Six short takeaways from six short talks

impact downtown albany pecha kucha sheehan

From Kathy Sheehan's 5 minutes (or so) at the podium.

We stopped by the Impact Downtown Albany event Wednesday evening to check out the "Glimpse of the Future of Downtown Albany" Pecha Kucha-style presentations. We were kind of curious about both the format -- basically a quick succession of very short talks -- and what some of the speakers -- including Albany mayor-elect Kathy Sheehan and SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher -- would have to say.

It turned out to be pretty much what you might expect if you've been following the discussion about downtown Albany for a while -- talk of residential, retail, the waterfront, leveraging things.

But, in the spirit of the format, we figured it'd be interesting to pluck one quick takeaway from each talk -- whether it was a fact, an idea, an impression, whatever. And here we go...

David Dixon - Goody Clancy
Goody Clancy is the consultancy assisting Capitalize Albany on this project.

Our impression of the presentation theme: Downtowns, hooray!
Quick takeaway: One block of main street-type retail development requires 1,000-2,000 nearby households to support it.

Ben Carlson - Goody Clancy

Our impression of the presentation theme: Other cities have done this!
Quick takeaway: They project that there could be 1,000 residential units in Pearl Street neighborhood downtown, as well as 1,000 residential units in a neighborhood in the warehouse district just to the north.

Nancy Zimpher - SUNY chancellor

Our impression of the presentation theme: SUNY is an engine for economic development!
Quick takeaway: Zimpher said there 210,000 jobs in the state currently unfilled, many of them tech jobs, in part because the skills of people here don't match up with the job. She saw a role for SUNY schools in helping to develop the skills necessary for those jobs.

Michael Holtzman - WhoSay
Holtzman is the chief technology officer for WhoSay, a company that produces social media management and analytics tools for celebrities. They have an office in downtown Albany, across the street from the SUNY admin building.

Our impression of the presentation theme: People who are in tech love cities!
Quick takeaway: Holtzman highlight the booming tech scene in New York City and noted it's concentrated in three neighborhoods: the Flatiron and Soho in Manhattan, and DUMBO in Brooklyn. And even in those neighborhoods the tech companies were clustered in just a few blocks.

Philip Morris - Proctors
As you know, Proctors is also connected with Capital Rep, which is in downtown Albany. In addition to being CEO of Proctors, Morris is also chief administrative officer of Cap Rep.

Our impression of the presentation theme: We need to think regionally!
Quick takeaway: Morris talked about how Buffalo has bunch of cultural institutions because it was once the 17th largest city in the nation -- they're like an after effect of the city's former prosperity. If the Capital Region wants that kind of stuff, it's only going to get there by working together regionally -- no one part is big enough to make it happen alone.

Kathy Sheehan - Albany mayor-elect

Our impression of the presentation theme: Think big!
Quick takeaway: Sheehan focused much of her talk on the idea of developing recreation and entertainment along the riverfront. But she kept coming back to pushing people to "think big" -- maybe that's a giant Ferris Wheel, maybe it's a monorail to get people from the train station to downtown Albany, maybe it's an IKEA at Central Warehouse. These were tossed out as examples of big ideas, not necessarily as projects she'd endorse. That has wondering about what sort of big, potentially transformational project she might end up pushing as mayor.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Impact Downtown Albany
+ Albany mayor 2013: Kathy Sheehan
+ An IKEA? Here? Well...


I went last night and thought the Mayor-Elect gave a great speech. What we have lacked in Albany is a vision. We have a lot of sporadic development, Park South, The riverfront, Delaware Ave, Upper Madison. But we lack a vision of how it all fits together, especially downtown. You walk around downtown and there is no indication that you are in one of the most historical cities in America. No condensed Boston style Freedom Trail, or really eye catching markers, just the old state blue markers. You wouldn't even know you're in the capital of New York. Businesses don't embrace it, nor does the city. Troy is a sore subjec in Albany, but you have to admit, they've done a nice job with the "enjoy Troy" theme. Businesses bought in. Every place you walk into has a sign, or old Troy materials from refurbished buildings. City budgets are important, as are all the technical aspects of running a city. But people also need something to embrace, a sense of who we are. There is no doubt, Albany could have that. But someone has to sell it. I think Mayor Sheehan's speech at least proved that she is open to anything. Let's also hope the era of "studies" are over in Albany. We've had enough of those. Time to actually implement one.

"Well sir, there's nothing on Earth like a genuine, bona-fide, electrified, six-car monorail!"

a ferris wheel? why not just have the corning tower open for later hours? Put a cafe up there - serve wine - it'll be a better view at 1% of the cost. Sadly, you'd still be able to see the Central Warehouse & you can look over Ida Yarbrough complex where you'd see a bunch of mobile observation towers the police use... which makes that part of Albany look like the West Bank.

