brighten the mood in Schenectady, bring Lady Liberty Home

LL20Mar2020 . . DSCF5595

. . above (Friday evening, March 20, 2020): [L] Lady Liberty replica in the dark, in Exile at Erie Blvd. and Union Street; [R] well-lighted and empty central sculpture base at Lady Liberty’s real Home, Liberty-Gateway Park .. 

dscf5019As disrespectful as Lady Liberty’s current location is during the daytime (photo to the right), Her condition at night is even more deplorable. The answer is not to figure out lighting for that dismal spot that somehow plays down the inappropriate utility poles and boxes, and lamp posts of all kinds, and the nearby underpass, retainer wall, and parking lot. The answer is to move the replica statue to its original and intended location at Liberty Park in Gateway Plaza. The Central Sculpture base at Gateway-Liberty Plaza is a grand spot virtually identical with Her original location, visible from the major roadways and comfortably situated in Liberty Park, with plenty of room for visitors standing or sitting, and with lighting that will illuminate the statue daily from sunset through the night.

below: Lady Liberty seen in 2016 at Her real Schenectady Home, Liberty Park, where she was intended to return after the reconfiguration and expansion of the Park into Gateway Plaza. [more images here]

LadyInHerPark2016

. . For a description, with photos and links, of how Lady Liberty was Exiled by Mayor McCarthy, at the request of Mary Moore Wallinger, and contrary to the fully approved Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (2013), go to our posting:  https://tinyurl.com/DissedLady

red checkOne very cost-effective way for our leaders to raise the spirits of the Schenectady Community as we face all the worries of the COVID-19 crisis, would be to have the Lady Liberty replica returned to Liberty Park, to demonstrate that the City of Schenectady honors its history and its promises, and listens to its people.

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Schenectady DRI should fine-tune our Real Downtown

. . and, stop favoring & subsidizing the Galesi-Casino Gang

SUMMARY: As has happened often in the last half dozen years, State, City and County officials in charge of development and planning appear to be putting the interests of the owners and developers of Mohawk Harbor and the Rivers Casino before sound planning principles and strategies and, more important, before the interests of the general public in Schenectady City and County. The ten million dollars available through Schenectady’s DRI [Downtown Revitalization Initiative] grant should be focused on further improving the handful of blocks that residents traditionally consider to be our Downtown, with more of the things that will enhance living, working, visiting, learning, playing, socializing, shopping and just strolling there. Schenectady DRI should refine our already revived Real Downtown, and not construct a fiction that stretches “Downtown” to Mohawk Harbor and invents a demand to walk to and spend money there.

DowntownSchdToHarbor

. . Above: The map returned when I asked Google Maps for the walking directions from Downtown Schenectady to Mohawk Harbor . . 

NOTE FYI: DRI Meetings have been postponed due to COVID-19 virus concerns.

DRI-postponed

It is impossible for outsiders to know the effects on Schenectady DRI of recent public discussion of Conflicts of Interest, and of the Favoritism and Implausible Assumptions discussed in thus posting.  I hope members of the Leadership Committee are thoughtfully considering these issues, and that concerned citizens voice their opinions.

 . .

. . above: views east (R) and west from State and Jay Streets

Jay Street Pedestrian Mall

When was the last time you were enjoying a visit to Downtown Schenectady, on the Proctors Block, at the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall, or even Mill Lane’s Frog Alley, and thought, “Let’s walk down to Mohawk Harbor”? Did you add, “We could walk back here to our car, with shopping bags and a full tummy.”? And, did your companion enthusiastically reply, “Sure, it’s only a little over a mile, and it’s a charming walk”?

If such a conversation would seem as odd to you as it does to me, you might be surprised to know that the Schenectady Application for a DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) grant begins:

DRI Schenectady links the Proctors Block and Lower State Street via a rejuvenated Erie Boulevard as well as other connections to Mohawk Harbor which will be adding attractions and more visitors.

Moreover, in a section titled New Retail and Entertainment Development at Mohawk Harbor the Schenectady DRI Application also stresses (at 29; underscoring added):

DRI Schenectady is very focused on increasing visitations to Mohawk Harbor, already the leading tourist destination in the Capital Region. With support of DRI funding, the team behind development of the existing Harbor site – the Galesi Group, Metroplex and Rivers Casino & Resort are planning the next phase of the development project. The concept is a 100,000 square foot development to be located between the existing casino and marina on land that borders the riverfront. The development would feature a mix of retail and entertainment tenants. The project is research and data driven.

over a mile on foot from Proctors

After two decades of truly revitalizing our “real” Downtown, and with fill-in and refinement projects readily apparent there and proposed for that part of our City, Metroplex and City Hall seem again to be abandoning sound planning principles and denying human nature to come to the aid of what I call the Galesi-Casino Gang.

Successful downtowns in small and medium-size cities are compact, with much to do and attract the eye within “walking distance”. As a Brookings Institute study states (at 13), “Walkable urbanism starts with urban entertainment venues and retail that are within walking distance of one another.” As a Wisconsin University article puts it: Communities with successful downtowns “have an expansive list of attractions and amenities that serve as pedestrian traffic generators. All are within walking distance of each other, creating tight and effective traffic generating zones.” They are, of course, echoing the advice of the legendary Jane Jacobs in her article “Downtown is for People.”

IMG_1098Despite this common sense approach to a successful Downtown, DRI Schenectady somehow equates “revitalization” of downtown with improved connection to Mohawk Harbor, while ignoring the Stockade neighborhood (and its Riverside Park, which already offers access for pedestrians to the Mohawk River and attractive green space). Instead, DRI Schenectady touts proposals to “Take advantage of existing opportunities to increase connectivity (Jay Connector, ALCO Tunnel)”. However, whether using Jay Street, the ALCO Tunnel, or the upgraded “Erie Corridor”, Mohawk Harbor is more than a mile away, with much of that distance having no shade and few “attractions”. [see the two Slideshows below of the Jay St. and Erie Blvd. routes] Sprinkling in “public art” and adding LED lights along the way won’t significantly change the appeal of such a long walk.

Mohawk Harbor is not “walking distance” from our newly revitalized Downtown!

No amount of wishful thinking will make Mohawk Harbor walking distance from our real Downtown for the vast majority of residents or tourists. For urban planning purposes,  “Walkable” does not mean “capable of being walked”. As the expert author of the Brookings study linked above puts it: “Since the rise of cities 8,000 years ago, humans have only wanted to walk about 1500 feet [0.28 mi.]”, unless they are going to or from an alternative form of transportation (or engaging in an actual exercise routine).

