Schenectady County

Downtown Schenectady group to do more marketing

The street-sweeping and flower-planting will stay, but the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. wi

The street-sweeping and flower-planting will stay, but the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. will also throw itself into promoting its businesses after a year of controversy in which many business owners said they get nothing from the agency that taxes them.

“My background is in marketing, so I’m really coming into this wanting to do that side of it,” said new Executive Director James Salengo after Wednesday’s annual meeting. “So I agree. We can do a better job and we will do a better job.”

Roughly a third of the agency’s members gathered early this morning for the annual meeting, at which Salengo said DSIC serves a “vital role” in the downtown.

He emphasized the positive: an increase in visitors parking in daytime lots downtown, repeat business from college students after a free event this spring and a successful restaurant week promotion in which nearly half the diners were new customers.

“We are building momentum,” he said.

The agency also picked up 960 cubic yards of litter (the equivalent of 30 full Dumpsters) last year, a tribute to the amount of work needed to keep the downtown looking clean.

But Salengo acknowledged his members are not all satisfied with his agency, particularly with the way DSIC leaders are chosen and the special assessment tax.

He said the agency will at least discuss changes in response to both criticisms.

“There seems to have been some good progress made on looking at the assessment [tax],” he said. “The decision has been made that it’s important to look at it.”

The agency will hire an independent consultant to offer options on new formulas for spreading out the tax burden. But Salengo noted that most critics of the tax don’t want a new formula — they simply say they aren’t getting enough in return for their money.

Part of the answer, he said, is to do more to market the businesses. He’s trying to add businesses to existing programs as a package deal — dinner and a show after a trolley tour, for example — and create new promotions that could draw customers to the area.

He warned that big events, like the SummerNight program that will be held Friday, are too expensive to put on regularly.

“Events are great, but we don’t have the staff or resources to be a full event organizer,” he said. “I’m brainstorming.”

As for the smoldering issue of leadership, nothing has been resolved. The City Council split, 3-3, over who should be appointed to the board. Many business owners still feel they should have a say in that decision, but the mayor still insists he should keep that power.

Salengo said a committee is considering a recommendation process or a membership vote to help guide the council’s decision. The committee is also weighing the idea of increasing the size of the board. The mayor is staunchly opposed to that, and the agency would need city council support to make such changes.

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