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Albany common councilor, county legislator call for expanded access to New York State Capitol complex

A barricaded Empire State Plaza stairway.
Sam Fein
A barricaded Empire State Plaza stairway.

Two local legislators from Albany are asking Governor Kathy Hochul to remove barriers from Empire State Plaza stairs.

In a letter to the governor and Office of General Services Commissioner Jeanette Moy, Gabriella Romero, a common councilor representing Albany’s 6th ward, and Albany County Legislator Sam Fein, a fellow Democrat from the 6th district, say the barriers block the plaza's Madison Avenue and State Street entrances, which Fein says should be open to all.

"Every winter, the state puts up these barriers blocking off the stairs on the Madison Avenue and State Street side of the plaza, and it makes it much more difficult to enter the plaza," Fein said. "It really cuts off accessibility. And I think, you know, the Empire State Plaza is a public space, it's in the heart of the city of Albany, it should be open and accessible to all the residents of New York year round.”

Fein argues it's reasonable for the state to shovel and put salt down, noting there are stairways throughout the city and state that are open year round.

State Assemblymember Pat Fahy of the 109th district says no local lawmakers have reached out to her, and that she and fellow Democratic Assemblyman John McDonald of the 108th district have been in touch with OGS "a few times" about the barricades.

"And the bottom line is it's the marble part of the stair, the access points, the stairwells that are very slippery until it becomes a liability issue," said Fahy. "That said, I cross between the legislative office building and the Capitol almost every day. I always go outside. And just about all this go outside and there is still access you just it's not the marble stairwells there it is the brick ramp that you go on, which is only six feet away from where the where the fence is. So there is access, it's just it's more limited to where the slippery ice or parts of the marble staircase are. So that is the intent. It's a safety and liability issue. Do I have to go the few extra feet out of my way? Yes. Is it slightly unsightly? Yes. But it is it is temporary. I wish we had a better way but it is marble and it is very slippery."

Replying by email to a request for comment by WAMC, OGS says "it is exceptionally complicated" to keep polished marble and stone surfaces clear of snow and ice, adding: "We limit access to the plaza level during the winter to keep the public safe." Councilor Romero lives in the shadow of the plaza, which is on her daily walking route. She thinks the agency can do better.

"When I do walk to work I go through the plaza. But now I have to take a little bit of a different route. OK, like there's millions of dollars poured into that area, like why can't [they] find a creative solution to make it safe and accessible year around? It feels just common sense to me. If there's a compromise we can come to, like a small pedestrian path or, you know, increased funding to get some salt or other chemicals that they have to put down, I would have to continue to advocate for that but we're gonna keep pushing it until we see some type of successful or legitimate change," Romero said.

Governor Hochul’s press office did not reply to a request for comment.

 

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.