There are some great things downtown, and Aaron Blair has done some good things as well. Nothing I’m about to say have anything to do with Blair. In fact, most of this stuff happened long, long before Blair. In fact, a lot of it dates to my childhood.
You see, I was born and raised in Albany. I’ve lived in this area my whole life, with the exception of my time in the Navy. When I was younger, downtown wasn’t exactly where you went for things, but it wasn’t hurting either. There were businesses and stores all over the place. I remember my folks taking me into record store downtown in the late 70′s. A man working behind the counter was apparently related to one of the hostages in the United States Embassy in Iran at the time (so that should help you date it).
My father, a police officer with the Albany Police Department, would frequent the Quickie downtown almost daily. They would see him crossing the street from the courthouse and raise up a single finger. Dad would either nod, or hold up two instead. They knew what he would get. The only question was how many burgers he would chow down on.
Then one day, my father told me the city was trying to push the Quickie out. Mayor James Gray had big plans for downtown, and places like the Quickie were in the way. I had looked forward to the day I would get to go to the Quickie with my father, but it was never meant to be. There was always time, until there suddenly wasn’t anymore.
Today, downtown is mostly a ghost town if the government is off. During many holidays, downtown would be a great place to film a movie…if you’re doing the early stages of an apocalypse. There’s no one there. I honestly believe that, at least in part, downtown is the result of the City of Albany’s own efforts through the years. While we have some shiny buildings down there like the Government Center and the school board’s building, those sit where business once thrived.
Unfortunately, we’re never going back to those old days. In all honesty, the “good old days” may be filtered by years of memories that have morphed them into being better than they were. However, I stand by my belief that half of the problems we see downtown were the result of government action. By removing some popular places downtown, people simply stopped going there. They looked towards the new mall, and the northwest part of town. Now, only a handful of people look downtown, and they’re the ones who have invested in its growth in some manner, be it financial or emotional. I’ve invested both, though I am no longer downtown financially.
So what will it take for me to finally buy in wholeheartedly? Well, in part, I want to hear the city say that they screwed up. No one in power now was in power then, so it can’t fall back on them. But a city commission that says, “You know, the city was wrong to do all of these things. It wasn’t what downtown really needed” would tell me that they recognize that government can make mistakes and maybe, just maybe, be open to doing things right for a change…or at least be willing to accept that there are limitations to what can happen because of those past mistakes.
There are a lot of good things going on downtown. I think there is a real chance for a positive direction with the arts movement that has been growing over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, I will have a problem with the past. I probably should let it go, but that’s easier said than done. Maybe when a critical mass is reached and downtown growth is simply a given, I will. I doubt it though. Future success doesn’t erase former sins after all.