A couple of years ago, city officials lamented being “out blogged” regarding downtown. They felt that the blogging against the city’s plan would ultimately hurt their efforts, so they held a meeting to try and map out a strategy. They invited city leaders and business leaders. However, they didn’t bother to invite the bloggers.
During that time, I was pretty much it. I was the blogger writing about downtown, so it was me that was “out blogging” them. I wrote then that if they wanted to effectively combat the blogging, they could try something a little radical. They could try and convince me that their plan didn’t suck.
Color me convinced.
The plan at the time was for bars and night spots to draw people to downtown, like a moth to a flame, but that seemed to be the bulk of it. My point then, and it still stands as valid in my opinion, is that why would people go downtown to hit up a bar when there are bound to be bars a lot closer to where they already are? Enter the current ideas.
This week, we’re running a story about the Superfancy art show. I’ve previously written about the “Arts on Deck” events as well. These events, which don’t happen anywhere else in the city, are catalysts. These are the events which can draw people into the downtown area. This was missing from the previous plans, and that was why I was down on the city’s plans for downtown.
What we have going on now is a far cry from what we previously had. Previous downtown manager Don Buie’s big contribution to downtown was a dollar store. Current downtown manager Aaron Blair’s contribution is help an arts scene which is hip, edgy, and bound to make a splash. Now, tell me honestly, which are you more likely head downtown to visit?
Downtown, more specifically the downtown plan isn’t without its problems in my opinion. I’m still not convinced that their idea of loft apartments is going to work the way they plan, at least not at the last price point I was privy to, but those are minor quibbles. What is happening downtown has made a believer out of me.
Here’s the kicker though. Most of these changes have come about not because of the city government, although Blair clearly deserves some significant credit, but because of private individuals. The restaurants and bars downtown didn’t open because the City of Albany decreed it. They opened because some entrepreneur saw an opportunity to embrace downtown. From Bo Henry in the early days to B.J. Fletcher now, private enterprise has truly driven downtown. Even the arts movement downtown, while helped by Blair and the City of Albany, was truly the brainchild of private artists who banded together.
Blair once told me that he saw his job as starting the ball rolling on events like “Arts on Deck”, but he envisioned private entities stepping up and making it happen down the road. Personally, I like that and I’m willing to do what I can to make that happen. Downtown is finally starting to take shape as the “happening” place in town.
Maybe it’s just me, but perhaps this can serve as a roadmap for what we can do throughout this entire town. We are never going to be Mayberry. Those days are long gone, and that’s not a bad thing. We are, for better or for worse, an urban center. It’s time we embrace that. Downtown is setting the stage for that, and it’s up to the rest of Albany to follow suit.