There’s plenty to do in Schenectady County, including, from top: a show or concert at Proctors; exploring the Plotterkill Preserve in Rotterdam; or a stroll through Schenectady’s historic Stockade neighborhood. Officials now hope the casino will draw even more visitors to these destinations.
Any loyal Schenectadian will tell you there are dozens of reasons to visit Schenectady County, from Broadway shows downtown at Proctors to the historic Stockade neighborhood to the scenic waterfalls in the uplands of Rotterdam.
They’re not wrong, even if you’d hardly know it from the amount of publicity the new Rivers Casino & Resort is generating.
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The marketing of Schenectady County as a destination — a multifaceted destination — is being ramped up to a whole new level with this winter’s opening of the casino, the only full-gaming casino in the Capital Region.
The county government has established its first convention and visitors bureau, to take on tourism promotion work that it previously contracted to Proctors, the venerable theater that is one of the anchors of downtown’s rejuvenation.
“We want to put ourselves in the market to attract convention and visitor groups that aren’t coming to Schenectady now,” said County Legislator Jeffrey McDonald, owner of the Stockade Inn and the bureau’s board chairman.
Beyond just the casino, the Mohawk Harbor complex will include two new hotels, and a third is rising nearby in Glenville. In all, the county will have around 400 additional hotel rooms, making it more attractive for those who book overnight conventions.
The bureau will be separate from county government, though county legislators will appoint its directors. The fi rst board for the nonprofit organization was named by the County Legislature last fall — and in January the bureau was officially named the county promotion agency, with a budget of $392,000. The money is to come from the county’s room occupancy tax, which should grow with the arrival of several new hotels that will serve casino customers and other visitors to the city.
The casino company is also going to be paying the county $2.5 million annually for hosting the casino, but the county is free to use that money as it sees fi t, potentially including promotion.
Ideally, the casino will bring more visitors to Schenectady, and they’ll take the time to try local restaurants or visit some of the county’s other attractions. Convention and tourism bureaus are used in other places — including Albany and Saratoga Springs — to market activities and attractions.
“There’s attractions and things for people to do in Schenectady, and potential conventions are more interested in coming to Schenectady are more interested than before because there are more attractions,” McDonald said.
The search is currently underway for the bureau’s first executive director and first director of sales and marketing. County officials said they’re looking for experienced candidates to get the bureau off to a running start. McDonald said there’s already been significant interest in the positions, and the county hopes to fi ll the spots in March.
The county is also looking for downtown office space where the bureau would be located, starting this spring.
McDonald said he expects the bureau to be fully functional in the second half of this year.
“We are bidding for conferences and planning for the future,” he said. “We are looking to book conventions and conferences for late this year, 2018, and into 2019.”
Schenectady Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen said a lot people already visit Schenectady, and it makes sense to promote the county more, since the casino will give those visitors one more reason to visit, and if they already visit, to stay longer.
“Proctors attracts people, GE has a lot of people visit,” Gillen said. “There are a lot of people who come to Schenectady for business and shows, and the question is how you build on that. We’ve got an opportunity now, with more hotels, more meeting spaces. There’s a lot of opportunity there.”
The county’s effort to market itself will benefit the whole region, since visitors don’t necessarily want to stay in one place.
“I think they realize now they have more product now,” said Mark H. Eagan, CEO of the Capital Region Chamber. “Up until now you could look at historic buildings or go to shows. To draw visitors, you have to have hotels, and now you have them, and now they have the casino.”
Eagan expects those who come to visit the casino may well be interested in the Capital Region’s other attractions. “Usually a visitor, they don’t know a municipal boundary,” he said. “If you stay in Schenectady, you’re going to go into Saratoga and Albany. … Convention planners are always looking to see what other activities are available.”
The board of the convention and visitors bureau includes McDonald, Brooke Spraragen of the Galesi Group, Kate Kosineski of Proctors, Mona Golub representing Music Haven, Ray Legere of Legere Properties/Schenectady Armory, Joseph Popolizio of Waters Edge Lighthouse, Joseph Jones of DoubleTree by Hilton, Jeff Michaelson of Courtyard by Marriott, Carney McGuire of Rivers Casino & Resort, David Brough of Schenectady County Community College, Matthew Mazzone of Mazzone Hospitality, John Mallozzi of Johnny’s Restaurant, Mary Zawacki of the Schenectady County Historical Society, Peter Bednarek of Wolf Hollow Brewery, Tara Burnham of miSci, and county legislators Richard Ruzzo and Cathy Gatta.
Visit www.visitschenectady.com for things to do, places to eat, places to stay and local businesses, sortable by community.