  • At his weblog HumanTransit.org (April 24, 2011), public transit consultant Jarrett Walker concludes: “If you have to choose a single walking distance standard for all situations, the most commonly cited standard is 400m or 1/4 mi.  Europe tends to be comfortable with slightly longer distances.”
  • Of course, as a 2012 comprehensive study of walking distances concluded,

    “There is substantial variability in the distance and duration of walking trips by purpose and population subgroups.” . . .  . “The shortest distances and durations were observed for trips for meals. . . Shopping and dog-walking trips were only slightly longer in distance than trips for meals.”

  • For comparison to the 1.2-mile walk to Mohawk Harbor from Proctors, Frog Alley Brewing, at the evolving Mill Lane Artisan District on Lower State Street, is 0.3 miles from Proctors, and Gateway/Liberty Plaza is 0.4 miles from Proctors; Katie O’Byrnes on Erie Blvd (and Wall Street) is 0.2 miles; Yoga Bliss, south of State Street at 140 Erie Blvd. is 0.3 miles away; Great Flats Brewery on Lafayette at Franklin Street is less than 0.3.

Station-KatieO-2018 . . Katie O’Byrnes, just north of State St., seen the day the Train Station got its new golden dome . .

    • SchdyDRI-BoundaryWhat About the Stockade? For some reason, the Stockade Historic District is not part of the “DRI Schenectady DRI Boundary”. [map above] The Van Dyck Lounge with Mad Jack’s Brewery on Union Street near N. College is 0.4 miles from Proctors. Riverside Park, at the other extreme of the Stockade, which does offer a riverbank experience and open green space, is 0.7 miles from Proctors, but only 0.2 miles up Washington Avenue from Gateway/Liberty Plaza, and about 3/10th of a mile from Mill Lane.

Do the people of Schenectady really want to send business and foot-traffic from the Downtown core to Mohawk Harbor? By focusing on “increasing visitation to Mohawk Harbor”, the officials leading our local Government’s planning, development and policy efforts won’t simply be wasting dollars that could have genuinely improved our Downtown. They will be helping to generate the feared Substitution Effect: Substituting spending in and near a casino, or other private development, for the leisure time and money that would have been spent by residents at other local establishments.

Can existing (surviving) downtown businesses — eateries, retail merchandise shops, specialty boutiques, art galleries, etc. — withstand losing any significant amount of business to Mohawk Harbor? [For a smile, see Good for the Plywood Business, a poster from the successful campaign No Casino in Downtown Hamilton]

A DEMAND for MORE RETAIL at MOHAWK HARBOR?

Our DRI Leaders state there is a great excess demand for retail that justifies spending taxpayer funds to funnel people to the privately-owned Mohawk Harbor. They also note that Mohawk Harbor is already a “leading destination”, according to DRI leaders, in their Schenectady DRI Application:

The harbor is now home to Rivers Casino & Resort, two new hotels, a marina, over 200 new apartments, new condominiums, tech office buildings as well as greenspace and bike trails. The Harbor has clearly become a leading destination – an entertainment and tech center that is one of the largest and most successful waterfront developments in Upstate New York.

 

KarenZ-WCasinoPromisesIndeed, we are constantly told of the tens of thousand of people who go to Mohawk Harbor and the Casino and Hotel. At the end of the Jan. 27, 2020 City Council Meeting, Council member Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas told us (at 54:20 of the OSM video linked above) that Rivers hosted over 200 conferences, meetings and special events in 2019, “bringing over 20,000 people to Schenectady County”; that Landing Hotel is ranked 7th in Capital Region for overnight stays; that Rivers was the first upstate casino to host sports wagering (bringing in a new demographic group to the County); plus, the Casino holds its annual summer Harbor Jam series with live performances and large crowds at the Marina.

Yes, all those people are indeed coming to Mohawk Harbor (of course, many of those visitors already live in the City or County of Schenectady). But, the numbers do not appear to be creating a major demand for retail at Mohawk Harbor. Rivers Casino opened three years ago, followed about 2.5 years ago by its Landing Hotel, the Marina and Amphitheater, and River House (which has over 200 apartments). It also has a free trolley service from Downtown (heavily-subsidized by Metroplex and CDTA); a CYCLE! bike-share station; the ALCO Heritage Bike and Pedestrian Trail; and the advantage of the constant promotion of the Casino, its Convention Center and Hotel by the well-and-publicly–funded Discover Schenectady. Nonetheless, the very visible and tangible evidence does not support the claim of a great excess of retail demand at Mohawk Harbor. There is, instead, a great excess of empty retail space.

The evidence strongly indicates that the folks who are in, or wish to be in, a retail business have not seen the potential for success at Mohawk Harbor, despite the efforts and promises of the Galesi Group, Rush Street Gaming, and Metroplex, and a large quantity of free media that repeats Galesi and Casino promises like scripture. The evidence is not just the empty spots and filler signs on the giant pylon that Galesi Group demanded be placed on Erie Boulevard for Mohawk Harbor to advertise its retail tenants (photo at left, taken Feb. 28, 2020). It is the actual list of arguably “retail” establishments at Mohawk Harbor that belies the claims of Schenectady DRI, despite the site being a “leading destination” in the Capital Region. Outside of the Casino itself, with its eateries, and the Dunkin’ Donuts and Capitol Bank over by the Rotary, this is the full list of “retail” at Mohawk Harbor: as of the first week of March 2020, three years after the Casino opened:

  1. Druther’s restaurant and brew pub
  2. Shaker & Vine restaurant
  3. Ellis Urgent Care and Medicine

Instead of bustling retail outlets in the “125,000 square feet of harborside retail/dining,” promised at the Mohawk Harbor website, and in Planning and Council meetings, we have an unbroken array of empty storefront windows like we have not seen since the worst days of downtown Schenectady. (Actually, the percentage of empty storefronts in downtown Schenectady was never this bad.) Only the dumpster-style bright yellow bollards that are ubiquitous around the Casino [180 of them], present a design scheme as predominant at Mohawk Harbor as its blue and white Retail Space Available signs. Click on the following collage, which shows Harbor retail as of the end of February 2020.

. . east of the Shaker & Vine Restaurant there is no retail, either on the harbor front [above] or along Harbor Way [below], but only those blue signs and the stretches of banner paper hiding the empty storefronts . .

    • Also, I was surprised to learn this week, that the only non-food retail establishment inside the Casino, Splash Spa, closed in December 2018. In addition, not only has no spa or other retail establishment taken its place, the Casino’s Landing Hotel is also without a salon spa. Apparently, neither the Casino’s annual Luck Is a Lady event, nor other events aimed at women, has created a demand for time at the Spa before or after visiting the Casino, its Convention Center, or restaurants.
    • Similarly, a large sign went up quite awhile ago for a Nail Salon on the Erie Boulevard side of Harbor Center, along its parking lot. But, earlier this week there was still no indication of any work being done to prepare the inside for a business.

