I first noticed the LED displays on one of my weekend walks around downtown Albany.
On the weekends, downtown Albany is quiet and calm, sparsely populated.
But as I approached the Times Union Center, I heard a vaguely electronic buzz ... music, but also chatter. It sounded like an advertisement, and that's exactly what it turned out to be.
There, hanging from the facade of the Times Union Center, were two huge screens. They were loud and flashy, reminiscent — at least to me — of the digital billboards in the classic sci-fi film "Blade Runner."
When I got closer, I could see that the 14-by-70 foot screens advertised Times Union events — concerts, sports, whatever else might be coming up.
Unfortunately, the overall effect was of being bombarded with images and sounds, hit over the head by unnecessary aural and visual pollution. The screens were distracting and unsightly, and I couldn't believe they were now a part of the downtown landscape.
Installed as part of the $19.6 million upgrade of the Times Union Center, the screens are clearly here to stay.
Which is too bad, but my larger concern is their impact on the community.
Will other venues and businesses look to install their own outdoor LED displays? Will we see noisy video-screen advertising become increasingly common? Will advertising become an even bigger part of the urban fabric — more intrusive, visible and inescapable?
I would hope that the answer to all of these questions is a resounding no.
But I'm not optimistic, and here's why: The Times Union Center's LED screens really catch the eye.
I wanted to ignore them, but I kept turning toward them, perhaps because they are such a dominant part of the streetscape. This dominance won't be lost on those looking for better and more effective vehicles for advertising their products and services.
Yes, the screens are annoying.
But that doesn't mean they don't work.
At least, they worked on me.
I now have a much better sense of what's coming up at the Times Union Center than I did before I walked by it.
On my downtown stroll this past weekend, I caught snippets of ads for an Alan Jackson concert, the Times Union Center grand re-opening celebration with James Taylor and John Legend, and a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. Officials have also said that the LED displays will show highlights of sporting events held at the Times Union Center.
I wasn't planning to attend any of these events, and the LED screens didn't change my mind.
But they might change someone else's mind.
What's perhaps most unfortunate about the LED screens is that they detract from what is otherwise a nice overhaul of the Times Union Center, which was showing signs of age.
I like the renovated Times Union Center — it's more inviting and pleasant to look at.
But the LED screens change the look and feel of that particular part of downtown Albany, and not in a good way.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.