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Downtown Schenectady Master Plan — VI: Downtown Development Plan

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[This information is from pp. 86-129 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.]

A. Strategic Approach to Revitalization and Development

The Hunter/Sasaki study team recommended an action-oriented, tightly geographically focused development strategy that combines the following key components:

In order for the revitalization effort for downtown to be successful, it is imperative that these components be undertaken simultaneously, not in isolation. The growth of small businesses in downtown Schenectady is one of the most important goals for the downtown revitalization strategy. However, any strategy to attract small businesses that would fill up existing retail space and contribute to the appeal of downtown must involve the introduction of primary uses that are economic generators for the surrounding mix of establishments. Business attraction programs that rely solely on the use of marketing or incentive and loan programs do not address the need to create the necessary pedestrian traffic to support urban retail and food and beverage establishments. Small business growth programs that depend on loans and incentives must have extremely deep pockets to subsidize the clusters of small business establishments until a generative level of critical mass is created. The introduction of new daytime and evening primary uses will create additional pedestrian traffic at various times of the day. When combined with the other key elements listed above, there will be significant impact on downtown revitalization in considerably less time. The reality of historic preservation and the creation of a livable urban center can only be realized with an increase in the number of reasons to visit downtown, which result in a significant increase in the number of people who are downtown.

It is also critical that key generative attractions, such as Proctor's and a 16-screen multiplex theater, need to be surrounded by a pleasant, well managed environment with appropriate support infrastructure, such as restaurants, retail, and other entertainment options in order to realize their full economic impact on downtown and to be able to justify public sector support. Thus it is equally important to attract small businesses that will support the primary uses. The early stages of implementation of the plan must demonstrate a level of coordinated public/private investment that is unprecedented in Schenectady's recent history.

These planned and coordinated investments would produce physical changes that include putting more people on the streets during day and evening hours, beautifying and enhancing the downtown physical environment, showing renewed investor confidence in downtown Schenectady, and demonstrating the confidence of the community leadership in the future of downtown. When these changes are coupled with appropriate publicity and a broad-based public relations effort, the proposed anchor projects, such as new office space, the expansion of Proctor's, and the addition of a multiplex cinema, will attract higher levels of interest in locating additional arts, office, retail, entertainment, and food/beverage establishments in the downtown area. These investments will generate a community-wide sense that the downtown commercial situation has been turned around, is on the move, and is coming back. Additional investment and residential reuse will follow.

Improvement actions during the early stages of plan implementation are designed to demonstrate that improvements are, in fact, taking place. City government will accomplish some of these improvements. Others will be the result of private investment, and some will be public/private partnerships of one type or another. With these improvements being visible and occurring throughout the downtown area, the cumulative effect should be to heighten investment confidence and change some of the negative perceptions and attitudes that are quite prevalent today.

In order to maximize the impact of the recommended physical improvements and the introduction of new primary uses, the initial development plan should focus development and improvements within a relatively concentrated geographic area. This should include the upper State Street area from Veteran's Park to Erie Boulevard, and the adjacent areas to the east and west, such as Jay, upper Broadway, and Liberty Streets.

The selection of specific projects and activities to be included in the focus area was carefully planned to achieve maximum impact, create exciting new public open spaces, and include the widest possible array of organizations and businesses. If successful, the anchor projects included in this strategy will produce significant physical and economic change in a focused area of downtown. The details of each component of the downtown revitalization strategy are described in the following sections of this report, along with certain flexible long-term developments that would follow and are also considered to be part of the long-range downtown development plan.

B. Visualization of Preferred Alternative

Future redevelopment and improvement in downtown Schenectady will involve continued and lasting support from both the private and public sectors. Projects such as the streetscape improvements on upper State, the development of the MVP medical office building, the relocation of the Department of Transportation's regional offices, and the planned intermodal transportation facility are all important first steps toward implementation. However, it is imperative that the current level of activity and interest in downtown Schenectady continues far into the future.

The final Downtown Master Plan is intended to be a road map that guides redevelopment activity. As new projects and opportunities present themselves, business leaders and City officials will be able to use the master plan to evaluate where and in what configuration these projects fit into the City. It will be important to maintain a degree of flexibility in the plan so that adjustments can be made in response to changes in regional economic conditions. Such changes, however, should not change the overall framework for the master plan that is outlined in this report.

The plan is made up of a range of new building projects that include office buildings, entertainment facilities, education and cultural facilities, residences, and structured parking facilities. These planned new developments are shown on the downtown Master Plan visualization map in Figure 45. This final master plan combines the best features of the three alternatives previously described, within the context of the important implementation strategies described herein.

New office and research/development facilities are generally sited along the major circulation corridors in the downtown (State Street, Broadway, and Erie Boulevard). The one exception is the proposed office facility on the corner of Franklin and Lafayette. These new buildings are strategically sited to provide employees easy direct access (by walking) to commercial and retail shopping areas downtown, while also offering convenient access to parking.

Several downtown studies have shown that office tenants with short lunch breaks require immediate access to food service and shops or they will not use them, particularly during winter months. This factor weighed heavily on decisions to locate new office buildings like the DOT building and the Western Gateway Transportation Center offices directly on State Street.

Structured parking facilities needed to support new office and entertainment uses, as well as to replace surface parking lost to new construction, have been sited proximate to both new and existing buildings. A total of nine new parking structures will be easily accessed from major entry corridors as a means to mitigate the impact of traffic circulating through the downtown.

Future expansion of academic and civic uses is focused in the new intermodal transit facility and in two new buildings adjacent to Schenectady County Community College. Other smaller civic and educational functions can be accommodated as infill uses in rehabilitated buildings throughout the downtown area.

One new site is identified for new residential development near the Stockade Neighborhood and just off Erie Boulevard. Other residential growth is planned for the upper levels of rehabilitated commercial buildings, including artists' lofts and small clusters of rental apartments.