SuggestionBulb. . DRI should consider helping to fill the empty storefronts on the 200 Block of State St., truly in the heart of Downtown Schenectady .. 

DSCF5547. . DSCF5548 . . 200 State St. empty

. above: [L & M] 236 State St.; [R] 200 State St. .

SKEPTICAL about DEMAND for PEDESTRIAN CONNECTORS

. . the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall looks and feels like a “downtown block”. . 

A recent photoshoot stroll up both Jay Street and Erie Boulevard north of Liberty Street leaves me very skeptical that there exists any significant demand from the public to walk the mile from our Real Downtown to Mohawk Harbor. More important, perhaps, there appears to be no amount of sprucing up (façade improvement, arrays of LED bulbs, a sprinkling of “public art”), or the other options suggested to and by DRI Schenectady, that would create that demand. There may be places along the non-downtown sections of Jay Street and Erie Boulevard that could be stand-alone destinations for a meal, or a history lesson, for those driving, biking, or coming from a walking distance, but that is a separate issue from (1) how to “revitalize” downtown, and (2) funneling visitors to Mohawk Harbor to help the bottom-line of our largest developer and its casino tenant.

Jay Street to Little Italy to ALCO Tunnel

Is there likely to be a demand to walk from our real downtown, up Jay Street and then through a lighted and refurbished ALCO Tunnel on the way to Mohawk Harbor? A stroll up Jay Street from its Pedestrian Mall to the abandoned ALCO Tunnel did not leave me convinced. What do you think?

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  • The ALCO Tunnel is 0.5 miles up Jay Street from Proctors Theater (a ten or eleven-minute walk). As a “connector”, the ALCO Tunnel would bring you out near the 1400 block of Erie Blvd. (across from Madison Street), at the former location of the Grossman’s Bargain Outlet and the upcoming home of an AllTown Market. They are located an additional 0.5 miles from Mohawk Harbor Way (eleven minutes more). See image of Google Street Maps on the right of this blurb.
  • Pet Peeve, but Relevant to Desirable Walking Conditions: Unless you happen to be momentarily in the shade of a building, there is virtually no shade the entire way on Jay Street, nor up Erie Boulevard.

update (March 20, 2020): The larger of the two Italian restaurants in Schenectady’s already-disappointing Little Italy closed for good this week, with the NY Pause declared by Gov. Cuomo due to the COVID-19 crisis the last straw. Per an article in the Gazette, “We just couldn’t afford to keep it open,” said co-owner Connie Hume on Wednesday. [And see, Times Union and WRGB News6 coverage.]

 ERIE BOULEVARD NORTH OF LIBERTY STREET

. . above: elements of the “upgraded” Erie Blvd. touted by DRI: new sidewalks and crosswalks (some with talking-nagging walk signals); (too) many lamp-posts; and scrawny (often dead or dying) trees. .

the walk from Proctors to Mohawk Harbor

The Schenectady DRI Application gives this description of its vision for the Erie Boulevard connection to Mohawk Harbor [at 26; underscoring added]:

Erie Boulevard Updates

Erie Boulevard features new sidewalks, trees, LED lights, a new roundabout in front of Mohawk Harbor and many other upgrades. A new train station helps define the Erie corridor as a growing commercial area. Schenectady is grateful for the leadership of Governor Cuomo and NYS DOT in making the new train station a reality. As Erie is the main connecting road between Downtown and Mohawk Harbor, further upgrades need to happen as part of DRI Schenectady.

[The AMTRAK RAIL BRIDGE “Trestle”] There is a large Amtrak rail bridge that crosses Erie Boulevard and serves as a visual barrier between Downtown and the Harbor. Within the next few months Amtrak, NYSDOT and the City of Schenectady will be working together to light up this bridge creating a visual linkage where a barrier now exists. In addition, a new $4 million Alltown Market will begin construction on Erie providing healthy food choices to local residents. [Ed. Note: It will apparently be a gas station and an upscale convenience store with tables.] This new market will be built on the site of a long vacant lumber yard.

Since its inception, Metroplex has successful[ly] administered a façade matching grant program. The program provides a 50/50 match to businesses that invest in improving their buildings with a special focus on the façade. To date, over 100 facades have been improved. If DRI Schenectady is funded Metroplex will place a special focus on completing facades along the Erie Boulevard corridor helping to improve the visual appeal and commercial viability of this corridor. The goal would be to complete 10 facades at a cost of $750,000 in matching funds.

[Editor’s Trestle-Bridge Dissent: It is hard to agree with the DRI notion that the Amtrak Trestle bridge over Erie Blvd., just north of Union Street, “serves as a visual barrier between Downtown and the Harbor“. The bridge itself is, in my opinion, about the only element of visual interest as you walk or drive from Liberty Street up Erie Blvd. The trestle camouflages the blandness of Erie Boulevard heading toward the Harbor. Immediately below is a view of the trestle when coming up Erie Blvd. [R], and the “streetscape” that you see when leaving the underpass — which basically would be the view without the trestle as you pass Union Street. 

             . .

The problem is not that the trestle-bridge is a visual barrier. The trestle’s underpass is an aesthetic and safety barrier that few people would use if it can be avoided. The walls of the underpass are so dirty and ugly, and its sidewalks so narrow and unkempt (with leaves, debris and snow virtually never removed along the walls), as speeding traffic swoops past the pedestrian. The failure to address these issues already, given the millions spent to upgrade the Boulevard, strongly suggests the lack of interest by residents or tourists in walking up Erie Boulevard any serious distance. Even if totally spruced up, of course, it cannot “funnel” people who do not want to walk the distance to Mohawk Harbor from Downtown. It might, however, make it more pleasant to get to Mike’s for a hotdog or bagel, Stewart’s for some ice cream (if it remains after the Alltown Market convenience store opens on the next block), or Morrette’s for a steak sandwich.

Erie Boulevard, north of the busy State State intersection and the Schenectady Train Station at Liberty Street, seems far from a natural connector or bridge for pedestrians to Mohawk Harbor. Check out this Slideshow tour, and see what you think.

. . this Slideshow has photos from a walk north on Erie from Liberty to Rush St. 

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 . . click on the Schdy DRI Feb. Power Point for many of the finalist proposals . . 

This set of square tiles contains photos from my return stroll from the Rotary back to Liberty Street on February 28, 2020. It seems to be a long and uninteresting walk, because it is. Click on a tile for a larger, full version of the photo. Go left to right to follow the route.

.

remaining Harbor “green space” 24Feb2020

GREEN-SPACE at MOHAWK HARBOR

. . above: Google Satellite View of Mohawk Harbor, showing remaining green-space in the northeast section of the project. 

. . below: DRI description of Mohawk Harbor Entertainment Development.

