Schenectady County

Schenectady plans visitors center in Proctors

Now that plans to turn the Gillette House into a visitors center have been scrapped, the city is mov

Now that plans to turn the Gillette House into a visitors center have been scrapped, the city is moving ahead quickly to build its own center.

The new center, which will be inside Proctors, near the Muddy Cup, is already being designed.

The ideas proposed so far — none of which have been finalized — include a stage that folds up against a wall like a Murphy bed and using an actor to bring renowned scientist and local socialist Charles Steinmetz to life.

The goal is not to simply create a tourist center, where visitors might come to get maps and brochures to local attractions or buy souvenirs. Instead, the center is intended to become a miniature showcase of Schenectady history.

“Every community has a story to tell,” said Proctors President and CEO Philip Morris, who is partnering with the city on this project. “Having a place where that story is told is pretty important.”

It may also offer the services of a traditional visitors center, Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said.

“I think you can do both,” he said.

A committee of historians will be included in the design process. For now, no decisions have been made.

But Morris is hoping that the center is not simply a collection of photographs and other artifacts.

“It seems to me that static displays of history are not compelling to anybody — young people, old people, nobody,” he said. “To me, it’s all about storytelling. I think we might be able to use media in an interesting way.”

He wants to hire an actor to portray Steinmetz in a series of performances recorded on film. Then those performances would be projected onto screens at the visitors center, allowing Steinmetz to become the city’s spokesman.

He would guide visitors through the exhibits, “describing things, talking about our history, our future,” Morris said.

“But it’s just an idea,” he added.

While design work is under way, the city is negotiating with the federal government to redirect the grant that had been awarded to the Gillette House visitors center project.

The Scenic Byways grant is likely to be redirected to the city for the new visitors center, Schenectady Heritage Area coordinator Maureen Gebert said.

The center will focus on “labor and industry,” she said, primarily GE and Alco.

The Erie Canal will also be a part of the center’s exhibits, she said.

It will be open whenever Proctors’ box office or the Muddy Cup is open and will be designed to run without paid staff.

“One of the things that’s very attractive about Proctors is that they get half a million people a year,” Gebert said. “At intermission they can walk through there. Anyone can walk through there anytime.”

She’s not sure if it will be staffed at all. She noted that Proctors’ workers can give out information and directions and already offer a host of brochures on local attractions.

“So this doesn’t need to have paid staff,” she said. “It will sort of evolve after it opens.”

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