Schenectady sees the payoff

Downtown improvements are boosting the city's image, survey finds

ERIC ANDERSON Deputy business editor
Section: Business,  Page: B11

Date: Saturday, February 16, 2008

SCHENECTADY - You can get a glass of wine at the movie theater or a rich, calorie-laden Italian pastry at a shop around the corner.

Restaurants, a wine bar and a historic vaudeville house featuring Broadway shows are intermingled with small shops selling books and pottery. Weekdays, office workers crowd the sidewalks.

Downtown Schenectady has come a long way in just a few years, thanks to millions of dollars in investments that reversed a decades-long slide.

Now, the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, which has overseen much of the downtown development, says the investments are paying off.

A Siena Research Institute sur vey of Schenectady County residents found they are visiting downtown and have an improved opinion of it, compared to several years ago.

Results of the survey, commissioned by Metroplex, were released Friday. Among the findings:

Nearly 80 percent of county residents have visited downtown in the past year.

They attended arts events (75.8 percent), entertainment venues (67.7 percent), and went shopping (38.2 percent).

And 82 percent said their opinion of downtown had improved.

"The results of this survey show that county residents are pleased about our rebounding downtown," said Susan Savage, chairwoman of the Schenectady County Legislature. "Schenectady County has confidence and a reason to be optimistic for the first time in a generation about the direction we are headed."

Not everyone thinks the Metroplex money was well spent. "On the outside, it certainly looks good," said Joseph Suhrada, who owns Uncle Sam's Candy in Schenectady's outskirts and is a county legislator from Rotterdam. "Metroplex was supposed to be for real job creation, not gin mills and dance clubs.

"The residents around the county have not visited the deteriorating neighborhoods of Mont Pleasant, Woodlawn and Bellevue," he added. "They have seen a lot of pretty buildings at a $50 million price tag."

Downtown doesn't yet have much of a residential population. But Mayor Brian U. Stratton expects more housing will be developed as visitors decide they want to live downtown.

"That's part of a long-range plan, that we have a housing component," Stratton said. "It follows what the national trend is, toward a more urban environment."

Eric Anderson can be reached at 454-5323 or by e-mail at