The 10-year revitalization of upper Union Street may become the template for rebuilding commercial corridors throughout the city, local politicians said Friday.
On an unseasonably wintery day, dozens of business owners, contractors and politicians gathered to celebrate the completion of the Upper Union streetscape project. The new streets, parking lots and sidewalks were the culmination of an effort that began with the creation of a business improvement district run by the business owners.
The city and Metroplex Development Authority shared the cost of the streetscape, but business owners pushed for the project and, at times, argued fiercely over design details. Their input ensured the project did not simply make the street look good, BID Executive Director Nell Burrows said.
“The first design was prettier, but it wasn’t as practical,” she said. “We ended up with more parking.”
The disputes helped create a better system for streetscape design. City officials now say they are more careful to negotiate design with the business owners from the beginning, recognizing that their priorities may not always meld with aesthetic designs.
Marylu Aragosa, one of the business owners who insisted on better parking arrangements, said the final product was worth the months of redrawing the design.
“I’m very pleased. We worked to create a plan that was functional,” Aragosa said. “Business survival is key, and in order for one’s business to survive, they need to make it easy for the customer.”
Now, city officials will take the plan to Van Vranken Avenue, Crane Street, Broadway and other business corridors.
“This is an excellent template we can take across Schenectady in the years to come,” Schenectady County Legislator Gary Hughes said. “It starts with the businesses organizing.”
In this case, it began 10 years ago with the creation of the BID. The secret to the group’s success: jointly sponsoring events and advertising and cleanup days, as well as privately raising money for landscaping and promotions, Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said.
“This is one of the best BIDs in New York state,” he said. “It’s active, hands-on. They advocate for their area very well.”
For business owners on upper Union Street, the completion of the streetscape was a great moment.
“Forgive me if it sounds like a Grammy acceptance speech,” said BID Chairman Chris DiCocco as he launched into effusive praise for everyone involved with the project, from the founders of the BID to the construction workers who poured the concrete.
“This is a great day,” he shouted at the end. “And the BID is grateful. We couldn’t be happier.”
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