The five Jay Street Studios artists were getting desperate.
They tried to put forth a brave face at the monthly Art Night last week, advertising their open house as the “Last Chance to Party Party.”
But they admitted they were scared. After years in the highly visible and inexpensive storefronts of Center City, they were being kicked out into the cold.
There are plenty of empty stores downtown, particularly on Jay Street, but nothing in the price range for artists who admittedly do far more creating than selling. For a short time, it seemed that Schenectady’s arts and entertainment district would be losing most of its pure artists.
But Proctors has found a new home for the artists, CEO Philip Morris said.
“I am 90 percent of the way toward a great new space that will accommodate the artists and have space for more,” Morris said.
ElectriCity — a subsidiary of Proctors formerly known as 440 State — is negotiating a lease for a large building in the heart of downtown, Morris said. He wouldn’t reveal the building until the lease has been signed. A deal is two weeks away, he said.
ElectriCity also managed the artists’ lease at Center City. The artists relocating to the new building will be offered the same terms: $7.50 per square foot.
That’s far less than the market rate for the burgeoning downtown. Most storefronts are now going for at least $12 per square foot.
Morris wouldn’t say how much the ElectriCity board will pay to lease the new building, but admitted it would be more than what he’ll charge the artists. However, he said the full price won’t be as expensive as one might think.
“We’re finding empty spaces that don’t have much value to anyone else, so they’re cheap,” he said.
The decision three years ago to place artists in vacant Center City storefronts has been somewhat controversial. At times, the arrangement has been criticized because some artists work in the early morning or late evening, leaving their storefront closed during prime business hours. But Morris said the artists add a critical dimension to downtown.
“Activity, tone, sensibility — it adds to the vibrancy,” he said.
The artists’ store windows are also often the only ones lighted at night, giving the downtown a sense of activity when every other business on Jay Street is closed. Passersby can catch a glimpse of painters, musicians, writers and even a reiki master.
“I think they’re pretty noticeable,” Morris said. “It’s obvious in the windows that life lives there. And they have an open house every Art Night.”
The new building will have space for up to 14 artists, Morris said. He’s hoping the space will help draw more artists.
“We could double it,” he said.
The artists have already begun to move out of Center City, where major changes are under way. The building has been sold to a private developer, Galesi Group, which hopes to replace the artist colony with at least some for-profit retailers. The stage in front of the building, a gathering point for music in the summer and socializing all year round, is being removed. Signs have already been posted warning that Center City’s bathrooms are no longer open to the public, although they are routinely ignored.
Inside, the soccer arena is being removed. However, the rock-climbing gym will remain, and may even be able to expand.
The owners of the gym are hopeful that the renovations will allow them to widen their climbing wall, which is the tallest in the Capital Region.
Currently, it is wide enough for six people to climb at once, but during busy times there is a long wait — especially for the most challenging courses. Galesi has assured the company that the wall will remain, but it may be rotated to face a different area. That could allow them to widen it.