Development company: We're paying for a closer look at a potential Albany aquarium

omni development aquarium convention center site concept

The concept floated by Omni Development earlier this summer. (larger)

Omni Development announced today that it's hired a consultancy to "study the potentials and challenges for an economically rejuvenating project to be located in downtown Albany." In other words: Omni wants to see how feasible it would be to build the proposed aquarium/science museum/IMAX theater/thing at the site of the land gathered for the Albany convention center project.

From the press release:

Omni decided to take the lead with this investment in the future of the Capital Region after receiving weeks of enthusiastic public support to their proposal for a destination-caliber project to transform downtown Albany economically and culturally. In June, Omni provided numerous examples of how such a venue -- featuring an aquarium as the hub of an educational, scientific and entertainment attraction -- would be a regional stand-out and generate extensive visitation and revenue for the area. The study now initiated by Omni will be specific to Albany, with expert analyses and projections of current and future demographics, revenue potentials, competition, trends and "right-sizing" of facilities.

Earlier this summer Omni pitched the idea of a large development at the convention center site that could include an aquarium, museums, entertainment venues, and parks. And, of course, the Albany Aquarium group has also been rallying attention and support along its own track.

So, this could be a good thing for the conversation. It's one thing to toss an idea like this out there for discussion, it's another to put a team of people to work on figuring what might it actually end up involving. (And yet another to find the money to pay for the project if it moves ahead.)

The consultancy that Omni's hired -- ConsultEcon in Cambridge, Massachusetts -- worked with a bunch of aquarium and museum clients around the world, and helps clients with "determining concept definition and refinement, establishing market proof of plans and concepts, determining financial viability, supporting project funding or creating sustainable operating strategies," according to its website.

Omni says it expects something back by the end of September, and that it will share the results with the public.

Update: Here's some good follow up by the Biz Review's Mike DeMasi about whether the consultancy would actually return a study reporting an aquarium is a bad idea, and skepticism from Albany mayoral candidate Kathy Sheehan.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Soapbox: Thinking differently about what a destination museum in Albany could be
+ Push continues for Albany aquarium

image: Omni Development / MLG Architects


I'm suspicious.

Sounds good to me. Now we just need to find money to do it.

I think we should all heed the words of Gavin Donohue on this issue (from the TU).

"Jennings and convention center officials have been openly skeptical, or worse, of Omni's proposal, with Albany Convention Center Authority Chairman Gavin Donohue calling it "a terrible idea and is unsupportable under any basic economic development theories."

This man is the head of the Convention Center Authority. He has been collecting a six figure salary for many years. What has he delivered? Well, he has been a cheerleader for "a terrible idea that is unsupportable under any basic economic development theories"

Convention centers lose money and cost the taxpayers. And don't benefit the surrounding communities. That is very clear by all the research that has been done. An hour on google will prove to anyone understanding "basic economic development theories" that convention centers are failures for everyone except politicians, their appointees (like Mr. Donohue) and their donors (in Albany this would be BBL/Columbia).

It is nice to see him trying to suppress any competing ideas to his terrible idea. I'm sure most of us would do the same for his salary and a job that has not required you to do anything in close to a decade (in all fairness, they did put out two press releases in 2011, two more than they did in 2012).

Personally I think that space should be used for a combination of residential and retail that could drive the revitalization of downtown. Stop talking about building things for visitors. Build a community in downtown and people will want to visit. Build another big building for visitors and downtown will continue to be a ghost town. People as likely to go to Jennings Landing as attend the next moon landing.

On several issues candidate Sheehan has said that she would like to see all the information about making any economic decisions. This is great. Now a private company is offering to pay for a study to get more information and she is against that idea. Seems odd, doesn't it?

The issue is that she plans to be the next mayor of Albany and to do that she has taken the support of all the same people who supported Jennings. And BBL/Columbia is the developer of choice and she is not going to change that. Has she been this forceful on any other issue during the campaign? Not to my knowledge. Is fighting an aquarium feasibility study really that important? Apparently.

However, I will agree with Sheehan on one thing. These consultants do tend to return positive forecasts for these big projects. The company that did the forecasts for the proposed Albany Convention Center has done many of them which have gone on to be built and ended up falling far short of the projections and being huge burdens to the tax payers. Will she hold the same standard for the convention center or will she stand with Donohue, Jennings and her early supporter Jack McEneny and avoid the real economic facts regarding these projects? Check her donations from BBL/Columbia and all of their shell companies and you can be pretty sure what she will do.

And how about some vision from these people instead? I see more good ideas in these comments about what needs to happen in Albany than i hear from candidates. Saying that Capitalize Albany has a plan is not vision. Someone other than Jennings' saying that is pretty frightening. They've had many plans over the decades. And nothing has happened with their plans. It should also be noted that the plan Sheehan is touting, instead of one done by outside consultants who she says she can't trust, is done by outside consultants (why does this all sound so familiar?)

At least Ellis is proposing some new ideas instead of trying to shut them down. Even though I personally don't think an aquarium is the best use for that downtown land I am 100% certain that a plan by Capitalize Albany and their consultants will be of, by and for the well connected. A product of the Jennings administration in every way.

Sounds like a development plan not a feasibility study.

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