The lower State Street area is punctuated with empty storefronts and forlorn buildings.
But despite this bleak appearance, the area west of Erie Boulevard has assets that give city and regional planners hope it will become the next frontier of downtown Schenectady’s revitalization. The area is linked to three major transportation corridors, has a vibrant neighborhood community nearby and is flanked by a growing community college.
“You have some great bones here that give us the inspiration to fill these empty spaces,” said Martin Hull, a planner with the IBI Group, which is conducting a land use and transit study of the area.
About four dozen residents and business owners attended the study’s first workshop at Schenectady County Community College on Thursday. Many indicated a desire to make the area more pedestrian friendly and to improve the streetscape’s design.
The Capital Region Transportation Committee-funded study will provide a blueprint for future development in a roughly 24-acre triangle framed by lower State Street, Erie Boulevard and Washington Avenue Extension. City and regional planners are hoping next year’s redevelopment of Erie Boulevard, coupled with transit improvements, will help spread the successful redevelopment of downtown toward Schenectady’s eastern gateway.
“We’re very interested in finding ideas for taking the vibrant development we have on upper State Street and expanding it down,” said Ray Gillen, chairman of the Metroplex Development Authority.
Others suggested the area would benefit from a diversity of housing options. By bringing in diverse housing, there will be a greater demand for a broad array of businesses, said Carl Erikson, a General Electric worker attending the meeting.
“Once you see that happen, I think you’ll see the community rebuild quickly,” he said.
Peter Guidarelli, owner of the Wall Street Building off Erie Boulevard, urged the planners to look at what unique features and amenities the lower State Street area could provide that aren’t featured in neighboring municipalities. He also raised concerns about the perception of safety in the area.
“You need to have the perception of a safe downtown, a safe neighborhood and a safe business district,” he said.
Transit improvements could change the area in coming years. In addition to the $14 million reconstruction of Erie Boulevard, the study area would benefit from a proposed terminal for the Capital District Transit Authority’s Bus Rapid Transit line and a proposed new Amtrak station.
Steve Strichman, the city’s director of planning and development, can see the potential. Less than a decade ago, he said, the 300 to 400 block of State Street was in similar disarray.
“When you look at [lower State Street] with eyes like this, all you see is opportunity,” he said.
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