. . see p. 75 of the February DRI Power Point Presentation . .

Because the Casino Applicant demanded so much ground-level parking, Mohawk Harbor has far less green space than one would have expected at Schenectady’s only remaining location for waterfront development. The Casino also got concessions allowing bigger footprints for its buildings in exchange for adding amenities for the public. (The bike-ped trail mandated in our Code is indeed an amenity, but instead of fully providing funding for it, the developer allowed the State and County taxpayer to pay 85 or 90% of the cost.)

The authors of the Schenectady DRI Application seem to be proud of the Harbor’s green-space. Yet, they propose to allow and subsidize a giant Entertainment and Retail complex, 100,000 sq ft., that would take over much, if not most, of the remaining Mohawk Harbor green-space. To permanently remove such a large portion of the open space at Mohawk Harbor for a use that has no water-front value, and no unique contribution to the City, County, or Region, seems unwise. We should also ask whether, like the Harbor Center buildings and River House, Metroplex plans to give a PILOT or other property tax breaks on the new entertainment-retail complex.

Choosing the Galesi-Casino Harbor Entertainment Development proposal is inappropriate, for at least three other reasons of policy and equity:

1] The Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming greatly reduced the amount of green-space at the Harbor, diminishing its attractiveness, and restricting the ability of the public to enjoy a riverbank experience:  They did that damage by insisting that City Council remove from the then-existing Waterfront District Zoning Code, the requirement that any developer at the old ALCO plant location: File a permanent easementfor the purpose of assuring public access to and public enjoyment of the waterfront,” with the owner responsible for upkeep. [see screen image of former code provision on the right].

Did that change matter for the aesthetics and enjoyment of the waterfront? The first image below is the rendering submitted by the Rivers Casino applicants following the Waterfront District C-3 Code at the time of the application:

We did not receive an attractive, gently sloping, landscaped riverbank, suitable for picnics, frolicking and play, strolling, sitting and reclining, romance, etc.. Instead, Galesi Group, the Casino, Metroplex, our Planning Commission and Office, and Mayor McCarthy, removed the public access requirement, and ignored the Zoning Code mandates to preserve as much as possible of the natural features of the riverbank, and to place the Trail as close as reasonably possible to the riverbank. As a result, they allowed this to happen to our only potential spot for additional riverfront public access and enjoyment:

 . .

  • In addition, City Hall and Metroplex allowed the developer to locate the bike-ped path closer to that steep riprap bank than was allowed under the amended Code the Casino Gang dictated to City Council. (See our post, “Restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor”  (Aug. 10, 2015). After pressure from the editor of this website for quick action to remedy the hazard caused by the steep slope, the County installed a fence for the safety of the public (on foot or bikes, or wheelchairs), but violated required standards for structures along a bike path — putting the fence only two feet away from the path (instead of 3 to 5 feet), leaving very little space for a cyclist needing to quickly avoid others users on the path, and for the public to view the River safely and comfortably when standing along the fence. (See our post, “Poorly-planned safety fence going up along Mohawk Harbor Trail” (Oct. 15, 20,18).
  • This collage OpEd asks why Rush Street would deny public access to the riverfront to the people of  Schenectady, while doing so much for the public at its Philadelphia and Pittsburgh casinos, spending millions to improve and enlarge already impressive riverbank access.

The answer, from my perspective, is that the Mayor and Metroplex, and City Council, gave in to every demand of Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group, and failed to follow industry practice (and common sense) by demanding extra payments and protections for Schenectady and its citizens, when they approved the casino license Application and major zoning code changes. Despite all that Rush Street gives and offers to other host cities, they let the Casino Gang treat Schenectady like a Second-rate City. (See our posting, “Rush Streets giveaways

    • Here’s a telling (and ironic) bit of the McCarthy Administration’s developer-oriented urban planning: When I complained at a public meeting in 2015 that the amendments were taking away guaranteed public access to the riverfront, the then-Director of the Planning Office replied to me and the public that “they will have access to the retail” at the Harbor.

2] After supporting removal of the public access guarantee to the waterfront, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen of Metroplex came up with the misleading argument that having a Large Vessel Dock would assure “total public access to the riverfront.” [2018 rendering below] Based on that bogus, and easily rebutted claim, City Hall and Metroplex originally proposed such a project for Schenectady DRI.  However, other State funding has been secured for the project outside of DRI, meaning that $2 million of public funds from another source will be used to build a 680-foot long, 12-ft. wide, large vessel dock (with no railing, of course) along Mohawk Harbor. It will surely benefit Mohawk Harbor and owners of large vessel boats. For a partial list of the reasons why it is unlikely that a significant portion of the public will be able to enjoy the safe and secure use of such a dock, see our post “The large vessel dock at Mohawk Harbor” (July 24, 2018).

3] While seeking Schenectady DRI and other subsidies for a large entertainment center, Rush Street Gaming’s Pittsburgh Casino announced last October, that for the tenth straight year, it was contributing $7.5 million (in two $3.525 million donations each year) for Pittsburgh’s existing, grand sports and entertainment center, PPG Paints Arena, to help cover its original construction costs. The donations will continue for 25 more years. (Note: In case you wonder, Rush Street pays higher gaming tax rates on slots and table games in Pennsylvania than it does in New York on its Schenectady Casino revenues.) When it comes to making gifts and donations, Rush Street Gaming treats Schenectady like the proverbial redheaded stepchild. When, however, it comes to asking for and accepting money, Schenectady’s generous Mayor and Metroplex Chair seem to be Rush Street’s Daddy Warbucks.

 

Capital Region AQUATIC CENTER  . .

If some of Mohawk Harbor’s remaining green-space is to be sacrificed, it should be for a project that offers unique services to the people of our community and the Capital Region, as well as attracting and serving visitors. If it also provides water-related activities, that would be a plus. Using those criteria, the DRI proposal at Mohawk Harbor that suits the public interest far better than a Mohawk Harbor Entertainment Complex is the CAPITAL REGION AQUATIC CENTER, even though it will not be located at the core of our downtown. [see page 66 of the February DRI Power Point Presentation]  Also see, “Aquatic center proposed on Schenectady waterfront gains $250K grant” (Daily Gazette, John Cropley, March 3, 2020). The Gazette article reports that:

The Capital Region Aquatic Center’s . . . would feature four pools for training, competition and diverse swim programs such as learn-to-swim, exercise and rehabilitation.

Plans also include spectator seating, classroom areas, meeting rooms, aquatic-focused exercise and weight room, studio/multi-purpose area, pro shop, concessions area and locker rooms.. .

In another boost, the Wright Family Foundation of Schenectady announced a $3 million grant in October.

Read about the Aquatic Center’s history and mission, here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy posting. Your (civil) comments are welcome. If you agree, please let the DRI Local Planning Committee, the Mayor and City Council, and the media, know. I plan to add updates and follow-up thoughts to this post.