One of downtown Schenectady's greatest needs today is in civic gathering spaces. Jay Street is a wonderful space where public investment in planting, lighting, paving, and furnishings have come together to create a valuable civic asset for the City. The plan includes several additional plazas, open spaces, and improvements to surface parking lots for use as locations for festivals, events, art shows, concerts, and group gatherings.

An important next step will be to undertake streetscape improvements for upper State Street including: narrowing of the street to two travel lanes, restoring onstreet parking on both sides of the street, adding new street trees and lighting, and shifting the local bus pick-up and drop-off further up State Street toward Lafayette. By narrowing the street and expanding the sidewalk, there will be increased opportunity for street level retail and dining activity on the sidewalks.

Other planned civic improvements along State Street include the expansion of Veteran's Park by taking out the segment of Albany Street between Lafayette and Veeder, a new civic gathering space or park at the corner of State and Erie as part of the new transportation facility, and the expansion and renovation of Liberty Park across from Schenectady County Community College.

Building on the success of Jay Street, the Downtown Master Plan proposes extension of this civic space across from City Hall between Franklin and Liberty Streets. While this section of Jay would remain open to vehicles (one way toward Liberty), the reduction of the street width, widening of the sidewalk in front of the shops on Jay Street, and replacement of the angle parking with parallel parking will develop a more pedestrian type of environment.

The Hunter/Sasaki team proposes street improvements along Franklin Street from Jay Street up to Vale Park. These improvements would also include reducing the width of the street from four lanes with parking to two lanes with parking, allowing for new street tree planting and sidewalk upgrades. The improved Franklin Street will serve as the connection between downtown and the open space resource of Vale Park.

A longer term civic improvement is shown for Erie Boulevard. The plan calls for introducing a 50-foot wide, landscaped median from State Street down to the I890 interchange with street trees on either side. The street will remain as two lanes in each direction with parallel parking on either side. These improvements are intended to be completed in conjunction with proposed development of research and retail facilities identified along Erie Boulevard.

C. Implementation Strategies

Most downtown plans focus on the preparation of physical development plans and use and transportation recommendations, which describe recommended future uses of individual properties or groups of properties in the downtown area, changes in pedestrian and vehicular circulation patterns, preservation of historic structures, removal of blighting influences, urban design, and streetscape recommendations. Together, these are intended to make a downtown function better and be more attractive. While this planning program has produced an excellent physical development plan prepared by Sasaki Associates and Synthesis Architects which is described in the previous section, an important focus of the entire planning process was implementation and new development/redevelopment that can be triggered during the next four to seven years. The reasons for this short-term implementation focus are numerous, including the following:

Due to all of these factors and others, the Hunter/Sasaki planning team, with able assistance from City and SEDC staff, focused on plans and projects that could be successfully implemented during the next four to seven years, and held promise for creating synergistic impacts that would change perceptions about downtown Schenectady, and assist the creation of new market opportunities. Throughout this planning process the focus was on short-term action, without ignoring its long-term implications, and establishment of a framework plan that had sufficient flexibility to adapt to changing market circumstances as downtown revitalization occurs. To ensure that action projects recommended herein mutually reinforced each other and created results which are greater than the sum of the parts, the planning team and its client group kept three important themes in mind:

These three important themes were prevalent in virtually all of our analysis and planning efforts' during 1999, as the Downtown Schenectady Master Plan was prepared. A long-range framework has been presented and accepted through a process of citizen and leadership involvement. The balance of this report focuses on specific short-term revitalization strategies and projects that can be implemented quickly, and which will together demonstrate levels of confidence and reinvestment in the future of downtown Schenectady that are unprecedented in recent years.

1. Arts and Entertainment Development Strategy

The expansion of downtown Schenectady's cultural arts and entertainment offering is one of the most important elements of the revitalization of downtown to create a vibrant urban center. The introduction of additional entertainment facilities that are generative and complementary to existing establishments, and the realization of additional support facilities will enable existing entertainment venues to have a far greater impact on downtown environmental and economic conditions. This will, in turn, strengthen the operations of individual attractions. Expanding and strengthening the arts and entertainment offering capitalizes on the unique urban fabric of downtown and facilities such as Proctor's, the Schenectady Museum, Center City Sportsplex, and the Stockade.

The creation of a diverse entertainment district will have significant positive impacts on the appeal of downtown and the market potential for residential, office, and destination/specialty retail. Downtown has to be more than just a place for workers if it is to evolve into a vibrant 24-hour urban center. In order to create a diverse entertainment zone that appeals to a wide variety of market segments, the downtown entertainment offering must have facilities that provide the following kinds of experiences:

During the formulation of the entertainment development strategy options, the introduction of a big splash attraction such as an aquarium, sports stadium, convention center, etc., was considered. After careful examination of the existing environmental and market conditions, combined with input received from the community, we recommend that the focus of entertainment development be on developing a downtown cinema complex as a "people generator," improving existing facilities through expansion and upgrading, attracting new small entertainment establishments that would complement the existing urban fabric, and development of entertainment that would attract the local population many times throughout the year.

The basis of this marketing strategy is to develop facilities that are geared toward regular use by residents, as opposed to occasional visitors, and, in turn, create demand that encourages incremental infill/reuse development of the existing urban fabric.

Once local residents have embraced downtown as the place to be, entertainment penetration of a broader geographic region will be increasingly realized, including penetration of the lucrative tourist market. The development of entertainment establishments will likely come from local operators/developers and community groups that possess local knowledge of the community, or through partnerships that combine this local knowledge and existing resources with national entertainment expertise.

a. Basis for Entertainment Development Strategy

Demand for major attractions and entertainment is a function of the propensity of different population segments to spend discretionary income on leisure activities. Each market segment behaves differently in this regard. For example, people on vacation spend money they may have saved for entertainment, while local residents may spend less on a day-to-day basis, but occasionally go to movies, restaurants, etc., throughout the year. Most major regional entertainment attractions, such as aquariums, museums, and sporting venues, must successfully penetrate the local market as well as attract leisure travelers to generate the levels of direct and indirect economic impacts needed to warrant the necessary public sector investment. For leisure travelers, a particular destination may be the primary purpose of travel, or it may be a secondary destination and entertainment option.

