Schenectady events expected to draw thousands

At least 28,000 people are expected to visit downtown Schenectady today through Sunday to see “Spama
Workers prepare the set for today’s opening of "Spamalot" at Proctors in Schenectady.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Workers prepare the set for today’s opening of "Spamalot" at Proctors in Schenectady.

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At least 28,000 people are expected to visit downtown Schenectady today through Sunday to see “Spamalot,” visit restaurants and bars, attend conferences and watch movies — the largest single turnout since “Phantom of the Opera” two years ago, local officials said.

Proctors’ CEO Philip Morris said the coming week offers “28 unique events. This is great. This is what we intended to do. We are delivering on the promise.”

Downtown businesses are excited by the prospect of so many people coming to spend their money. Others believe the turnouts will only get better after people see how much downtown has changed since “Phantom” played in 2006.

“If it’s anything like ‘Phantom,’ we will be very busy,” said Kevin Mattice, manager of Nico’s Pizzeria on State Street, almost directly across from Proctors.

When “Phantom of the Opera” played at Proctors, the show sold nearly all of its 80,000 tickets during its month-long run. The Chamber of Schenectady County estimated it brought in $10 million to the county.

“Spamalot” has sold nearly all 21,120 tickets for its eight shows, which end Sunday. Not quite the number sold for “Phantom,” but the economic impact is still expected to be substantial.

Chamber Vice President of Visitor Services Gail Kehn said a person spends on average $102 per day to buy tickets to a Proctors show, eat dinner and buy gas. This totals an estimated $2.2 million for the week, most of it remaining downtown.

Kehn said the $102-per-day figure comes from a national marketing firm that did a phone survey last year for the I Love New York tourism program. The firm interviewed visitors to Fulton, Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga, Rensselaer and Washington counties, Kehn said.

NEW DOWNTOWN SITES

The $2.2 million figure may even be higher as downtown today offers more attractions than it did two years ago, Kehn added. In 2006 when “Phantom” came to town, downtown did not have a Hampton Inn, an Aperitivo restaurant, a Muddy Cup coffee shop, a Backstage Grill adjacent to Proctors and a Movieland offering first-run movies for the first time in years.

Proctors itself was still undergoing its $25 million renovation; it had a larger stage then, hence the ability to attract “Phantom,” but its 440-seat “black box” GE Theatre and its 100-seat experimental theater at 440 Upstairs were still under construction.

Today, all these venues, which opened in the last year, are expected to bring in an additional 10,000 to 12,000 people downtown this week, separate from “Spamalot,” Morris said.

The GE Theatre expects to draw some 150 people for each of its 15 screenings during the week for its Iwerks-formatted “BUGS! 3D” and “Forces of Nature.”

It is has almost sold out for a recorded performance of “La Scala,” an opera shown in high definition Friday night, and it is offering a performance by the Eighth Step folk and acoustic group Saturday.

Also, Proctors is playing host to a reception for Key Bank and two small conferences during the week. It is marketing itself to small groups seeking a unique meeting setting.

In addition, some 2,000 people are expected to attend a show at Movieland, which has six screens and a seating capacity for 1,500 for its first-run movies.

BEDS FILL UP

Greg Schahet, owner of the Hampton Inn on State Street, said his hotel expects to benefit from “Spamalot.” “When big shows come in, that’s where we get the biggest occupancy boosts, from the crews,” he said.

Also, Schahet expects an even brighter future for his hotel once more restaurants and other venues open downtown.

“With the new restaurants, people will try and make it a full night out,” he said.

Schahet said the hotel is doing “better than we expected. We are real happy with how things are going.” Occupancy has averaged 70 percent per month, he said.

Chez Daisy co-owner Guthrie Benson said he expects business to be “very good” while “Spamalot” is in town. “We are steady everyday, but things get crazy when Proctors runs.”

The business opened on Jay Street two years ago, just in time for “Phantom,” and “we were busy every single day,” Benson said. “We are happy downtown and business seem to be doing well.”

Morris said “Spamalot” is attracting people from throughout the Capital Region, and from as far way as western Massachusetts and Poughkeepsie.

Approximately 20 percent of the people purchasing tickets are making their first visit to Schenectady, Morris said. And he expects the city will make a strong first impression on them.

Kehn said in the last year “downtown looks even better. For a show like this that truly draws in people who haven’t been here in a long time, they will see a change. It’s an impression that will improve the perception of the city.”

Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said “Spamalot” is “another chance to showcase what’s going on in Schenectady County with the rest of the region, to show off the new downtown and show off the progress we have made.”

A successful turnout should also help Metroplex recruit additional businesses to downtown, Gillen said. “It will show them there is a good activity level downtown and it will encourage additional investors to come downtown.”

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