 . . share this post with this short URL: IMG_1801 https://tinyurl.com/RealDowntown . . 

. . Many thanks to Google Maps for assisting in making this posting . .

update: Sunday, March 8, 2020: See the Gazette article by Pete DiMola, “As priority projects come into focus, Schenectady DRI panelists could have conflicts of interest“. There’s a lot to consider in the piece. This excerpt gives a taste of the complexities:

But roughly a quarter of the 16-member panel tapped with making the final decisions represent organizations who are not only jostling for funding, but are also actively pitching projects themselves.

They include the city, Proctors, Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation, Rivers Casino & Resort and Schenectady Country Metroplex Development Authority.

Driving pedestrian traffic between downtown and Mohawk Harbor is the centerpiece of the effort.

David Buicko, CEO and president of the Galesi Group, which developed Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino & Resort, is co-chair of the panel.

Also, see Saturday’s Guest Column by former Union College President, and Mayoral candidate, Roger H. Hull, “Don’t emulate Washington on ethics transparency,” which also raises conflict of issues statements, especially re the leaders of Galesi Group and Proctors being on the Local Planning Committee. Dr. Hull ends the column with these observations:

HullOpEd7Mar2020Yet, even if they recuse themselves, the process would be tainted, since it would be easy to game the system. It would be best for them to resign, if their organizations are possible recipients of the grant.

A lack of transparency and conflicts of interest are troubling issues—or at least they should be. In the past, they were, but not today.

In the age of Trump, those issues are, seemingly, of no concern to most people.

In Schenectady, ethics and legal norms should be retained.

We would all benefit, and we might even serve as a much-needed model for Washington.

DRIPlanningCmteBLATANT CONFLICTS. Dave Buicko is CEO of the Galesi Group, which developed and owns Mohawk Harbor, and was the main spokesperson pushing the Casino application forward in 2014 and thereafter related Zoning changes and site plans, etc. As stressed above, the primary focus of DRI Schenectady is “increasing visitations to Mohawk Harbor“. Nonetheless, Mr. Buicko was made co-Chair of the DRI Planning Committee. And, Mayor McCarthy (who is seeking funding on behalf of the City), is the other co-chair. Mr McCarthy told the Gazette that he wants the Committee’s recommendations for projects that will receive grants to be bundled into a single vote. Doing that, of course, will mean that the final vote will allow Committee members with conflicts of interest, even if they have previously recused themselves on particular proposals, to vote for them as part of a “bundle” of projects.

If ever there were a situation ripe for “horse trading”, it is DRI Schenectady. Too many committee members (click on above image) are directly involved with proposals, and too many others are beholden to, or seeking favors from, the City, Metroplex, Rivers Casino, the Galesi Group and Proctors, to believe that an objective assessment of the public interest will drive the outcome. 

How else but from the now-habitual McCarthy-Metroplex “done deal” perspective, with McCarthy and Gallen “snowmen” selected for panels, can the public understand how the primary goal of DRI Schenectady could be driving customers away from our core downtown to Mohawk Harbor, a private development situated over a mile from the Real Downtown Schenectady?

  • honestThere are far too many examples of misleading, half-true, or simply erroneous  claims surrounding Mohawk Harbor and the Casino for me to supply them in this posting. Browsing this weblog will give the reader a good taste (well, actually, a bad taste for our City Hall). But, here are three quick but relevant examples:  (1) A few years ago, the initial online brochure for Mohawk Harbor stated that it was located “in the heart of downtown Schenectady.” (2) At one time it was claimed that Rivers Casino is located “across the street” from the new Train Station. And, (3) Dave Buicko (rather than the Planning Office staff) was allowed to present the large packet of amendments to the City’s Waterfront District zoning Code in 2015. The Galesi Group CEO told the Planning Commission and City Council that the amendments were mainly minor and technical, despite among other things, removing guaranteed public access to the waterfront, permitting 80-foot rather than 7-foot signs, allowing 19,000 rather than 250 square feet of signage, and completely removing the Casino from the Signage portion requirements of the City’s Zoning Code. (See our descrption of the Planning Commission Special Meeting that approved the Amendments: “Schenectady’s Waterfront Zoning: A rubber stamp in a company town?” (Jan. 29, 2015). With “alternate facts” like these coming from City Hall and its favorite “partners”, who needs actual facts when doling out $10 million taxpayer dollars?

follow-up (March 21, 2020): Thank you, Daily Gazette for publishing my Letter to the Editor today, “Invest state funds in our ‘real’ downtown” (at D2):

DRI-RealDowntown

we need more Safe Gambling Education

pgam-ribbon-e1519831037164 It is March again, and March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. [E.g., see materials provided this week by the New York Council on Problem Gambling.] Once again, however, the gambling industry and its regulators in New York State, along with well-intended private-sector public interest advocates (who count on the State for funding), are focusing on finding people who already show the signs of having a problem gambling problem, and then suggesting ways for them to get help. Such activity is a good thing, of course, but we also need a strong educational campaign to teach the public Safer, Low-risk Gambling Habits that will help many people avoid needing intervention and treatment.

As many already-existing resources demonstrate, such problem gambling prevention education does not have to be painful or complicated to arm individuals with common sense but effective knowledge that keeps gambling a fun, recreational activity. We have listed many examples of such resources in our problem gambling posts, such as the information and links compiled last March. The list immediately below of low-risk and high-risk gambling behaviors from the Problem Gambling Canada website is a good example.

Low Risk and Harmful Gambling

Not all gambling is a problem. Gambling may be low risk, or it may be harmful.

Low-risk gambling means you:

      • Limit how much time and money you spend gambling
      • Accept your losses, and don’t try to win them back
      • Enjoy winning, but know it happened by chance
      • Balance gambling with other fun activities
      • Don’t gamble to earn money or pay debts
      • Don’t gamble when your judgment is impaired by alcohol or other drugs
      • Never borrow money or use personal investments or family savings to gamble
      • Don’t gamble to escape from your problems or feelings
      • Don’t hurt your job, health, finances, reputation or family through your gambling

Harmful gambling means you have started to:

      • Lie about your gambling or keep it a secret
      • Lose track of time and play for longer than you meant to
      • Feel depressed or angry after gambling
      • Spend more money than you planned, or more than you can afford
      • Ignore work and family responsibilities because of gambling
      • Borrow money or use household money to gamble
      • “Chase your losses” to try to win back your money
      • Believe that gambling will pay off in the end
      • See gambling as the most important thing in your life
      • Use gambling to cope with your problems or to avoid things
      • Have conflicts with family and friends over gambling
      • Ignore your physical and emotional health because of gambling.

