Foss: What can $10 million do for Schenectady?

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces $10M revitalization grant for Schenectady at the G.E. Theater in Proctors.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces $10M revitalization grant for Schenectady at the G.E. Theater in Proctors.

It all boils down to more people. 

That’s what downtown Schenectady needs, and if a recently awarded $10 million state economic development grant can get more people to live, work and play downtown, it will be a big success. 

At least, that’s how I’ll measure the success of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) award. 

The DRI aims to transform upstate communities into thriving, livable places where people want to live and raise families. 

Ten million dollars is a lot of money, but it will only further Schenectady’s revitalization if it’s invested wisely, in projects that meet real needs and desires in the community. 

I see a lot to like in the city’s DRI application, a 44-page document that makes the case for completing the redevelopment of downtown with help from the state.  

But I also have some concerns. 

These concerns are perhaps best summed up by the vision for DRI Schenectady contained in the application, which talks about tying together downtown and the new waterfront to create “a dynamic 24/7 destination for businesses and visitors,” but makes no mention of the people who actually live in Schenectady. 

I have no problem with businesses or visitors – healthy cities have plenty of both. 

But I can’t help but wonder whether residents lose out when the focus is transforming downtown for the benefit of businesses and visitors

Which doesn’t mean residents won’t benefit from the projects outlined in the application. 

Linking downtown to the waterfront will make for a more walkable and bike-friendly city, something that’s sorely needed. 

As the DRI application notes, the distance between the main central business district and Mohawk Harbor is just over 4,000 feet long – “an easy 15 minute walk from end to end.” 

Or, it would be an easy walk if it didn’t involve traversing a busy stretch of Erie Boulevard. An example of a DRI-funded project that could make it easier for people to get from downtown to Mohawk Harbor is a pedestrian tunnel between Erie and North Jay Street in Little Italy. 

The DRI money will also be used to demolish some high-profile eyesores, such as the former Coyne Textile building on Erie Boulevard and the former Citizens Bank on State Street. Ridding the city of unsightly vacant buildings is a good use of DRI funds. 

One of DRI Schenectady’s more exciting projects is an expansion of the Greenmarket – the popular farmer’s market that is held outside City Hall during the warmer months, and inside Proctors during the winter. 

The organization plans to work with the Greenmarket to establish a downtown facility that operates four or five days a week and provides fresh food. This is a great idea that fills a real need in a downtown that currently lacks a grocery store. 

One thing that’s missing from Schenectady’s DRI application is projects aimed at getting families to enjoy and live downtown – one of the main goals of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative. 

Looking at downtown from the perspective of a parent, I don’t see a lot of places to take a small child to run around and play. 

There’s a playground at Riverside Park, and miSci is a good museum for children. But it’s worth asking what else is needed to make downtown a place where families might want to spend time. 

That’s just one idea for how the city’s list of DRI projects might be improved, and I’m sure there are others. 

Fortunately, the city is required to engage the public and get input from residents on how they’d like to see the $10 million spent. A minimum of three public hearings will be held, and while the dates of those hearings hasn’t been announced yet, I’d encourage people to get involved. 

Schenectady is already a different place than it was when I moved here, in late 2001 – a busier, brighter and more interesting place. 

The DRI award can help make it even better. 

But only if the projects it funds are good ones, and benefit the people who live here. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.    

Categories: News, Opinion

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