Proposed downtown Schenectady business district expansion moves closer to vote

Jim Salengo of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation stands on N. Jay Street.
Jim Salengo of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation stands on N. Jay Street.

SCHENECTADY — People thought Michael Burns was out of his mind when he and his wife bought a house in Schenectady years ago.

Dropping off his kids and getting them in and out of cars was like a military operation. 

The couple eventually purchased and renovated a former firehouse on N. Jay Street, which is now The Mop & Bucket Company.

“We see something happening in Schenectady that’s really exciting,” Burns recalled telling naysayers.

Now with Schenectady’s downtown resurgence, they find it “heartbreaking” that their theater is located 40 feet away of what technically constitutes downtown, freezing them out of the benefits provided by downtown boosters. 

As such, The Mop & Bucket Company voluntarily pays the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation (DSIC) to receive some promotional services.

Burns was among the four people who spoke at a public hearing on Monday on DSIC’s proposal to expand their service area.

The non-profit agency believes an expansion, the first since 1978, will allow new locations to be marketed as part of a “vibrant and unified” downtown and build on revitalization trends.

Other speakers included DSIC Executive Director Jim Salengo, board member Carmel Patrick and Tom O’Connor, vice president of government relations at the Capital Region Chamber. 

The proposed expansion covers three areas: 

Little Italy; Broadway from Clinton Street to the I-890 overpass; and Erie Boulevard from Union Street to the Nott Street traffic circle. 

The 60-acre Mohawk Harbor site isn’t included in the proposed footprint, but Salengo said DSIC and Mohawk Harbor can explore mutually-beneficial ways of working together.

DSIC provides marketing support and aesthetic improvements like flower baskets and banners to its members. It also provides cleaning, maintenance and snow removal at intersections and crosswalks — but not sidewalks.

Operations for the service area, which is formally known as the Downtown Special Assessment District, are funded in part by property owners, who pay an average of $295 annually. 

Assessments are determined using a customized benefits-based formula that considers square footage, street footage and location for each parcel.

Burns acknowledged the costs, and noted some people would complain, but indicated membership is a no-brainer for him.

“This is a great opportunity to pay a buck and get a huge investment,” he said. 

Businesses cannot opt-out, but can file an objection to the expansion with the City Clerk’s Office, Salengo said.

DSIC has sent out letters to 502 current and potential new service district members, and held three public information sessions, one in each neighborhood. 

Salengo said the agency has strived to be as transparent as possible during the campaign, which was introduced in mid-July.

“The dialogue has been very, very productive and we appreciate it,” he said.

At least one Broadway business owner had expressed skepticism because that person viewed the area as a light industrial district and didn’t see the benefit.

But that person has since reversed course after attending two informational sessions, Salengo said.

The expansion requires approval by the City Council, which must wait at least 30 days after Monday’s public hearing before holding a vote. 

City Council President Ed Kosiur said he hasn’t heard any negative feedback from any council members. 

Councilwoman Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas said the organization is critical to downtown. 

“I think it’s important when you have business owners who want to be part of it and we can help make that happen,” she said.

Councilman Vince Riggi said more discussion may be needed.

“Maybe [DSIC] should go the extra mile and go business-to-business,” Riggi said, citing at least one inquiry from a business owner who was unable to attend the public sessions.

Salengo projected the DSIC’s total annual expenses would increase from $750,000 in 2020 to $765,000 in 2021 with the expansion.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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