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Clarkson begins second phase of restoring downtown campus buildings

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POTSDAM - Clarkson University’s plan to renovate and re-open its historic downtown campus buildings was touted by college officials Thursday as a key to revitalizing the village.

“This is an important day for us,” Clarkson President Anthony G. Collins said during a morning press conference.

“We’ve been talking about redeveloping downtown in recent years,” Mr. Collins said. “There are challenges from political to financial to practical. We want to work as partners to bring vitality back to the village of Potsdam.”

The second phase of the university’s multi-million dollar downtown redevelopment project began this week with fencing installed around the perimeter of Old Main, Clarkson’s oldest academic building.

Renovations are supposed to start next week on the three-story building, Main Street, which will be converted into an energy-efficient data center.

Constructed in 1896 out of Potsdam sandstone, the majority of the building has been vacant since the early 1990s when Clarkson opened its Center for Advanced Materials Processing on its hill campus.

Over a one-year period, the interior of Old Main building will be converted into the north country’s first “green data center.” The facility will use IBM Technologies and house research facilities for the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries, a research group that’s a subsidiary of Clarkson.

The Beacon Institute has 40 solar-powered monitoring stations that collect water quality data along the Hudson River.

“Water is the scarcest resource we face as a planet,” Mr. Collins said. “We believe that technology being developed here and literally go global.”

Besides housing Clarkson’s computing operations, space will be made available in Old Main for other local, regional and national customers who want to lease space for their data operations.

“This colocation facility will provide local access to a world-class server hosting facility at reasonable rates,” the university said in a prepared statement.

Next month, the university also plans to request proposals to develop Congdon House residence hall across the street from Old Main and the third and fourth floors of downtown Snell Hall, adjacent to Congdon.

Mr. Collins said the growth of the university’s health profession programs has created a demand for more housing, particularly for graduate and post-doctoral students, as well as younger faculty and staff members. The occupational therapy and physical therapy programs enroll between 200 and 250 graduate students a year.

“We are in a growth mode. We’ve done surveys and our concern is that we grow programs and we can’t attract students if we have no place for them to live,” he said.

News about the new housing prompted a Potsdam landlord to raise concerns about developers getting reduced property tax agreements or a Payment in Lieu of Tax agreement with the town and village.

“That’s unfair competition if other landlords are coming in and getting a tax break,” Luke D. Dailey said. “I would be very opposed to another large developer coming in and getting breaks to develop more housing.”

Plans for downtown Snell Hall also include using 3,500 square feet to house the Regional Arts and Interactive Learning Project. The project, known as RAIL, is a collaboration between the St. Lawrence County Council and the North Country Children’s Museum that’s designed to provide interactive learning experiences and cultural arts enrichment activities to north country residents.

The building will house artists, business incubators, a changing gallery exhibition, professionally-equipped art studios and STEAM K-12 interactive learning spaces.

Mr. Collins also announced Clarkson’s Shipley Center for Innovation is in the process of negotiating a large Series A investment from a corporation that would be housed in Damon Hall next to Payton Hall.

Plans are also under way for renovation of the former liberal studies building on Pierrepont Avenue into additional educational facilities for the health professions programs. A search has been launched for a chairperson for a the new Department of Occupational Therapy.

Mr. Collins also announced that Clarkson’s Munter Trails will soon connect with downtown Potsdam at Maple Street. The two-mile trail system is along the Racquette River near Clarkson’s canoe house.

The first phase of downtown redevelopment involved renovation Clarkson Hall for health professions programs, renovation of Peyton Hall for the Shipley Center for Innovation and development of community business space in Lewis House.

Mr. Collins noted that Clarkson pays full village, town, school and county property taxes totaling $200,000 a year on all space that is rented or leased to businesses. That includes J.R. Weston properties such as the Clarkson Inn and University Bookstore.

“Any of our square footage that’s used for commercial activity pays property taxes,” he said.

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