Mill Lane history is bleak

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B3

Date: Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Downtown Schenectady has had its share of rehabilitation failures, including Center City, Canal Square and the 400 Block. Even the Jay Street pedestrian mall hasn't yet lived up to expectations.

Then there was Mill Lane. I mentioned this project to several movers and shakers. All I got were blank stares, perhaps because the venture really bombed. In the late '70s, federal and state grants went to cities under the Urban Cultural Park initiative. Schenectady's funds went to Mill Lane, located adjacent to State and Church.

The goal was upgrading the city's western entrance. St. Martin's and Strawberry Lane restaurants opened on Mill Lane. Both started out with a bang, but they folded fast during the early stages of downtown's decline.

I scoped the area the other day for the first time in many years. The building that housed St. Martin's is boarded-up while Strawberry's is now low-end housing.

Battered concrete kiosks, busted bollards, broken ornamental roadway brick pavers, overgrown planters and benches marred by graffiti are the remnants.

Some nearby property owners long hoped the city would upgrade decaying, forgotten lower State Street. That is unlikely to happen for many years because the downtown priority is the Proctor's block.

Even though Metroplex has spent many millions in and around the theater, much more funding is needed for complete rehabilitation of that single block.

Mideast dispute is forever

Judging from my own experiences, the Lebanon/Israel regional mess seems destined to keep erupting at least forever plus a day.

Way back in `54, after discharge from a Korean War hitch, draftees like myself were mandated to give Uncle Sam six additional years in the inactive reserve.

In `58, with two years left of the reserve sentence, I got married. Three months after the wedding, in the mailbox was a letter from the Department of Offense.

The Army advised me I might be recalled to active duty because of strife in Beirut, Lebanon. Prior to shipping out to a place I had never heard of, I would get 30 days to settle personal business.

A nice wedding gift from the guys at the Pentagon.

Then came 1975, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war between Israel and Egypt in the Sinai Desert, when I answered a State Department request for citizen volunteers to monitor a peace agreement between the two countries.

I still have a letter from the late U.S. Rep. Sam Stratton noting that I was the first in the nation volunteering to sit in the desert between the combatants. Also a note from Sam questioning my sanity.

In both cases I dodged the bullet(s) because the nations settled their differences, at least temporarily.

Unfortunately, all these years later, it's abundantly clear the Middle East warriors are still at square one.

Brucker making comeback

There was recent mention here about Denise Brucker seeking a return to the City Council. Some council members said she asked for their support to be appointed to fill an upcoming vacancy.

Since then, there's word her political comeback attempt has gained steam. According to Democratic insiders, she will have the party backing for the appointment.

Councilwoman Barbara Strangfeld plans to give up her seat in the fall when she moves to Scranton. Brucker, a council member for eight years, declined running for a third term last year.

Besides Brucker, word has it Tom Della Salla also received strong consideration for the appointment. He a was a Schenectady Hi gh teacher for about 30 years before retiring earlier this year.

Freedom Park a mess

A Rotterdam woman visiting Freedom Park called the other day with a mixed review about the Scotia entertainment facility.

On the upside, Angela Bassi said the musical ``Grease'' was very well done. ``Freedom Park is a gorgeous venue surrounded by beautiful grounds and the river,'' she said.

On the downside, she complained about the condition of portable toilets. ``They weren't marked men and women and nothing was available for the handicapped. They were so filthy they should have been closed by the Health Department.''

Bassi said it was her first and last Freedom Park visit. ``I don't care if the Pope gives a sermon there, I wouldn't go back.'' After her call, I checked out the place, finding the complaint accurate.

Volunteers do a super job planning dozens of shows and raising funds to pay for musical performances. Just last week, The Refrigerators, a long popular Chicago-type musical crew, drew about 1,700 to Freedom Park.

Scotia officials should attempt to improve the facilities.