I encourage readers to check out our fuller treatment last March of Problem Gambling. That posting explains the obvious fact that casinos, their regulators, and our State and local government entities receiving gambling revenue taxes, have little incentive to significantly reduce the amount of gambling done in New York State. The issues raised there, and the practices of Rivers Casino relevant to problem gambling awareness, have not changed since last year. They may, however, be getting worse, due to the continued significant growth of slots gambling, the most addictive form of casino gambling, at Rivers Schenectady.

  • hazardsignContinued “Slotsification”: Slots/ETG gross gaming revenue increased by $13.6 million in 2019 over 2018, which is 12.9%, while Table Game wagering went down 4.5%, and Poker table play down 6% in 2019. [See the Weekly Revenue Reports from Rivers Casino, and its Monthly Reports.]

To my knowledge, unlike the trumpeting of their 2017 figures, Rivers Casino has not released to the media or public the number (or its estimate) of patrons at the Casino in 2018 and 2019. Our fear is that patronage/visitation has not been broadcast because it has in fact been flat or declining, despite the growth in Gross Gaming Revenue. That could mean that slots GGR is increasing due to long or frequent repeat visits by slots patrons showing the signs, or in the throes, of gambling addiction.

The Schenectady Gazette published an article this week describing an event at Rivers Casino on March 2 announcing problem gambling awareness month. “Rivers Casino hosts state kickoff of problem gambling awareness month” (by John Cropley, March 3, 2020). Rather than a point by point reaction to quotes and information in the article, I am reprinting my comments to that article left at the Gazette webpage:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/RiversCasinoNY/posts/?ref=page_internal

David Giacalone Comment

Rivers Casino likes to tell the press and the gaming industry and regulators how hard it works to identify problem gamblers. But, neither Rivers nor our government leaders help in any significant way to educate the public on how to avoid becoming a problem gambler. We need to help create a healthy, informed attitude toward casino gambling, and educate the public on how to be a savvy, low-risk gambler. Going to the casino should be a form of low-risk, casual entertainment and recreation, rather than a strike-it-rich high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.

At its Facebook page, Rivers Casino focuses on opportunities to win BIG. It never even mentioned Problem Gambling during all of last March on Facebook, and has no mention of it yet this year. [and no mention as of March 7, 2020]

Since its first year of operation, Table Games and Poker revenue have declined each year, while Slots revenue has increased significantly. Slots revenue went up 12.9% in 2019. That is not a surprise, as Slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling.

To read about Schenectady’s Slots Gambling Problem, see how Rivers’ feeble efforts compare to those at MGM Resorts, and learn how to gamble safely (and simply go to a casino to have fun), see https://tinyurl.com/SlotsProblem .

  • Furthermore, according to the numbers in the Rivers Casino Weekly GGR Report to the NYS Gaming Commission, Schenectady’s Casino just had its biggest SLOT/ETG week ever: Its slots take for the last week of February 2020 was $2,937,288. The prior week was its third biggest slots week, after three years operating at Mohawk Harbor.

Since the Casino and local Government are not giving us Low-Risk Gambling information, it is up to private citizens and the private sector (health, religious, civic groups focusing on both the young and the elderly, etc.) to step up an act urgently

Mayor McCarthy also dissed the Boy Scouts

LLMissingPlaque1

LLNoPlaqueSchenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy had our replica statue of Lady Liberty dumped last summer at the corner of Erie Boulevard and Union Street, next to a train trestle and among a forest of poles. At the time, we wrote “McCarthy disses Lady Liberty (and all of us) again” (August 28, 2019), a posting with photos of the dreadful spot and a summary of the sad saga of our Statue.

So stunned was I by the Mayor’s brazen insult to his City and its history, it was only recently that I realized Lady Liberty stood in exile with no plaque commemorating the source and spirit behind the Statue, when it was placed in its real home in 1950 and for the next 67 years. See the collage at the head of the posting, which shows the plaque attached to the original pedestal; the image to the left depicts the current situation; and here is the plaque itself:

LLPlaqueC

Here is our description, from a posting in March 2018, of how Lady Liberty came to Schenectady and her original location:

Lady Liberty, a 100-inch tall replica of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, came to Schenectady as part of a 1950 Boy Scouts of America program. Local Boy Scouts across the City and County saved up the $350 to purchase the statue. It stood in Liberty Park, which was later named for the replica of Lady Liberty, until it was put into storage (in August 2017) to protect the statue during the reconfiguration and reconstruction of Liberty Park, as it was expanded into Gateway Plaza.

In a 2012 Schenectady Gazette article, the story of our Lady Liberty is told through the eyes of several local Boy Scouts from the troop that met at St. Anthony’s Church, and worked to save up the $350 to purchase the sculpture in 1950. “Lady Liberty replica has 62-year-old story to tell” (by Bethany Bump, Jan. 15, 2012; emphasis added).

LadyInParkSept2016It was an endeavor that dovetailed nicely with the Scouts’ basic mission: prepare youth to be responsible and participating citizens and leaders. And there was no better symbol of leadership and American citizenship than Lady Liberty.

. . .  Just like the 305-foot-tall national monument in New York Harbor, Schenectady’s lady offers an inspirational message: “With the faith and courage of their forefathers who made possible the freedom of these United States, the Boy Scouts of America dedicate this copy of the Statue of Liberty as a pledge of everlasting fidelity and loyalty.”

Somehow, our Mayor, who now trumpets all sorts of minor craft projects as symbols of community enthusiasm, did not see fit to honor or commemorate the spirit that brought Lady Liberty to our City, or the decades thereafter of annual rededication ceremonies. An indication of its importance can be seen in our description of the day the statue was dedicated:

news10-ll-gazette Dedication Day. The procrastination of our current Mayor and his carefree attitude toward Lady Liberty, her proponents, and the Planning and legislative process, is in stark contrast to the importance of the Statue to the City at the time of its Dedication. The [News10 Special Report on the plight of the Replica] shows the front page of the Schenectady Gazette on November 9, 1950, and the prominence given the story. The article states that 2500 scouts and scouters marched in a parade to the Park, with a crowd of 3,500 persons overflowing the small park for the dedication ceremony. Then Mayor Owen M. Begley called it a “beautiful, beautiful gift,” commenting that the replica here will be a great emblem in Schenectady of our great heritage of liberty.”

Where is the Boy Scouts of America plaque that once enhanced our Liberty replica? Can it be cleaned and restored and be joined again with the Statue? Or, has it been sold for scrap or secreted away to the den of a City Hall staffer? I hope someone on our City Council will investigate and then fight to bring back the plaque or, if necessary, have a suitable replacement made and installed, either at the (temporary) Trestle site of Schenectady’s Lady Liberty, or at Liberty-Gateway Plaza, where She was always expected and promised to be returned.

