While still struggling to re-emerge, Downtown Albany is handed another roadblock in it’s quest for viability
The future of Downtown Albany has been uncertain for many years and longstanding division in the community certainly doesn’t help feed the life support machines that this area depends on. However, recently announced job loses in the downtown area may just be another nail in the coffin for the hopes of local visionaries.
In the past week, the USPS has announced their postal facility on West Broad will cease operations in early December. Yesterday, the Albany Herald announced that the local paper will no longer be printed at their downtown facility, but instead will be outsourced to Tallahassee Fl. While the postal workers are being transferred, the Herald decision will result in more job losses for our struggling economy. These job loses hit downtown squarely between the eyes due to the loss of workers coming downtown daily. Those workers spend money in the downtown area at restaurants, retail stores, and gas stations.
Speaking of eating lunch downtown, recently The Pizza Shop shut it’s doors. Owners returned no comment when we asked for the reasons for their closure, however, lets recognize that this great local Italian eatery closed in conjunction with the big box Olive Garden opening across town.
Longtime downtown advocate and one time politician BJ Fletcher has divested her investments downtown. Her once flagship restaurant is in new hands as BJ took a job with the Hilton in their catering/restaurant segment.
The largest recurring downtown event, D’Town Nights is certainly a different atmosphere this year than it was last year, and attracts a very different crowd than it did last summer. Once pulling a large crowd from the West Side of Albany and Lee County with it’s featuring of big name local entertainment like Highway 55, Faith Jackson and Running Down Romance, this year the entertainment has been much more obscure and alternative entertainers who certainly don’t have the draw these larger names pulled. This scene is far different than last year, drawing only the progressive and liberal left side of our society rather than the wide swath that it’s seen in the past.
Flint Fest, while a huge success last year with over 5000 paid attendees, may be overshadowed this year due to it’s placement just one weekend before the GA Throwdown and a significant weakening of the entertainment at this years downtown event.
How does this effect the health of downtown? Unfortunately, with the same people coming each month, it’s much less exposure for the downtown merchants who need their retail locations seen by a demographic that has more discretionary income.
A key for any downtown revitalization efforts is urban living in the area. Several efforts were bandied about to convert the now abandoned Albany Theater top floor into 4 loft apartments. I’ve seen this area and it seemingly would take very little to complete this project. I was first told these would be available last fall, then early in 2012. To date, nothing has happened on this effort.
There are a good selection of artists, musicians and other creative types who have said they would jump at an opportunity to live downtown. Many other cities have revitalized areas in just this way, provide reasonable accommodation for this demographic and let their efforts create an area that people are drawn into. This has reliably demonstrated a huge surge in property vaule in just a few years, once the area is seen as highly desirable. The problem is that despite Aaron Blair’s best efforts, no investors or developers are at all interested in spending any money downtown. If local money doesn’t see an opportunity, the only other option is public bonds, which would be highly controversial due to the lack of interest from private money. Downtown residences should have been available a full year ago and we are quickly approaching ‘too little, too late’.
Albany Uncovered once supported downtown revitalization efforts whole heartily, as we believe it’s good for a city and it’s residents. However, with the recent developments and continued loss of jobs in the area it is my opinion that Aaron Blair’s best intentions may just not be enough. Downtown needs a significant source of investment and a generously funded PR campaign to get it on it’s feet. The time for the ‘viral’ ‘grass roots’ effort is passing and interest in this area should be much higher than it is after the past efforts
With sporadic violence on the upswing, continued job loss in the immediate area, and lack of a plan in place to encourage residency immediately, this most recent effort to eventually gentrify the area just got much more difficult.