Leisure spending is essentially a luxury. Population segments with significant amounts of discretionary income are more likely to patronize entertainment venue of all types, including aquariums, museums, Broadway shows, restaurants, concerts, sports, nightclubs, etc.

For purposes of attraction and entertainment analysis, it is typical to assume that people living within an hour's drive are in the primary market area for a major regional attraction. The Capital Region's population is approximately 871,700, according to Sales and Marketing Magazine's "1999 Survey of Buying Power." Based on the current perceptions of downtown Schenectady among many Capital Region residents, it is likely that existing conditions and the perception of an unsafe environment would inhibit primary market penetration of any major attraction in downtown Schenectady.

The City and County of Schenectady have a relatively small population, 60,900 and 145,500, respectively, according to the "1999 Survey of Buying Power." This means major regional attractions must be able to draw significantly from Albany, Rensselaer, and Saratoga in order to be economically feasible. Saratoga Race Course is a very successful seasonal attraction that draws substantial numbers of Capital Region residents on a consistent basis. It also attracts tourists from throughout the nation and the world. The Saratoga Race Course is successful because it provides high quality entertainment that is considered fashionable in the Capital Region. An even more important characteristic is that Saratoga Race Course is an attraction that has and will always define Saratoga Springs, providing an authentic attachment to the community and the region. It drew more than 887,000 visitors in 1998. The track, as an economic generator, has been capitalized upon by the creation of a charming main street experience with restaurants, nightclubs, coffee shops, and the arts in downtown Saratoga Springs.

The Saratoga Springs experience illustrates many of the critical elements necessary for large-scale attractions to be drivers of urban revitalization. Generally, the greater the number of the following characteristics an attraction or project has, the greater the overall economic benefit will be.

Downtown Schenectady is home to numerous attractions, such as the Stockade Historical District, Proctor's Theatre, and the Schenectady Museum, all of which have appeal to leisure travelers visiting the region. However, downtown Schenectady has not reached a level of critical mass and cachet that can induce a significant number of tourists to make a side trip to visit downtown. By addressing issues such as the perception of safety, while continuing to build the cultural arts offering and other forms of evening entertainment, developing events, and improving the appearance of the area, the regional market penetration of existing attractions can be substantially increased, along with the corresponding economic impacts.

Capturing a greater share of the convention, exhibition, tradeshow, consumer show, and conference markets should also be part of the long-term development plan for downtown. The development of downtown Schenectady as an entertainment destination will have a dramatic impact on the appeal of downtown as a destination for conventions, tradeshows, etc. Therefore, we recommend that a public assembly facility be considered as part of Phase II development 5 to 10 years from now, to enable the development in Phase I of necessary support infrastructure and enhancements that will play a critical role in the marketability of any future public assembly facility.

The second critical characteristic of a successful public assembly facility that generates significant levels of economic impact is the proximity to a well positioned hotel supply. The current Schenectady hotel market cannot support additional hotel development without adversely affecting existing hotel supply. At the same time, based on market feedback from demand generators, our analysis shows that the current downtown Schenectady hotel offering is not sufficient to meet the majority of convention and tradeshow needs. Therefore, we recommend that the feasibility of a public assembly facility be reexamined in four to five years when the entertainment district has been established and the downtown hotel supply is strengthened by other market factors, such as the expansion of the downtown office market and increased tourist penetration. The logical location for a public assembly facility is in the general area of the Holiday Inn, which is currently the only full service hotel in downtown. Meeting planners strongly prefer having convention and tradeshow facilities physically connected to a headquarters hotel. One option would be to expand the current Holiday Inn and/or seek additional hotel development once the market warrants.

The performing arts are very popular in the Capital Region and the market supports several important facilities including Proctor's Theatre, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, the Starlite Music Theater, and the Cohoes Music Hall. There are also many historic and cultural attractions in the area, including the National Museum Racing Hall of Fame, the National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame, the Albany Institute of History and Art, the Schenectady Museum, the Schenectady Planetarium, the Shaker Heritage Society, and many historic homes, military sites, and restored elements of colonial America.

The 17,500-seat Pepsi Arena is the largest indoor entertainment venue in the Capital Region, attracting over 800,000 people annually to downtown Albany for a wide variety of sports and entertainment. The arena is home to the Albany River Rats ice hockey team and Albany Firebirds — an arena football team. It also hosts the Sienna College basketball team's home games. Other sporting events at the Pepsi Arena include indoor lacrosse, World Wrestling Federation matches, the MAC basketball tournament every other year, New York Knicks exhibition games, the Harlem Globe Trotters, the NCAA East Regional Hockey Championships, and the John Hancock Gymnastic Championship.

Table 12: Attendance at Area Attractions
 19951996199719981997-1998 % Change
Albany Institute of History & Art59,51652,29444,941N/A 
Empire State Aeroscience Museum10,4289,64913,35510,781-19.27%
Empire State Plaza Observation Deck80,05761,27145,96177,33668.26%
New York State Museum899,017866,189861,821650,000*-24.58%
Saratoga Performing Arts Center342,431351,143316,550301,289-4.82%
Saratoga Race Course753,352803,086826,994887,7527.35%
Schenectady Museum43,69846,31442,79433,846-20.91%
Schenectady Planetarium31,87933,50230,69629,575-3.65%
Shaker Heritage Society13,75012,78615,84117,0397.56%
Pepsi Arena750,002752,905741,416848,16214.40%
Glens Falls Civic Center285,871294,636291,415286,000-1.86%

* Estimated
N/A: Figures not available

Source: Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau; Individual Venues; Hunter Interests Inc.