I like the idea of a direct link from the train station to downtown. Lyle Lanley might be right - but anything is an improvement from the taxi "services" that run from there.

you're talking about change, which is a start.

One question that has not been asked: Do we really need a downtown Albany that is more than a 9-to-5 business and government center? A second question is more self-centered: What is the benefit to those of us who live in uptown Albany in modest houses with high taxes to support tax breaks and tax subsidies for 1000-2000 luxury downtown housing units?

@ newland

I would say yes, because having a thriving downtown would mean more businesses and residents which would lead to taxes not having rise as fast.

@Newland -- as an uptown resident I understand what you are saying. But if 1000-2000 downtown housing units (do we know they would all be luxury? -- I'd hope there would be some commitment to building affordable housing) and an influx of residents downtown can stimulate and support more restaurants, interesting retail options (please, not just same-old-same-old chains), and cultural events, then I might support tax subsidies if it created a lively environment that I would enjoy as a frequent visitor and customer. Because right now I don't have a lot of reasons to go downtown besides occasional visits to Cap Rep and the Palace. Shop there? Not a chance.

I won't pretend to know more than I do, but if Albany has aspirations of being a more vibrant, attractive city, it seems focusing on the "downtown" area is vital. And leadership should not be afraid to cater to a younger demographic in doing so.

If appealing industry jobs can be developed, and attractive downtown living is available, growth should not be hard to spark and generally spirals quickly when it catches on. If there are appealing jobs and nice places to live, people will come. If people come, businesses will come, and more jobs and housing, and more people...

So much of "downtown" caters to the gov't workers, which is part of the problem. I understand why, and that it needs it, but if it wasn't a ghost town on off-hours and weekends, that would be a big step forward in growth. One would imagine it also would boost interest and backing for waterfront development.

Just a reminder -- thousands and thousands of gov't workers actually live in Albany. I think they would also welcome a livelier urban environment. It's a stereotype to picture them as all older worker bees. A lot of them (us) have high levels of education and disposable income and made a lifestyle decision to live in the city where they (we) work . Though I'm now retired from state employment, I think it's a mistake to write off "gov't workers" as not having a stake or interest is creating more exciting things to do in the city. And a bit condescending. The gov't workers who live in Albany pay the property taxes that are the backbone of the city of Albany's services. Don't count us out.


Very good point. Since you quoted my comment I will clarify that "gov't workers" indirectly referred to those that do not live in Albany. Whether that means Glenmont, Guilderland, Colonie or parts further, I mainly meant anyone that is only in the heart of the city for their working hours. So not singling out gov't employees, it just happens that is the biggest and easiest to identify. The hospitals and schools are big players as well as others.

As an example, I live barely 2 blocks from the Empire State Plaza but don't work in that area. I hear about all kinds of cool things happening there - farmer's market, food trucks, various events, the aforementioned Corning Tower observation deck - but they mostly happen while we're away at our own jobs and not when locals are home to appreciate them.

I hope Mayor-elect Sheehan brings in new planners. The current ones are creating a mess in Park South and haven't made any progress downtown.

First, the only new thing I heard during the "Pecha Kucha" was the Ferris Wheel idea. The rest was a compilation of standard urbanist concepts and other people's ideas about the waterfront that have been floating around for years now. This is what we pay our consultants to do — gather other people's stuff and regurgitate it back to us in a way that will make us listen. Okay...

Here's my real question: how much money and resources has the City of Albany poured into encouraging and subsidizing residential development in the Albany Downtown? I'm talking about "off the books" funds from the IDA, Capitalize Albany and ACDA, not to mention staff time and energy. I'm not hearing those numbers, and don't tell me that we also put money into affordable housing in low-income neighborhoods so why not downtown. There is no comparison between subsidizing housing for people who can't afford more and subsidized housing for people who can afford to live anywhere. If the downtown is truly livable, people will come and developers will develop, but I don't think that's what is happening now. Prove me wrong.

Here's my vote — focus energy on the Convention Center site, and think about developing that prime piece of land in a way that will both invite people to come downtown and also benefit those of us who live here. I'm glad the aquarium idea is floating around, although skeptical about the economics. It got a discussion going. My preference would be a nice, compact Single A or Double A ball park, simple and cost-effective to build, good prospects for local ownership, and family-friendly with no tickets more than $10 (see, Portland Sea Dogs). Couple that with development of the lovely row of historic buildings on Broadway as a Quincey Market, add the ROW waterfront concepts and you have a set of draw that brings everybody in.

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