The other day I met a friend in Schenectady for an early lunch.
We discussed our options, which were plentiful, before deciding to check out Take Two Cafe, the new vegan restaurant across from Proctors. It was a nice day and we ate outside, on a patio overlooking State Street.
We weren’t the only people enjoying downtown.
From our perch, we could see cyclists and pedestrians, and wait staff at nearby eateries hustling to get ready for lunch. Cars pulled in and out of parking spots, and people strolled by with purpose, headed to stores or local businesses.
Sitting there, I couldn’t help but reflect upon how far downtown Schenectady has come during my two decades in the Capital Region.
What was once a fairly depressing urban landscape has become a much livelier place, and it’s poised to get even livelier.
On Friday, the Electric City learned that it will receive $10 million in state economic development money to fund 13 projects aimed at making downtown a more entertaining, walkable and livable place.
This is exciting news for a downtown that in recent years has experienced an explosion of growth, but has yet to reach its full potential. Even on the best of days, like the day I met my friend for lunch, one senses that downtown is still very much in flux, still in the process of becoming what it’s truly meant to be.
In this ever-changing environment, awarding Schenectady millions in state Downtown Revitalization Initiative funds is a bit like putting the city on steroids.
The money will accelerate growth and improvements that are already underway, fueling high-impact projects at a rapid clip and injecting new life into a renaissance stalled by the pandemic.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the final list of projects, but it’s better than I expected – a mix of housing, retail and other, artsier initiatives.
Yes, it gives a big chunk of change – $2.7 million – to Redburn Development Partners, with the goal of transforming three blocks near State and Clinton streets into apartments, retail space, medical space and parking.
And while this might be a worthy project, it’s also an example of the rich getting richer, given Redburn’s already sizable downtown footprint.
The good news is that the DRI funding will support projects that are worth getting excited about – intriguing, philanthropic and creative endeavors that will bring something unique and interesting to Schenectady.
There’s $300,000 to renovate two warehouses on Erie Boulevard to create art studios, an event space and two maker/training spaces.
Another $428,000 will be used to finish renovating a workforce training center run by Schenectady’s Social Enterprise and Training Center, which teaches young adults job and life skills and has done a lot of great work for a long time.
Nearly $300,000 will be spent on public art – murals, sculptures, interactive art pieces – while hundreds of thousands of dollars will be used to improve walkways, install new lighting and extend and upgrade trails.
It’s easy to be cynical about the DRI funds, and one can certainly ask whether a city that’s clearly on the upswing really needed them.
Schenectady is $10 million richer, and the money will change the city for the better.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.