Schenectady County

Survey reveals city on right path

A majority of Schenectady County residents overwhelmingly supports efforts to revitalize the city’s

A majority of Schenectady County residents overwhelmingly supports efforts to revitalize the city’s State Street corridor and believes a strong, vital downtown will improve their lives, according to a Siena Research Institute survey released Friday.

At the same time, the survey showed some weaknesses: People believe downtown’s amenities meet but do not exceed their expectations.

Some of the key findings:

That 84 percent of the county’s 120,000 adults agree the county needs an active and appealing downtown to become a first-class place to live;

That 82 percent have an improved opinion of downtown, compared to five years ago;

That 80 percent believe a revitalized downtown will help everyone in the county;

That more than 79 percent visited downtown during 2007 at least once for business, entertainment, shopping or for some other activity;

That 27 percent believe too much money is being spent on downtown’s revitalization.

The Metroplex Development Authority commissioned the independent “use and perception” survey for $7,800. The survey, conducted Jan. 20-22 with 625 residents, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said he and the board are encouraged by the survey’s findings. “The results indicate broad-based support and excitement for downtown, that downtown has changed for the better and is going in the right direction.”

He said the survey numbers that “get us most excited are those about how downtown is perceived, considering where we came from, which was the perception that downtown was troubled.”

Now, Gillen said, “we’ve got people excited in the direction we are going and believe it will be sustained and will continue.”

Mayor Brian U. Stratton said the survey shows him “people are coming in droves to downtown and that they will generate sales tax dollars and help our economy not only in the city but provide economic benefits to the county as whole.”

Metroplex was created 10 years ago behind the belief that “so goes downtown, so goes the county,” Stratton said. The benefits of downtown’s revitalization will spill into the city’s neighborhoods and into the surrounding towns, he said.

Metroplex is using a percentage of the county’s sales tax and the ability to bond up to $50 million to promote downtown’s rebirth.

Schenectady County Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, said the survey shows her that residents have a “confidence and a reason to be optimistic for the first time in a generation about the direction we are headed.”

According to Don Levy of the Siena Research Institute, the survey solidifies downtown’s place as an arts and entertainment district. “It shows that the No. 1 reason they come is to visit the theater, see a movie or attend some other cultural event. Clearly, Proctors and the movie theater have made big impressions,” he said.

The survey also identified weaknesses of downtown. “A large number of people say downtown amenities — restrooms, parking, police presence, access to information — meet but do not exceed their expectations,” Levy said.

City Councilman Gary McCarthy said “those are areas we want to look at to change. Some of it is perception, but perception is reality. We have to get the perception changed.”

McCarthy said crime downtown is virtually non-existent but the city is stepping up police patrols in the area nonetheless. He also said people see buildings downtown undergoing rehabilitation and associate them as areas of potential crime.

“The next step is a public awareness campaign. We didn’t have anything to market five years ago. Now there are venues here and more things happening,” McCarthy said.

Schenectady County Legislator Vincent DiCerbo, D-Schenectady, chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Economic Development, said “perception does drive people’s habits. We have to clear up those perceptions to drive in more people.”

Gillen said Metroplex and the city are already working on issues raised in the survey. “We are putting up more signs and adding more security cameras downtown,” he said.

Also, Metroplex has added 105 additional parking spots behind Center City to the more than 1,000 spots it controls through seven other surface parking lots and the parking garage on Broadway.

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