Schenectady

Foss: Intrigued by Schenectady entertainment venue proposal

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Categories: News, Opinion, Sara Foss, Schenectady County, The Daily Gazette

There’s a lot we don’t know about the proposal to build an entertainment and sporting complex at Mohawk Harbor.

But what we’ve heard is intriguing.

I like what I’ve heard, and I’d like to hear more.

I’d like to hear more about what kinds of events this facility would book.

The project materials describe the venue as a “sporting arena, retail, entertainment and food/beverage space,” which leaves plenty to the imagination. As someone who enjoys both entertainment and sports, I can’t help but wonder whether the venue will be the kind of place that appeals to me.

Will it sell food I want to eat? Will it book bands I want to see? Will it bring in sports teams I want to watch?

I certainly hope so.

The venue proposed by the Galesi Group could be a huge boon to Schenectady’s downtown, but only if it fills a void by bringing in activities and attractions that aren’t currently a part of the Electric City’s arts and entertainment landscape.

That seems doable, and here’s why: There are only two big entertainment venues in Schenectady — Proctors and Rivers Casino.

The growth downtown suggests there’s room for at least one more, so long as the focus is on booking events that might not otherwise come to the area. Right now, there are a lot of acts that bypass the Capital Region completely. Wouldn’t it be nice if some of them came here?

I’m aware that the Galesi Group’s proposal has generated some controversy.

Though still in a vague, conceptual phase, the proposal is opposed by the Upstate Theater Coalition for a Fairgame, a coalition of regional theaters and entertainment facilities.

The group, which includes Proctors in Schenectady, the Palace Theater and Times Union Center in Albany, the Troy Music Hall, and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and Saratoga Springs City Center, contends that the project would be economically harmful to the region’s arts venues.

Fairgame, it’s worth noting, was created in partnership with the four upstate gaming facilities, with the goal of ensuring that the casinos do not compete with local arts venues.

So far, this arrangement seems to have worked, allowing Rivers to carve out an entertainment niche for itself by hosting tribute bands and veteran acts such as pop singer Neil Sedaka, while avoiding direct competition with Proctors’ more eclectic mix of theater, film, movies and music.

Based on what we know thus far, it’s difficult for me to see what Galesi has proposed as an existential threat to any of the Fairgame venues.

The emphasis on sports – the facility is rumored to be a possible future home for Union College hockey – would distinguish its programming from Proctors and most of the other venues in the coalition. And there’s certainly room to expand the Electric City’s local music scene, which is heavy on nostalgia acts and cover bands.

Proctors is clearly unhappy with the Galeisi proposal, but it’s difficult to see Schenectady stakeholders such as the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority backing a project that undermines one of the city’s key downtown institutions. As agency chair Ray Gillen pointed out, Metroplex and Schenectady County have provided almost $15 million in grant funding to Proctors.

“Anything we do we want to complement what is already in the Capital Region,” the Galesi Group’s David Buicko told The Daily Gazette’s Pete DeMola. “Whatever we do at Mohawk Harbor is designed to bring more people to Schenectady and service the Schenectady community.”

That’s encouraging, and with any luck, we’ll learn more about this promising proposal soon.

 Because while I like what I hear, the devil, as always, is in the detail.

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