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National Grid funds to aid historic preservation of two Utica properties

Posted 2/8/23

Preservation was on the mind of developer Joe Gehm when he and his partners acquired two historic properties in the city of Utica.

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National Grid funds to aid historic preservation of two Utica properties


UTICA — Preservation was on the mind of developer Joe Gehm when he and his partners acquired two historic properties in the city of Utica.

The former Utica Steam Cotton Factory was a vacant warehouse at 600 State St. near the construction site for the city’s new hospital. Less than a mile away in the Bagg’s Square neighborhood, the Commercial Travelers Insurance building sat empty at 70 Genesee St. Gehm’s Lahinch Group is helping change the fortunes of both buildings by acquiring and creating mixed use properties that support the residential and commercial needs of the neighborhoods, while still maintaining the historic nature and aesthetic of the properties.

The scope of each project was unique, but within guidelines of National Grid’s Main Street Revitalization program. Part of the utility company’s economic development portfolio, the Main Street Revitalization program funds well-planned projects with competitive viability that attract investment and capitalize on their distinct development potential — and provided $350,000 to the Lahinch Group for the projects.

“Lahinch Group could have easily knocked these buildings down and built new structures in their place,” said Alberto Bianchetti, regional director of customer and community engagement for National Grid. “Instead, it chose to preserve these buildings and with it, the proud history of a region experiencing an economic resurgence.”

The Utica Steam Cotton Factory project is part of a rebirth of the Lafayette Street neighborhood buoyed by construction of a new hospital complex. Built in 1867, the former factory was underutilized and mostly vacant when Lahinch Group became its developer. Construction crews were able to maintain much of the building’s character, preserving the natural brick, and post and beam construction, while keeping the 9-foot windows on each floor. Extensive masonry work was performed and the roof was replaced, but Gehm says it was the window replacement that breathed life into the building. More than 250 windows were replaced and had their openings repaired. 

The final product includes more than 40,000 square feet of commercial office space, 64 residential units and a storefront that will eventually be home to the first Mohawk Valley location of Syracuse-based Brooklyn Pickle sandwich shop.

“All in all, it was an incredible project,” Gehm said. “Nearly four years to get from beginning to end. As always, having National Grid’s support, both financially and project driven, helps us through difficult times in the real estate and development world.”

The 38,800-square-foot Commercial Travelers Insurance building is seen by every driver crossing the Genesee Street bridge into downtown Utica. Insurance companies have occupied the building for much of its nearly 120-year lifespan. In addition to 32 apartments on its upper levels, Syracuse-based engineering firm Barton & Loguidice D.P.C. opened its newest office on the first two floors in May.

“This historical preservation component of the building’s renovation was as important as the restoration itself,” Gehm said. “The project was an outstanding opportunity to restore a historic Utica landmark that is over a century old. There were unique circumstances and challenges that provided those involved the opportunity to learn new skills while also contributing to bringing the iconic building back to life.”

Originally built in 1905, contractors learned that it’s actually a complex of three different buildings that were built at different times from different materials, which presented an added challenge to construction crews trying to preserve existing elements while modernizing the property. Facades were repaired and weatherproofed, and interior woodwork, plaster ceilings and exterior features were restored. The building was brought up to code and new, energy efficient HVAC and mechanical systems were installed.


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