“I haven’t been in Albany for 20 years,” said Kennedy Lawson Smith, the keynote speaker Friday at the annual meeting of the Downtown Albany Business Improvement District.
“It looks like a different city,” she said.
The positive changes were in part the result of what the BID has done since its creation in the mid-1990s, said Mayor Jerry Jennings, another speaker at the Crowne Plaza event. And the flourishing of downtown, he said, benefits the rest of the city and the Capital Region. Furthermore, the mayor said, rising gas prices will be good for downtown Albany, spurring the upscale residential development there that is already well under way.
“People are not going to want to travel,” Jennings said, but will want to live near their work place.
Pam Tobin, the BID’s executive director, also painted a picture of downtown Albany where “business is booming” and the nationwide economic woes seem to have had little negative impact. She thanked the mayor for legislation providing tax breaks for downtown residents, and said more than a dozen upscale residential projects are on the drawing boards.
The state’s budget crunch has had an impact on projected funding for the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial, which will help Albany and other parts of the state mark 400 years of history in 2009. Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer had proposed $7 million for it, but the state budget enacted under his successor, David Paterson, provided only $4 million.
“I don’t look at it as a cut,” said Quadricentennial Director Robert Bullock after the event, noting that $1.5 million in federal funds also are available.
Tom Birdsey, the outgoing chairman of the BID’s board, made a pitch for corporate sponsorship of the event. He told his fellow business leaders that “Albany is perfectly positioned to be the crown jewel of the quadricentennial celebration,” but that the opportunity must not “be squandered.”
In her talk, Smith blamed forces ranging from restrictive zoning to interstate highways for the decline of America’s downtowns, and said the nation’s retail sector was massively overbuilt in the 1990s. Smith, who heads the consulting firm Community Land Use and Economics Group, praised some of the Albany initiatives, including the focus on residential development and public art.
“You are the link in the chain between Albany’s past and Albany’s future. I applaud you,” she told the BID members.
Upcoming events promoted by the BID include a lunchtime concert series Tuesdays at Ten Eyck Plaza (40 N. Pearl St.) and a Sculpture in the Streets exhibit from this month to next April, with a “garden party” fundraiser to kick it off next Friday.
Today, there is a free “Summer of Love” family-friendly art event at Albany Center Gallery, 39 Columbia St.
The BID’s Compass Award was presented to Kevin O’Connor, CEO of Tech Valley Communications.