Editor's note: This story was corrected on Jan. 10, 2019. An earlier version incorrectly reported the result of a Schenectady City Council vote on a resolution to combine Liberty and Riverside parks to form Gateway Plaza.
SCHENECTADY -- The first event to be held in the newly renovated Gateway Plaza on State Street was a success, according to its organizers.
Becky Daniels, executive director of Discover Schenectady, and Jason Lecuyer, director of special events for Schenectady County, both said the Nearly New Year's Eve Celebration event that was held on Dec. 29 went so well they are already planning on doing it again this year. They said the date for it will most likely be Dec. 28.
“It was incredible,” Lecuyer said. “The goal was to provide another event in the community, but also showcase a new area in the city. The park is brand new and had yet to have anything done in it.”
Approximately 200 people showed up to the event that was meant to be a unique way to ring in the new year ahead the actual holiday. Organizers also said the event was an experiment to see if an outdoor family-oriented event in late December could be possible.
It was an event that featured live musical acts, a laser light show and even beer from all of the breweries that are part of the Schenectady Ale Trail.
Several sponsors of the event had tables at the celebration, including miSci, which had a thermal imaging camera that showed people exactly how cold they were. Also at the event were MVP Healthcare, Redburn Development, Price Chopper & Market 32, Sunmark FCU, and Legere Restoration and the Schenectady Armory Center.
The main attraction, both Daniels and Lecuyer said, was the laser light show. Daniels said people even started dancing when the light show started.
Lecuyer said they received a lot of positive feedback from people who attended the event. A lot of them even said how much they loved the venue it was held in. Some even said they weren’t aware the park existed, Daniels said.
“I think people were in awe with how beautiful the space was and how it’s good for programming,” Daniels said.
Renovations for the park, formerly known as Liberty Park, were completed earlier this year. It had been closed off for renovations after Tropical Storm Irene caused flooding to some of the properties south of State Street, along with some structures south of the park.
The city received a $960,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration for renovations to the space, as well as $400,000 in funding from the state Regional Economic Development Council.
The park was able to nearly double in size to a third of an acre as the FEMA grant gave the city the ability to acquire and demolish nearby buildings, and expand into those lots. Also, in 2017, the City Council voted to allow the park to absorb a portion of Riverside Park in its transformation into becoming Gateway Plaza, with Councilman Vince Riggi casting the only dissenting vote.
City and county officials said the name is fitting since the park serves a gateway into the city. It’s also an area that has several redevelopment projects occurring and is where a portion of Interstate 890 exits into.
“I’m truly comfortable with the name,” said City Council President Ed Kosiur. “It designates it as a plaza, which is truly what it is.”
The park has not been completely free of controversy, as it was the location for a Statue of Liberty replica that was removed when renovations of the park began. Several residents have requested the 8-foot, 4-inch replica statue be returned to the park. It is unclear where the statue will eventually go.
The Nearly New Year's celebration was the first event to be held in the park since renovations were completed. There were two other attempts earlier this year, including a dedication and ribbon cutting ceremony in August and an event called Groovin’ at Gateway in September. Both events, though, were cancelled.
Lecuyer said they were happy to host the first event at the park and have it be so successful. Daniels said they are now looking for ways to improve on it.
“We have a whole year to make it bigger and better,” Daniels said. “It proved it could draw a good turnout.”