Proctors isn’t exactly what the state would consider an ideal tourism promotion agency.
Downtown Schenectady’s landmark venue isn’t a visitors bureau or chamber of commerce. And despite it’s prominent image in the community, a theater isn’t the type of entity Empire State Development typically enlists in the “I Love New York” program.
In fact, Proctors is unique in administering the matching $33,935 state grant aimed at promoting regional tourism. None of the other 55 agencies administering the grant across the state can boast that they also host Broadway shows.
“We’re the only one like it,” said Philip Morris, Proctors’ CEO.
Proctors’ path to becoming a tourism promotion agency is also unique and a result of Schenectady County’s ongoing fiscal crunch. County legislators passed a 2009 budget that cut the matching funds afforded to the former tourism promotion agency, the Chamber of Schenectady County.
Not wanting to abandon the state pot of money, chamber members banded together to raise the matching funds. Chamber President Charles Steiner said the program carried on for a couple of years until he noticed that one member in specific was paying the bulk of the funds: Proctors.
For Steiner, Proctors made complete sense. Though Schenectady County has many destinations that attract tourism, only one has a marketing approach that extends beyond the regional guidelines of the program.
“When you look at our venues here, the only agent that markets outside a 50-mile radius is Proctors,” he said.
Steiner approached Morris about taking over the program last year. His philosophy being that it was better for Proctors to handle the program rather than risk losing it altogether if the chamber couldn’t pull together the match.
“They were in the position where we were the only driving force to get the match,” Morris recalled.
County legislators soundly approved a resolution making the switch in December 2011. State officials then reviewed the new application and approved it, provided Proctors can continue to demonstrate the funds are being used for regional tourism promotion activities.
Of course, Proctors can’t just take the money for itself. The program requires Proctors to submit reports about how the funding was used, and any failure to meet the state specifications could mean the theater is on the hook to repay and funds its received.
So far, Proctors has submitted three quarterly reports required by Empire State Development, covering a period from January through September. An official with the agency said all of the reports indicate the theater has complied with all applicable terms of the program.
Morris acknowledges that Proctors isn’t exactly the typical entity that the state entrusts for tourism promotion. He said state officials were somewhat perplexed when Proctors and the chamber presented the switch.
“They sort of scratched their heads, too,” he said.
Morris said this year’s funding is being used for several different pursuits, including a new website, restaurant week promotion and holiday events with several partners.
The funding is designated for advertising and approved regional projects, meaning the theater appears to have upheld its obligation.
Morris acknowledged Proctors hasn’t yet brought other Schenectady County destinations into the fold, but assures that its only a matter of time. He said the theater is just starting to explore options that will allow it to tie into other areas, such as the Museum of Science and Innovation downtown, the Mabee Farm Historic Site in Rotterdam Junction and the Empire State Aerosciences Museum in Glenville.
William “Mac” Sudduth, miSci’s new full-time executive director, said Morris recently approached him to discuss cross-promoting the museum with Proctors. He said having the theater as a tourism promoter seems to make since because of its regional reputation.
“I’d have to say right now Proctors is the biggest attraction in the county,” he said. Someday miSci will be there, but we have a little work to do.”
Steiner credited Proctors with taking on the new challenge to preserve the funding stream. He said the theater is an ideal hub attraction that will hopefully help attract tourism for other areas in the region.
“Proctors is the jewel here, and people come a long way to see it,” he said. “It’s a very challenging economy and this was the best way to afford keeping the ‘I Love New York’ matching funds a viable tool in Schenectady County.”