Table 13: Sports Team Attendance
Team199319941995199619971998
Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs--63,87359,74375,00093,000
Albany Firebirds71,25974,10673,44082,96175,77583,163
Albany River Rats141,074219,368244,040201,271183,381192,754

N/A: Figures not available.

Source: Individual Teams; Hunter Interests Inc.

The Pepsi Arena also hosts family shows such as Sesame Street Live, Disney on Ice, Ringling Bros. Circus, and the Shrine Circus. Various tradeshows, home shows, flower and garden shows, and the Big Boy Toy Show are among other events which draw visitors to the Pepsi Arena and downtown Albany. Music concerts of various types featuring bands and individual performers round out the mix of entertainment offered.

The Empire State Convention Center, Performing Arts Center (Egg), and the New York State Museum comprise a cultural entertainment complex that attracts more than 1 million visitors each year. Despite historically drawing visitation similar to that of the Pepsi Arena, the New York State Museum has significantly less economic impact on downtown Albany because of the substantial number of school children included in the visitation numbers.

The Capital Repertory Theater on Pearl Street is a performing arts venue in downtown Albany attended by approximately 40,000 to 60,000 people annually. The 282-seat "black box" facility hosts many critically acclaimed performances each year and has expanded its program to include summer theater and a student matinee series.

The Palace Theatre, located at the corner of Clinton Avenue and N. Pearl Street, is in transition. The rock concerts that have been the mainstay of the facility are increasingly being booked into larger houses like the Pepsi Arena, the RACC at SUNY, and the Field House at RPI. The Theatre is attempting to reposition itself as a venue for major touring company productions of Broadway plays, but it needs a larger stage area, more dressing rooms, and additional seating to be economically and practically viable. It is expected that either Proctor's or the Palace Theater will expand in the near future. Operators of the two theaters do not believe the market demand and supply of shows can support an expansion of both theaters.

Downtown Schenectady's current entertainment offering is anchored by Proctor's, one of the most impressive vaudeville theaters in the country. Proctor's offers Broadway shows, popular acts, movies, school programs, and civic productions. Proctor's has experienced steady growth in overall attendance since 1995. In order to maximize Proctor's impact on downtown it will be essential to continue to increase the number of Proctor's events, such as Broadway shows and popular acts that are considered high impact events. It should be noted that the impact that Proctor's has on downtown is currently diminished by the surrounding environment, particularly the lack of other entertainment and food/beverage establishments that would induce Proctor's patrons to extend their stay in downtown either before or after the show. Proctor's current lack of impact on the economic conditions in downtown is instructive regarding the use of attractions to generate economic development and revitalize blighted urban areas. A holistic approach must be taken to create the necessary critical mass of establishments. A variety of before-and-after entertainment options needs to be provided, including upscale coffee houses that stay open late, a variety of restaurants that cater to many kinds of patrons, smaller live entertainment venues, after-hours clubs, and first run movies, all of which will create people-watching opportunities — an important entertainment element.

It is also important that unrelated uses close to Proctor's in the heart of downtown Schenectady be complimentary, rather than detrimental. The Downtown Master Plan envisions immediate upgrading of storefront uses near Proctor's on the north and south sides of State Street as the three new office buildings in the vicinity are constructed and when the cinema complex is announced. It would be a mistake to commit some of this storefront space to unrelated uses such as office, government services, or incompatible uses.

Proctor's has experienced steady growth in the total number of patrons since 1994. In order to maximize Proctor's impact on downtown, it will be important to continue to increase the number of Proctor's shows and popular acts that will attract visitation from patrons with a greater propensity to spend throughout the downtown entertainment district.

Table 14: Attendance Figures, Proctor's Theatre
F/YProctor'sRentalsSchool DaysMovies (1)Other (2)Total
94-95105,16413,75814,95969,32840,000243,209
95-96112,11013,05513,37361,57445,000245,112
96-97102,15018,07026,04163,74850,000260,009
97-98117,30923,95725,59042,668 (3)55,000264,524
98-99111,63820,18521,86653,43060,000267,119

1: Attendance figures for 1994-95 through 1996-97 extrapolated from financial results.

2: No box office or financial data available — estimates based on anecdotal information and the number/type of events. Usage associated with civic events, dance recitals, graduations, etc.

3: Summer movie season cancelled due to ceiling work.

Source: Proctor's Theatre

In addition to Proctor's, downtown Schenectady is fortunate to be home to a number of performing arts groups that provide a cultural arts base, which can be built upon to create a multidimensional entertainment zone. These include:

The Schenectady Museum, which currently is home to the Hall of Electrical History, can play an enhanced, significant role in showcasing Schenectady history as well as serve as the anchor for the historic component of the downtown Schenectady entertainment zone.

b. The Entertainment District Concept

Downtown Schenectady's evolution into a multidimensional entertainment district is one of the most critical components in the realization of a vibrant, healthy urban center.

The existing attractions and establishments provide an excellent base upon which to build. Our analysis of the current market situation has indicated that it is premature to consider a major attraction, which would likely have a negative impact on the existing urban fabric by draining public sector financial resources without realizing sufficient direct impacts on private sector businesses. However, we believe that a number of development/redevelopment opportunities can have a compounding effect on the impact of current attractions, as well as attracting new segments of the local and tourist markets that previously would not have considered downtown an attractive entertainment destination.

The first major addition envisioned is a first-run, state-of-the-art, community-oriented cineplex located in the heart of downtown. The envisioned complex would be the top quality theater in the Capital Region with stadium seating, sophisticated sound, and large screens. The term "community-oriented" is used because it is envisioned that the primary purpose of the theater is to attract as many movie patrons as possible. Movie operators indicate that this can be accomplished by offering a superior quality product with first-run movies, coupled with a slightly lower ticket price. This strategy is attractive to the operator because it creates opportunities to realize substantially more concession revenues, versus ticket revenues that must be shared with the film distributors. Feedback from cineplex industry operators has indicated that an appropriate development strategy would likely be to operate the downtown cineplex as an independent theater. The downtown theater would be similar to Crossgates in terms of quality, and type and timing of movies shown, except that it would likely not be affiliated with a national chain. The lack of affiliation should not be a problem, as operators of national chains have indicated that the denial of first-run films to new chains and independent operators is illegal. The downtown cineplex may also be developed to provide food and beverage service that is more extensive than the typical cineplex offering, including serving liquor and upscale meals. Another option is to include an IMAX facility within the cineplex. Cinema operators have indicated that this concept would create a significant competitive advantage for the movie complex, as it would serve both as an educational and entertainment facility. Research indicates that 74% of children help make movie-going decisions.

