NY Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx, says he has only seen one Broadway show in New York City — when he was 8 years old.
Heastie, 47, admitted he isn’t “the biggest culturist when it comes to plays,” but after touring Proctors in Schenectady on Wednesday, he said he would consider seeing a show there.
“I always loved upstate New York,” Heastie said. “I haven’t spent a lot of time here. The idea there is an upstate-downstate divide is a myth. I want to give reassurance by my presence here that these things matter.”
Heastie, who was elected Assembly speaker in February, visited Schenectady and Amsterdam on Wednesday as part of a statewide tour to get a first-hand look at some of the businesses and developments in upstate New York.
He started his day early in the morning in Amsterdam to see construction of the pedestrian bridge and then traveled to Schenectady to meet with officials at General Electric.
His next stop was Proctors, where the theater’s staff and local officials showed Heastie what Proctors has to offer including the Mainstage, GE Theater, Key Hall and Open Stage Media.
Dan Hanifin, Paul Fahey and Dan Sheehan from Proctors gave Heastie an overview of a few things Proctors provides, like a 2,600-seat theater, heating and cooling system, summer camps, graduation ceremonies, and more.
The theater held an all-you-can-eat cereal and cartoons event on Saturday that Fahey mentioned to Heastie while standing in the GE Theater. That peaked Heastie’s interest.
“I would have liked to come to that,” he said laughing.
But what Heastie appeared really interested in was construction on the old Alco site off Erie Boulevard.
Heastie asked a number of questions during his walkthrough of Mohawk Harbor including the timeframe for construction, potential for flooding and the fate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s small nuclear reactor.
“How do you prevent the water from rising,” Heastie asked while looking down at the walkway running along the river.
David Buicko, COO of the Galesi Group, said the walkway could flood when the water rises from a storm, but the site is raised three to five feet to lift it above the 100-year floodplain.
“The last big flood we would have been in three feet of water,” Heastie said. “Creating a shoreline will help with that.”
The Galesi Group is contracting with Rifenburg Construction to transform the 60-acre brownfield into a waterfront community with housing, hotels, office and retail, a 50-boat-slip harbor and one of the state’s first commercial casinos.
“This is what the community wanted so I support them,” Heastie said of the Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor.
Heastie was impressed by the development, adding that it’s a positive thing seeing construction vehicles and cranes in upstate cities.
“I’m amazed at this development that’s happening here,” Heastie said while standing on the site overlooking the Mohawk River. “When we talked about siting of casinos, a lot of times it’s just in your mind, but they are building this thing and it’s happening.”
He looked at the lone white building at the entrance to the future harbor and asked Buicko what it was. The building is a research reactor used by RPI to train students in the field.
Buicko said to Heastie that he hopes to see it off the site in the future, but for now it will remain.
Austin DiSiena, site manager from Rifenburg, said the harbor will be filled with water by December and that buildings, including a 191-unit apartment building and Courtyard by Marriott hotel, will start to be built next month.
Heastie said the purpose of his upstate tour is to get to know some of the areas and projects his colleagues in the Assembly discuss at the state Capitol.
He said the problems he sees downstate are similar to the ones upstate. Issues include infrastructure, poverty and education, he said.
“It’s reinforcing to me some of the more beautiful parts of the state,” he said. “It really is just to learn more and to fulfill a commitment I made to my colleagues and to the people who live in upstate.”
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said he believes Heastie’s visit will help to build a strong partnership between the speaker and upstate legislators.
Santabarbara joined Heastie on his tour of the area along with Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy.
“Upstate districts are really unique in themselves and have things you just can’t find anywhere else,” Santabarbara said. “I think more and more people are starting to realize that. To be able to have the speaker here to see it firsthand will help to verbally articulate our needs.”