SCHENECTADY — An internet meme knocking downtown revitalization rapidly ricocheted through online corners last month.
Taking aim at the rebirth of post-industrial cities, the “This-City's-Makin'-A-Comeback Bingo Card” implores players to “explore your city and find out what makes it unique — like every other place.”
Among the 36 tongue-in-cheek entries:
Brewpubs, an arts district, ax-throwing bars, $10 juice, tea and cupcake shops, an “unused community garden” and “absurd rent in once-affordable places.”
Readers can quibble exactly where downtown Schenectady fits in compared with other urban locales emerging from decades-long downturns.
But what the Electric City does not have, says local business owner Mitch Ramsey, is a strong do-it-yourself events scene.
Ramsey, owner of the Jay St. Pub, said patrons increasingly ask about events programming. But despite what he believes is an abundance of grassroots activities in other upstate cities, the market in Schenectady remains generally unexplored.
“There’s definitely a market that hasn’t been tapped yet,” Ramsey said.
That’s not to say downtown is a ghost town.
Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation (DSIC) partners with Discover Schenectady for large-scale events that draw thousands of visitors downtown and into local bars and restaurants, including last month’s Wing Walk and the winter Soup Stroll.
And Frog Alley Brewing has dipped a toe into programming, offering live music and other activities.
But Ramsey envisions smaller, more curated events geared toward young people moving into the rapidly-expanding downtown housing stock.
Enter the Jay St. Pub Fall Fest Block Party on Saturday.
The outdoor event, which runs from noon to 6 p.m. outside of City Hall, includes live music from local bands, a chowder cook-off showcasing local restaurants, and of course, craft beer.
“It’s the start of a series of block parties,” Ramsey said.
A key goal of the party is to give downtown organizations a platform to introduce themselves, said event co-organizer Sarah Adamowski, who characterized the current downtown mood as “progressive and exciting.”
“Our goal is to get the community involved with a social aspect,” Adamowski said. “We’re trying to incorporate a cultural experience that has not existed for a long time.”
Ramsey said the stretch of Jay Street in front of City Hall, which is often used by event organizers, is prime real estate for an event space, and the architecture lends itself to a unique aesthetic.
“City Hall is a gorgeous building,” he said. ”How do you not want to have entertainment in front of it?”
Over time, Ramsey wants to branch out and experiment with different genres of music and programming — perhaps even spin the chowderfest concept off into a standalone event, similar to wildly-popular counterparts in Troy and Saratoga Springs, or organize a local SantaCon, the annual pub crawl by revelers dressed in St. Nick costumes.
For this event, organizers aim to start small and gradually scale up.
“This event can grow in scope very quickly,” Adamowski said. “Schenectady is on the rise, but we want to do it as quickly as we can.”
Ramsey was quick to credit DSIC for lighting the fuse on attracting people downtown, and for creating a business-friendly environment that makes entrepreneurs want to invest in the community.
“DSIC sparked the initiative into moving in this direction with the events they do for the benefit of downtown as well as the upkeep they provide to beautify our city on a daily basis, attracting people like myself who want to be here,” Ramsey said. “You don’t find that in very many places.”
Other business owners appeared cautiously optimistic.
Ambition owner Marc Remsen said he likes the concept of an event series that brings in downtown business owners.
"I'm open to anything,” he said. “I love when small businesses get involved, and anything that helps downtown is great.”
But he also wondered about the ability of small businesses to reach a large-scale audience without broader outreach from local chambers of commerce.
Remsen also wondered if the surge of downtown housing — officials have put the number at 900 apartment units not including the Mill Artisan District reshaping lower State Street — will attract and retain tenants if downtown doesn’t diversify past being a restaurant destination.
"Schenectady is still not a livable city,” Remsen said. “Until it becomes a livable city, nobody is going to live downtown unless there’s a reason to live downtown.”
IF YOU GO
Jay St. Pub Fall Fest Block Party: Saturday, Nov. 16 from noon to 6 p.m.
Tickets are limited and can be purchased at www.jspfallfest.com
Bands performing: Errorsmith, Justin Friello Trio, and The Cover Ups