Examples of other existing and planned urban entertainment districts, in large and smaller communities, anchored by a multiplex include:

The Hollywood-20 Cineplex in Sarasota, Florida, was constructed three years ago in an abandoned downtown department store property, and it has almost single handedly turned around a sagging downtown economy. In a city smaller than Schenectady this state-of-the-art 20-screen cineplex attracted 850,000 patrons during its first operating year and is currently drawing 1.4 million people into downtown Sarasota. A completely private and highly profitable investment, Hollywood-20 stimulated the attraction and expansion of I I restaurants, a downtown bookstore, and other retail establishments during its first three years of operations. The developer is launching a second downtown cineplex in a nearby community, has renovated downtown properties in Binghamton, New York, and is interested in looking at the Schenectady opportunity.

Peabody Place in Memphis, Tennessee, covers eight city blocks in downtown within a block of the Beale Street entertainment district. It features a 22-screen megaplex, including a 3-D IMAX theater and numerous entertainment venues, including Jillian's. The historic Beale Street entertainment district has experienced significant investment in new and upgraded establishments recently, and is successfully shedding its image as a somewhat rundown urban entertainment area.

In Fort Worth, Texas, a foundering effort to revive the city's downtown was turned around when an 11-screen theater was built there in late 1991. The theater quickly became the city's most popular, attracting 800,000 customers per year, and triggering a surge in business for nearby restaurants, bookstores, and retail shops.

CocoWalk in Coconut Grove, Florida, and Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California, are other examples of urban shopping areas that have been turned into thriving entertainment centers-largely through the introduction of multiscreen theaters. Theater-driven retail is considered to be a natural successor to the festival marketplaces that emerged in the last decade. Movie theaters provide a previously missing component that enables a location to offer something new every Friday night.

Denver Pavilions is a public/private partnership that opened in November 1998. This 350,000-square foot outdoor urban entertainment complex includes a 15-screen, 3,700-seat United Artists cinema. This complex partnership involved the City of Denver, the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, and three banks. As a result of the high cost of urban land and other risks and obstacles associated with urban development, a gap of approximately $24 million had to be filled by the public sector to make this project a reality

New Roc City in New Rochelle, New York, is located in the middle of the downtown business district. It features an 18-screen multiplex with an IMAX theater, combined with two ice rinks and multiple food and beverage establishments.

Other recommended entertainment development components in downtown that should be undertaken in tandem with the cineplex include:

c. Entertainment Project and Program Development Strategy

(1) Downtown Cineplex
(a) Industry Overview and Market Analysis

Movie theaters are increasingly viewed as a means to other economic development goals, such as improved retail and restaurant business, and bringing high volume pedestrian traffic to an area.

Within the movie theaters themselves, change is occurring as exhibitors seek new ways to enhance the comfort and quality of the experience for their customers, and at the same time increase the opportunity for the customers to spend money. The integration of food and beverage service, far beyond the popcorn, candy, and soda traditionally offered, has created additional concession revenues. Everything from hamburgers to cappuccino to champagne is being served in an upgraded theater environment. Add to that exterior embellishments, interior design enhancements, and linkage to other entertainment attractions such as nightclubs, bowling alleys, or video-game arcades, and you have the newest thing in theater development, which is driving record box office sales in the United States.

Cinemas are one of the primary driving forces and the focal point of entertainment complexes that include complementary developments such as restaurants, bookstores, sports facilities, and specialty retail shops.

The majority of the movie theater operators and developers have determined that the most efficient cinema developments have 14 to 24 screens. The capital costs typically run approximately $1 million per screen.

The significant amount of growth nationwide in the development of movie theaters is explained by three primary trends.

Determining the market potential for cinemas focuses on the identification of zones served by current operators. These zones generally are a 2- to 5-mile radius drawn around existing theater locations. A cinema operator looking to develop a theater would look for the following market conditions:

Table 15: Movie Going Frequency
Total Population12 or more Times/yr.11-4 Times/yr.4 or fewer Times/yr.Never
Total Public Age 12 & Over28%32%12%28%
Adult Public, 18 and Over26%31%13%31%
Teenagers 12 to 1748%37%10%5%
 
Moviegoers Only
Total Public Age 12 & Over40%45%15% 
Adult Public 18 and Over38%46%16% 
Teenagers 12 to 1750%40%10% 

Source: Hunter Interests Inc.; National Association of Theater Owners

Table 16: Percentage of Total Yearly Admissions
AgePercent of Total Yearly AdmissionsPercent of Resident Population as of 1996
12 to 1511%7%
16-2016%8%
21-2411%6%
25-2911%9%
30-3918%20%
40-4916%18%
50-598%12%
60 and over8%20%

Source: Hunter Interests Inc.; National Assoc. of Theater Owners

(b) Capital Region's Competitive Environment

Currently, the entire Capital Region is being served by only one stadium seating multiplex format, the 18-screen Crossgates Mall Cinemas. The envisioned cinema development in downtown Schenectady would be of similar type and quality.

Sony Rotterdam Square 6 Theater, which is approximately three miles from downtown Schenectady, is the closest quality theater. However, it is a conventional theater that does not offer stadium seating or upgraded concessions, and has only six screens.

When the initial Hunter/Sasaki cinema feasibility analysis was conducted during the spring of 1999, an existing six-screen cinema at Mohawk Mall was considered for expansion in conjunction with the refurbishing of the mail. Another 18-screen cinema was being considered for inclusion at Crossgates Mall. Even with both of these possible expansions, the type of cinema complex proposed for downtown Schenectady was feasible.