An apology to the Scouts who worked to bring the Lady to Schenectady would also be most appropriate.

. . this photo-opEd is still most relevant . .

LLPlaque4x6a

. . share this posting with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/McCarthyBSA

SoupStroll2020-LLiberty

. . Lady Liberty seen at her dismal new location during the 2020 Schenectady Soup Stroll 

can the Sidewalk Plan be repaired? (with updates)

IMG_2722

Today’s Schenectady Gazette reports that “City share of costs for troubled sidewalk program escalates: Officials pledge to save troubled initiative” (by Pete DeMola, Jan. 29, 2020). The article begins:

The city has seen its share of replacing sidewalks on Ardsley Road jump from $63,000 to $159,192, again calling into question the shifting costs of the city’s new sidewalk replacement program.

The original bid to replace sidewalks on Ardsley Road came in at $179,435. But final costs were $238,194, which resulted in homeowners getting hit with bills twice as high as they were expecting.

The rapid and unexplained rise in City Share (about $98,000) is particularly puzzling, because we have been told by Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Engineer Chris Wallin that the huge bills sent out to Ardsley Road residents a month ago were caused by unexpected costs for Top Soil, Seeds, and Tree Removal. But, the increase in Soil & Seed costs (which were almost 12 times as much as in the approved and supposedly reviewed Contractor’s Bid) were “only” an extra $42,538. Moreover, the Tree Removal costs, which were always going to be paid for by the City, were merely $9000 more than in the Contractor’s Bid. That leaves over $40,000 in City Share costs unexplained by anyone and by any figures shown in the original Contractor’s Bid or the new Project Cost sheet.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SidewalkRepair

We are left with some big questions:

  1. IMG_2723How could the Contractor’s Bid, which did not include the surprise additional $42,538 Soil and Seeds expense, have been 84% more than the Polimeni-Wallin estimates? There apparently were tens of thousands of dollars of costs not anticipated by the Polimeni-Wallin estimate calculations and not yet explained or disclosed to the Residents, or even to Council members.
  2. How did the City Share balloon from the $37,000 subsidy unveiled at the January 7, 2020 Committees Meeting, to what amounts to a subsidy over $96,000? How much of a subsidy is the City (taxpayer) willing to supply for future Project sidewalk districts to keep costs for Sidewalk Plan residents at a reasonable level, and a level likely to attract residents to the Plan?

DAGArdsleyCover Click on the thumbnail to the right for David Giacalone’s Comments submitted to City Council for the Public Hearing on Monday, January 27, 2020, regarding the Ardsley Road Sidewalk plan and the City’s proposal to reduce the cost to the Homeowner-Residents to $55.44 per linear foot of sidewalk (an amount that would still be 25% higher than the estimates for the program given in January 2020 by Councilman John Polimeni and City Engineer Chris Walling). The Comments contain a breakdown of relevant costs, showing the original Contractor’s Bid, the revamped Cost Sheet giving “actual” Project Costs, and the escalation in the City’s subsidy to the Ardsley Rd. residents in order to reach the $55.44 figure. The Comments include discussion of many of the questions and issues raised by the puzzling numbers in the first and second Cost Sheets and the City’s “explanations”.

At the Council Meeting on Monday, Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield, who along with Vince Riggi, voted against the enabling Resolution for the Sidewalk Plan, both emphasized that improvement is crucial, and revamping the entire Plan should be considered. Perazzo called the increase in the City Share “breathtaking.” Polimeni’s co-conspirators in adopting the Plan and approving both the Ardsley Rd. Bid and New Cost Sheet, Ms. Zalewski-Wildzunas and Ed Kosiur, had nothing to say about the Ardsley Rd. frustrations or the ballooned subsidy by the City.

Despite all the problems and unanswered questions, John Polimeni told the Gazette:

“We’re making attempts to correct and make it better in the future,” he said after the meeting. “As the architect of the program, I’m going to do what I can to make sure it succeeds.”

However, with so many uncertainties as to costs and procedures, and so few blocks likely to volunteer for this Sidewalk Assessment District plan, here is, to my mind the:

MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: Are those large and unexplained costs expected to be encountered by every block petitioning to be in the Sidewalk Assessment District? If so, does it make sense to continue the Program, which was never destined to be used by more than a tiny percentage of City blocks, rather than pausing or junking it?  Wouldn’t it be more responsible to do the homework necessary to construct a system in Schenectady that is fair to property-owners and taxpayers, and will actually achieve what we all want, a sidewalk network that is in good repair across the City? [click this link to see a description of how Rochester and Syracuse approach sidewalk repair.]

GazLTE-Bacheldor29Jan2020 See the Letter to the Editor in the January 29, 2020 Gazette by DeCamp Avenue petitioners Laurie and David Bacheldor, who are rightfully upset and asking the right questions.

Here are side-by-side depictions of the Cost Sheets used by the City for Ardsley Road. 

ArdsleyCompareProjectCosts

ArdsleyCompareResidentsCost

. . for more details on how this fiasco happened see our Jan. 7, 2020 posting . .

ardsley-campaignsignp.s. I continue to believe that the Sidewalk plan was pushed and rushed by Mr. Polimeni and the Mayor’s office for the political purpose of having a block completed before the November 2019 election. If that guess is correct, the failure to ever inform Ardsley Rd. residents of their cost under the Contractor Bid, or of the City Hall decision to charge even more than the Bid cost in the First Payment invoices, was not just an oversight or a Pilot Program issue. It was an intentional decision to prevent the Ardsley Rd. residents from withdrawing their Petition and stopping the construction on their block because prices had increased so much above the Polimeni-Wallin Estimates.

. . THIS TALE IS TO BE CONTINUED. .

CmteMtg3Feb2020-sidewalk update (February 4, 2020): On Monday February 3, the Schenectady City Council held its customary Committees Meeting, with the Ardsley Rd. sidewalk project on its agenda. The public access video of the Meeting can be found at https://tinyurl.com/CouncilCmte3Feb20, with the Sidewalk segment beginning at about 00:23:00. [In the photo to the right, Marion Porterfield asks John Polimeni whether residents signing a Petition, would be able to withdraw from the Petition after being informed of the selected contractor bid, if they believed the cost to them would be too high. Mr. Polimeni quietly said “yes”, and started nodding his head up and down. There was a pause in all discussion, and neither the topic of residents withdrawing from their Petition, nor the process process of doing so, was discussed further.

Although there were many important issues raised by the public in last week’s public hearing, the Council, with Finance Committee Chair John Polimeni leading the discussion, ignored most of them. Beyond mentioning the need for better communication several times (with no details on how and when to achieve it), the only subject getting detailed attention was the complaint by a corner-property owner that, without notice, the City sent a bill for sidewalk footage on Union Street to the owners of the two corner properties at Union Street and Ardsley Rd. 

