feature two bedrooms and larger apartments.

Exterior plans call for maximizing the Elm St. parking north of the buildings, with new vehicular and pedestrian pavements, lighting, benches, bike parking, trees, bus drop-off, and a rear-entrance canopy. The green space across from the village office complex will be preserved as a “great lawn” for outdoor events and arts fairs, restoring damaged trees and planting new ones. The courtyard between Congdon and Snell will be enhanced with potential use for outdoor dining or a children’s play area.

The most recent step in Clarkson’s evolution of its Downtown Campus — major renovations to the historic Old Main building — was initiated last August and will house the North Country’s first green data center using IBM technologies and research facilities for the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, a subsidiary of Clarkson University.

The now-completed first phase of Clarkson’s downtown redevelopment saw renovation of Clarkson Hall for Health Professions programs (Doctor of Physical Therapy and Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies), renovation of Peyton Hall as a business incubator for Clarkson’s Shipley Center for Innovation, and development of business space for the community in Lewis House.

Omni Housing Development of Albany is a highly experienced entity, specializing in the development, financing, construction and management of affordable housing. Omni is teaming with Sequence Development founder Jeffrey Buell to develop the housing. Members of Sequence have already produced great success in this type of endeavor for the city of Troy and with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

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