Since then, both of these potential expansions have been terminated, and the Mohawk Mall cinema has been closed. Consequently, there are seven fewer screens than considered in our initial analysis, and approximately 32 fewer future screens than considered in our analysis. As a result, a downtown cinema complex of up to 18 screens is considered feasible from the standpoint of the existing and future competition. Site and parking limitations may mean construction of only 14 to 16 screens downtown in an optimum central location such as the corner of Broadway and State Street. Nevertheless, a minimum 14-screen complex and optimum 16-screen cinema at this location will be extremely competitive throughout the Capital Region, particularly as downtown Schenectady matures as an entertainment destination of regional significance.

For the purposes of the our analysis, art house theaters such as the Spectrum, Proctor's, and Norma Jean's have not been included in the supply and demand analysis, as they serve a different market niche than the multiplex downtown theater will serve.

Because of the high quality of the proposed cinema, theaters that currently offer a marginal or poor atmosphere were not considered in the primary competitive supply set. The proposed cinema will have a competitive advantage over all of the Capital Region cinema competition.

The one competitive disadvantage of a downtown cinema is the current negative perception associated with downtown Schenectady among much of the suburban population in the Capital Region. However, we strongly believe that this perception will change significantly as downtown Schenectady is repositioned and becomes an entertainment hub in the Capital Region over the next five years.

A high quality multiplex cinema development in downtown would have a number of significant competitive advantages including:

Table 17: Capital Region Major Cinema Summary
 OwnerScreensSeatingConditionComments
Albany County 
Hoyt's Crossgates Cinema 12
Crossgates Mall
Guilderland, NY
Hoyt12ConventionalGoodLocated in area's most popular mall
Hoyt's Crossgates Mall
Cinemas 18, Crossgates Mall
Guilderland, NY
Hoyt18StadiumExcellentLocated in area's most popular mall
Hoyt's Latham Circle Cinema 10
Latham Circle Mall
Latham, NY
Hoyt12ConventionalGoodLocated in older mall
Hoyt's Cine 10 Northway Mall
Northway Mall
Albany, NY
Hoyt10ConventionalFairLocated near older mall (not in mall)
Spectrum
Albany, NY
Indep.7ConventionalGoodArt theater
Norma Jean's Madison Theatre
Albany, NY
Indep.7ConventionalGoodArt theater
Rensselaer County 
Hoyt's East Greenbush Cinema 8
Rensselaer County Plaza
East Greenbush, NY
Hoyt10ConventionalNewLocated in Walmart Plaza
Southern Saratoga County 
Hoyt's CCM Cinema 8
Clifton Park, NY
Hoyt10ConventionalFairLocated in older plaza
Schenectady County 
Sony Rotterdam Sq. 6 Theater
Rotterdam Mall
Schenectady, NY
Sony6ConventionalGoodLocated in stable mall
Sony Mohawk Mall
Mohawk Mall
Schenectady, NY
Sony7ConventionalPoorLocated in mall scheduled for redevelopment

Note: Proctor's Theater and Scotia Cinema both have one screen.

Source: Hunter Interests Inc.; Synthesis Architects

An analysis of the population base within 2- and 5-mile rings of the intersection of State Street and Broadway in downtown Schenectady, as compared to Rotterdam Mall and Mohawk Mall, provides a favorable indication for cinema potential for downtown Schenectady. The Sony Rotterdam Square 6 Theater is currently the highest quality theater within a 5-mile radius of downtown other than Proctor's, which serves a different market niche than would a downtown multiplex. Mohawk Mall figures have been provided due to the possibility of an upgraded cinema product being offered there in the future.

Additional demand segments, which have not been factored into the analysis at this point, include demand from sources such as convention and tradeshow attendees that represent potential sources of demand, if such facilities were to be developed in downtown.

Table 18: 1998 Population by Race
2-Mile Ring
 State & BroadwayPercentMohawk MallPercentRotterdam Sq. MallPercent
Total Population60,828 21,853 54,503 
White52,18185.8%19,76690.4%47,25686.7%
Black5,2728.7%1,0304.7%4,5598.4%
Asian8141.3%6893.2%5211.0%
Hispanic2,2133.6%3161.4%1,8693.4%
All Other3480.6%520.2%2980.5%
5-Mile Ring
 State & BroadwayPercentMohawk MallPercentRotterdam Sq. MallPercent
Total Population133,979 135,585 131,940 
White121,31990.6%121,16389.4%119,15290.3%
Black6,6094.9%7,6515.6%6,7335.1%
Asian2,4741.8%2,9032.1%2,4521.9%
Hispanic3,0942.3%3,3692.5%3,1242.4%
All Other4830.4%4990.4%4790.4%
15-Mile Ring
 State & BroadwayPercentMohawk MallPercentRotterdam Sq. MallPercent
Total Population550,576 595,903 559,710 
White489,19188.9%529,22588.8%494,42888.3%
Black34,3206.2%38,7576.5%38,1846.8%
Asian12,1892.2%13,4162.3%12,9972.3%
Hispanic13,1872.4%12,6262.1%12,2882.2%
All Other1,6890.3%1,8790.3%1,8130.3%

Source: Claritas; Hunter Interests Inc.

Table 19: Total Income
 State & Broadway
1998
Mohawk Mall
1998
Rotterdam Sq. Mall
1998
2-Mile Area$1,034,197,656$492,130,890$887,608,272
5-Mile Area$2,782,341,893$2,887,689,330$2,743,518,772
15-Mile Area$11,629,690,110$12,670,025,800$11,886,540,033

Source: Claritas; Hunter Interests Inc.

