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Is there really a sign of life for Albany's Sign of the Tree?

View of the Empire State Plaza from the east side.
View of the Empire State Plaza from the east side.

When last we heard about the Sign of the Tree, restaurateur Michael LoPorto was battling with the state's Office of General Services. LoPorto, owner of LoPorto Ristorante Caffe' in downtown Troy, had a lease for the restaurant space in Albany's Empire State Plaza, located between The Egg and the Corning Tower, but was withholding rent payments in a dispute over parking and access to the space.

He finally lost the lease, or gave it up, depending on one's interpretation of the goings-on, and the Sign of the Tree has sat vacant and forlorn since 2006. The space currently is being turned into what one OGS staffer referred to as "a vanilla box," a featureless, monochrome look intended to allow would-be leaseholders to imagine what they'd do with the venue, according to a report in the Times Union.

OGS reportedly has solicited bids for a lease, but with no success. When the vanilla-ization work is completed, the agency will try again. The once-plush, sprawling venue was designed to be the dining showpiece of Nelson Rockefeller's capital complex. It offers on one side a view down toward the Hudson River and on the other a full view of the Plaza skating rink.

It once boasted the richness of blond wood and good upholstery and linens, the smart placement of dividers, numerous corners into which tables and banquettes were tucked, and its large glass walls created subtleties of lighting conducive to relaxed dining.

Will it ever return to that level? Given the fact any revival depends on the skills of a state agency that hasn't been able to fill it for eight years, thus missing out on an estimated half-million dollars in rent, I doubt it. I think it will continue to be just as the OGS website currently describes it: "At the present time the Sign of the Tree restaurant, located on the plaza and adjacent to the reflecting pools is available for banquet events through the current on-site caterer and may be rented for private events."

That notice, by the way, is about two years old.

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