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Downtown Schenectady Master Plan — II: Background and Introduction

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[This information is from pp. 7-10 of the Downtown Schenectady Master Plan prepared by Hunter Interests, Inc. in 1999, and is reproduced with their permission. It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 711 DOWf.]

Many factors contributed to the decline which downtown Schenectady and other American cities experienced during the second half of this century — population shifts, out-migration of retailing to suburban shopping centers, corporate relocation to suburban office parks, the industrial migration from northern states to the sun belt, civil unrest and rising crime rates, and other factors. Nationwide, the concerted efforts of public and private sector leaders have been necessary to turn this situation around in order to strengthen the central business district which is so necessary for a strong regional economy.

Now, downtowns are coming back in many American cities in response to aggressive revitalization efforts in support of realistic downtown plans. In most instances this is being accomplished through innovative public/private ventures and the pursuit of new markets, rather than trying to replicate the central business district of the past. With falling crime rates, new confidence in old cities, and a sustained period of national economic prosperity, the time is right for downtown revitalization in Schenectady.

The City of Schenectady recognized the need for a comprehensive revitalization program for downtown Schenectady and retained the team of Hunter Interests Inc., Sasaki Associates, Synthesis Architects, and O. R. George & Associates to prepare a downtown master plan. The purpose of the plan is to assist public and private sector leadership in addressing the shifting downtown economy and its role in the community while establishing a realistic program for coordinated shortterm action within the context of a feasible long-term framework plan. This report presents that action program and framework plan.

Counterbalancing some of the negative trends that downtowns have experienced nationwide, downtown Schenectady has and will continue to benefit significantly from the following:

It is evident that downtown Schenectady has many strengths that are the envy of other American communities. Many communities that have sprung up as a result of urban sprawl are desperately trying to create the sense of place and identity that downtown Schenectady has historically enjoyed. It is essential that this identity be preserved and restored.

Because of Schenectady's numerous assets and its sustained leadership commitment, the Hunter/Sasaki team is optimistic about the future of downtown. The strategy presented in Section V of this report will induce tangible, visible improvement in downtown Schenectady during the next one to five years. In turn, "early winners" will generate renewed confidence and spur further improvement initiatives during the following 5 to 10 years.

A true urban center is the focus of community life and should include a concentration of cultural, social, and business activities. It is a common element in the lives of all residents-a place defining the character and image of the community. Downtown Schenectady has the potential to evolve into the livable urban center that offers an environment that is "genuine," with a diverse array of activities and reasons to be downtown including to live, be entertained, shop, dine, be educated, work, and, most importantly, to interact socially with a diverse array of people and cultures.

The goals that have been established throughout the community improvement process to date are as follows:

The study area comprises approximately 305 acres of land within the core of the downtown as shown in Figure 1. This includes approximately 700 legally described properties on the tax maps for the City of Schenectady. This includes approximately 500 buildings.

The formal boundaries of the study are the streets listed below. However, it should be noted that the strategic plan recognizes and addresses influences and issues that are beyond these boundaries.

The master plan provides a sound template for the future well being and economic health of Schenectady for the majority of the population and for use by visitors to the area. However, if part of the city is in decline, the city as a whole suffers. A future study is required to examine the needs of Hamilton Hill and Vale Park neighborhoods which fell beyond the scope of this study. Such essential issues as the expansion of home ownership programs, the creation of new educational and job training opportunities, the establishment of business incubators, the incorporation of services and jobs within walking distance of residents, the improvement of the match between public transportation and resident requirements, and beautification of the neighborhoods should be properly addressed in a separate study and plan.

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