Table 20: Market Assessment for Downtown Cinema
 2-Mile Ring5-Mile Ring15-Mile Ring
Households26,03854,599220,746
Average HH Expenditure*
On Movie Admissions$91.46$91.46$91.46
On Concessions$19.42$19.42$19.42
Subtotal$110.88$110.88$110.88
 
Market Area
 
Movie Expenditures$2,887,093$6,053,937$24,476,316
Average Sales per Sq. Ft.$66.55$66.55$66.55
 
Total Number of Cinema Sq. Ft. Supportable by Area43,40091,000367,800
Number of Screens Supportable81770
Number of Competitive Screens in Area0658
Number of Additional Screens81112

* National Association of Theater Owners

Sources: Hunter Interests Inc.; Claritas; National Assoc. of Theater Owners

This supply and demand analysis indicates that at least 12 new screens can be supported by area resident demand. As mentioned earlier, a high quality, stadium seating theater will have a significant competitive advantage over the majority of the Capital Region's cinema supply. This is especially true within the 5-mile ring where the only significant competition is the Rotterdam Square Mall Theater, which only offers six screens in an average conventional cinema format. Given the competitive situation in the 5-mile ring, it is likely that 16 screens could easily be supported by area demand.

The situation is similar in the 15-mile ring, which will increasingly become part of the proposed theater's primary market by the stabilized year (4th year) of operations and as other development projects come on line in downtown Schenectady, which will create additional competitive advantages. The majority of the supply that has been considered in the supply analysis will not be of comparable quality or is on the fringe of the 15-mile ring. Crossgates, by far the strongest competition, is approximately 14 miles away. Thus, a significant portion of the population base in the 15-mile ring will consider downtown Schenectady more convenient from a travel time perspective when a one-of-a-kind entertainment hub is created in downtown that offers true character and provides a unique and genuine experience to the consumer-not an artificial environment like a typical suburban mall.

It should be noted that the development of additional high quality multiplex cinemas within the 5-mile radius of downtown would diminish the ability to attract a cinema developer. However, if a cinema were developed in downtown first, the likelihood of additional cinema development in the 5-mile radius would be greatly reduced.

The current lack of comparable theaters in the market will enable the downtown theater to penetrate a broader geographic resident base. In addition, the theater location will allow it to serve as the first stadium seating theater for residents of the Mohawk Valley. Residents who are forced to travel over 15 miles to the nearest movie theater view their experience as more of a major outing than those do in more urban and suburban settings. Therefore, the Mohawk Valley residents will likely seek out the highest quality experience possible, resulting in higher than normal capture rate of this segment for the downtown cinema.

(c) Anticipated Impact of Entertainment on Downtown

It is critical to understand that in order to maximize the economic impact of each individual component of the entertainment district that all facets of the recommended development strategy be implemented. The attraction of small business without an economic anchor/generator such as the cineplex and expanded Proctor's would likely result in a struggling entertainment district. This effort would require ongoing public subsidies to remain viable. Similarly, the full economic benefit of anchor developments will not be realized without the attraction of establishments that capture significant amounts of direct spending from movie, concert, and Broadway show patrons.

There are very few such entertainment anchors that can match the direct and indirect economic impact of a cinema complex that is carefully integrated into the urban fabric. The cinema in downtown will strengthen the environment around it, which will, in turn, give it a competitive advantage as a result of its location in a unique urban entertainment district that distinguishes itself from the mall experience.

It should also be noted that the majority of the research on cineplex impacts deals with shopping mall environments where most early, multiplex and megaplex facilities were constructed. Downtown multiplex developments are more recent and have been studied less, yet they appear to have greater impacts on surrounding area investment and development.

Table 21: Impact of Downtown 16-Screen Cineplex
No. of Annual Patrons per Screen80,000
Total No. of Annual Patrons1,280,000
Estimated % That Will Make Food & Beverage Purchase36%
Estimated % Who Will Make Retail Purchase14%
Average Food and Beverage Expenditure All Theater Patrons$4.00
Average Retail Purchase All Theater Patrons$3.00
Total Direct Food & Beverage Spending$5.12 Million
Total Direct Retail Spending$3.84 Million

Sources: Hunter Interests Inc.; ICSC

These estimates of retail and food/beverage expenditures are based on exit surveys and research conducted at multipurpose shopping centers which serve multiple market segments. All of these shopping centers have positioned themselves to attract visitors from greater distances than is the norm for suburban centers. Multipurpose centers have strong food and beverage components, and each to some degree has endeavored to add an element of entertainment to the shopping experience to attract tourists, daytime workers, business visitors, and regional consumers. Average theater patron expenditures at a multipurpose center were $11.10 on retail and $3.00 on food and beverage. Since it is anticipated that the downtown retail offering will not be as dense and diverse as a multipurpose center, the amount of expected retail spending per cinema patron in downtown was estimated to be considerably lower. Conversely, it is anticipated that downtown food and beverage offerings will be more upscale than the typical food and beverage offering in multipurpose centers. Therefore, it is anticipated that the per person expenditure on food and beverage will be slightly higher in downtown. It is also expected that downtown movie patrons will have a greater propensity to seek a full night of entertainment, which will increase the amount of food/beverage expenditures.

The economics of movie theater development dictates that revenue derived by the mall owners is typically significantly less than other mall tenants, often providing only a 10% return on costs. However, research on the impact of cineplex on retail sales indicates that a 13-screen complex is expected to increase by an estimated $22 million to $27 million due to spin-off patronage resulting in a sales boost of over 20%. Consequently, the use of subsidies to fund cineplex projects as economic anchors is often more favorable than subsidies for department stores, which require free land, virtually no rent, and onsite subsidies as well.

In order for downtown Schenectady to be economically viable in the next decade, it must implement the same managed environment approach that shopping malls utilize to attract small and large businesses and consumers from a variety of market segments.

Mall research has indicated that restaurants enjoy the largest relative benefit from adjacencies to cineplex complexes. Thus the cineplex is viewed as the key catalyst in the attraction of food and beverage establishments. Conservative estimates indicate that a 16-screen cineplex would generate a minimum of $5.12 million annually in direct spinoff spending in downtown restaurants, provided an appropriate offering existed.

Complementary entertainment-oriented retail such as books, music, and art are the retail categories that will experience the most spin-off benefit. Therefore the development of the cineplex is extremely complementary to the creation of an arts and entertainment district. It will also help expose Proctor's offering to a wider audience, which will, in turn, translate to increased visitation levels.

The total estimated spin-off retail spending is $3.84 million during the early years of implementation of the master plan. This amount is likely to grow as the downtown retail offering is continually strengthened through the attraction of unique, small businesses.

Other types of business that would create a synergistic demand situation would be a high quality day spa, urban entertainment center such as Jillian's or Dave and Buster's, and other attractions such as museums and parks.

The development of a multiplex theater in downtown will be a major anchor in Schenectady's revitalization and development into a 24-hour urban village. In the year 2000 and beyond, one of downtown's new roles will be a place for "downtime," a place for family and a place to be entertained, recreate, relax, learn, and interact with a diverse population. Research indicates that people in the 18 to 35 age bracket are increasingly avoiding the malls in search of a more genuine and unique entertainment and shopping experience. The cinema development will act as the cornerstone of the creation of an environment that will appeal to this age bracket, which has readily embraced urban life. More importantly, the attraction of this age segment to the downtown area will create a snowball effect, which will in turn make downtown Schenectady a hip place to be, live, and work.

(2) Improvement of Proctor's Theatre

An improved Proctor's Theatre will be the other major anchor in the downtown entertainment district. Analysis of similar theaters has indicated that theaters in an average-to-strong surrounding environment can have a direct economic impact on the metropolitan area between $5.0 million and $7.0 million annually with a total impact between $14 million and $16 million. Based on interviews with a Proctor's official and downtown merchants and restaurateurs, it is clear that downtown is not realizing its full potential in economic benefits. It is believed that aesthetic improvements and the expansion of the existing food and beverage offering will make downtown a much more appealing place for their patrons to extend their visit and spend money.

Hunter Interests estimates that the total number of high impact Proctor's patrons will increase from 184,000 to 359,000 annually as a result of their expansion. Based on average cineplex patron spending and demographic profiles of Proctor's patrons, it is estimated that per patron food and beverage spending will be slightly higher ($5 versus $4) than cineplex patrons provided that an array of upscale dining is offered in the entertainment zone. It is assumed that retail spending per Proctor's patron will be similar to cineplex patrons. The estimated direct impact of an improved Proctor's on downtown food and beverage expenditures is estimated to be $1.79 million per year, and $1.0 million per year on retail sales.

It should be noted that Proctor's impact extends significantly beyond what is quantifiable. It has historically been an anchor in downtown and its expansion will have a major impact on the perception of downtown as an entertainment district.

d. Entertainment District Action Steps

To implement the arts and entertainment strategy, a series of six immediate action steps are recommended. Several implementation actions were already initialed while the downtown plan was being prepared during 1999. For example, the downtown cineplex economic analysis summarized on the previous pages was initiated by the City and SEDC during 1999 so as not to waste time in relation to other potentially facilities. Similarly, the Proctor's expansion has been in planning, and a detailed planning program for Museum expansion is expected to be underway soon.

  1. Attract Cinema Developer/Operator
    • Develop RFP — January-February 2000
    • Based on responses, create business plan — February-March 2000
    • Interview/select developer — March-April 2000
    • Create public/private partnership development agreement — June-August 2000

      Responsibility — City of Schenectady leadership; Support from SEDC, IDA, Metroplex

      Anticipated public sector cost — $12-$16 million

  2. Proctor's Theatre Improvements
    • Begin comprehensive fundraising efforts — private and public sector sources — December 1999
    • Complete improvement plan — February-March 2000
    • Begin construction — Spring 2000

      Responsibility — Proctor's, leadership, support from Metroplex, Schenectady County, City of Schenectady

      Anticipated public sector cost — unknown

  3. Attraction of 10-20 Food and Beverage Establishments
    • Finalize recruitment and incentive programs — December 1999
    • Create data base of available suitable space — December 1999
    • Promotional/advertising campaign — January 2000
    • Manage food and beverage offering- Ongoing

      Responsibility — SEDC initial leadership followed by the Downtown Management Organization; Support from Metroplex, City of Schenectady

      Anticipated public sector and quasi-public sector cost — $2 million-$3.5 million

  4. Attraction of 10-20 Arts-Related and Live Entertainment Establishments
    • Finalize requirement and incentive programs — Spring 2000
    • Create data base of available suitable space — completed
    • Promotional/advertising campaign — Begin spring 2000
    • Manage arts and entertainment offering — Ongoing

      Responsibility — Leadership by Arts District/Proctor's; Support from Downtown Management Organization, Metroplex, SEDC, City of Schenectady.

      Anticipated public sector and quasi-public sector cost- $2.5 million-$3 million

  5. Expansion of Schenectady Museum
    • Completed expansion plan — First quarter 2000
    • Begin fundraising efforts — Spring 2000
    • Transportation Museum in Western Gateway Transportation Center

      Responsibility — Schenectady Museum's Leadership; Support from Downtown Management Organization, Metroplex, City of Schenectady

      Anticipated public sector cost — To be determined by museum master plan

  6. Development of Farmer's Market, Festivals, and Entertainment Series
    • Creation of downtown organization to manage and promote market, entertainment and festivals — 1st quarter 2000
    • Assignment of staff person dedicated to public market, entertainment series, and festival development — 1st quarter 2000
    • Creation of outdoor market and entertainment space — 1st quarter 2000
    • Begin series of ongoing weekly entertainment events — Spring 2000

      Responsibility — Downtown Management Organization Leadership; Support from Metroplex, City of Schenectady

      Anticipated public sector cost (not including physical improvements, which are discussed in public space improvement section) — $150,000 to $300,000 each year.

Figure 51 | 52 | 53

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