. . . IMG_2703 . . IMG_2702

. . above: the west [L] and east [R] corners of Union St. and Ardsley Rd. . .

Although they did not address the complaint that the cost of $55.44 was too high, the Council committee decided that the City would bear the cost of 40 feet of sidewalk on the Union Street corner related to disability access ramps.

The decision meant reducing the total frontage to be charged to the Residents on the Ardsley Rd. petition from 1425 feet to 1385 linear feet, with the 40 feet added to the City Share of project costs. Although not mentioned, it therefore meant that the City Share of the total Project Cost would rise another $2217.60, to more than ninety-eight thousand dollars.

Immediately below are marked-up versions of the Project Cost sheet and Cost to Residents sheet approved by the Committee on January 21, showing the new costs to the City and the affected property owners, which will be on the Agenda of City Council for final action on February 10, 2020.

ArdsleyCosts3Feb

ArdsleyResidents3Feb

The Council Committee also concluded that any disability access ramps that were need on the Petitioning portion of DeCamp Avenue would also be treated as part of the City Share for that Project. Those changes were approved to be put on the Agenda for the next City Council meeting, February 10, 2020, with the primary provision of the Resolution being a change from $81.71 to $55.44 per foot as the cost to the Ardsley Rd. residents.

There was no discussion of, among other things:

  • Whether the $55.44 cost per linear foot was appropriate for the Ardsley Road residents to pay, as $55.44 is 25% higher than the Polimeni-Wallin Estimate, and the Petitioners were “stuck” and never had the chance to reject the Contractor or revised City cost numbers.
  • Just how high a subsidy Council is willing to grant if a Sidewalk Bid in the future, including the upcoming DeCamp Ave. project, is considered too high by the petitioning residents.
  • IMG_2700Whether the Council will impose a threshold for cost escalation in the Sidewalk Assessment District program, requiring that the added costs be approved in order to compensate the Contractor.
  • Whether, in the words of John Polimeni, the only problem was the “communication thing,” or whether additional core problem exist that should be addressed before starting any new Sidewalk blocks.  For example, what about the $40-50,000 of unexplained costs that were apparently not anticipated by Wallin and Polimeni in their estimates, but found their way into the original Contract Bid for Ardsley Rd.?

FinalArdsleyCosts10Feb2020

. . (above) FINAL COSTS for the Ardsley Road Assessment District sidewalk project . . 

update (Feb. 11, 2020): Yesterday evening, February 10, 2020, the Schenectady City Council approved the Final Costs for the Ardsley Rd. sidewalk project. [Click on image directly above this update.] The matter was on the Council’s Consent Agenda, and was therefore passed unanimously with the entire Consent Agenda, without discussion. At the end of the Council Meeting, no Council member took the opportunity to mention Ardsley Rd. or the Sidewalk Assessment District Project. The approved Ordinance, with a Cost Breakdown document dated 07Feb2020), only deals with the City Share, Costs to Property Owners, and Assessment Costs by Address (without interest, which will apparently be 2%, with a 10-year payback period).

  • Property Owners will pay a rate of $55.44 per linear foot of sidewalk, with each frontage determined by the City Tax Map. The original cost in the Contractor Bid approved last September was $81.71 per linear foot. With the linear footage reduced to 1385′, the total cost to Property Owners is $76,784,40, about 32% of the Total Project Costs.
  • The City Share, $161,410.45, is 68% of the Total Project Cost of $238,194.85. The City Share under the original Contractor Bid was $63,000.

None of the other issues mentioned above were addressed, much less settled. Therefore, the future of the Sidewalk Assessment District Plan is still up in the air.

mahafez06aug2017 MH-LTE-BackToSchoolfollow-up (Feb. 15, 2020): On today’s Schenectady Gazette Opinion page, with the Polimeni Sidewalk Plan in mind, local businessman Mohamed Hafez suggests we should send the Council member I call “Professor D-Minus” Back to School (click on image to the right for a larger version).

 

our slip ‘n’ fall sidewalk plan was no accident

See our posting “Can the sidewalk plan be repaired?” for a summary of the situation as of Jan. 29, 2020.

 

The City of Schenectady government slipped and fell hard on its collective butt in orchestrating completion of the first block of sidewalks under its Sidewalk Assessment District Plan. Of course, it is the Petitioners on Ardsley Rd., and eventually Schenectady taxpayers, who will feel the pain. The new Ardsley Rd. sidewalks on the block from Union St. to Rugby Rd. are apparently fine, but the failure to inform the Homeowners of the surprisingly high cost may doom the entire Sidewalk Program, which relies on property owners convincing their neighbors to participate with predictions of big savings.

. . share this post with the short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SidewalkFiasco

The Sidewalk Plan was controversial for being adopted by City Council without needed details and explanation (see Gazette article, March 13, 2019; click to see the disappointing Explanation of the Plan provided to the Council and the public by sponsor John Polimeni). Nevertheless, there was nothing inevitable about the “slip ‘n’ fall” calamity that happened on the way to replacing and billing for the new sidewalks on Ardsley Road. See our discussion here for full details; and “City hits speed bump with sidewalk program” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, Jan. 3, 2020); “Foss: City’s new sidewalk program a disappointment” (Sunday Gazette, by Sara Foss, Jan. 5, 2020).

 Even after the Sidewalk Plan was prematurely brought up for a vote and adopted by the City Counsel in a 4-3 vote in March 2019 (with Vince Riggi, Leesa Perazzo, and Marion Porterfield voting No ), there were many points at which the outcome of the first completed block — an approved Contractor Bid with Ardsley Rd. Homeowner Costs 84% higher than Plan sponsor John Polimeni’s estimates, and initial Annual Bills calculated at an even higher rate, with no prior warning to Homeowners — could and should have been avoided.

On the other hand, the excessive cost to the Ardsley Rd. homeowners, and failure to keep them informed, was not an accident, either. It was due to deliberate choices made by the two City officials most actively engaged in the Sidewalk District Assessment Plan: Council member John Polimeni and City Engineer Chris Wallin, along with secondary negligent oversight by the remaining Council members.

Part of the problem might have been that Prof. Polimeni believed, as he told a Gazette reporter last March, that “the process would be ‘relatively easy’ despite the numerous city agencies involved”, and “It’s not your typical runaround sometimes you get.” Nonetheless, relatively easy or not:

Ardsley Road Contractor Bid

  1. NO WEBPAGE. The promise of City Officials (mentioned in the Gazette last March) to “attempt to quickly add a section to the city’s website about frequently asked questions concerning the program,” was never fulfilled.
  2. MAY 1 DEADLINE. The first deadline set by the City Engineer, May 1, for completed Petitions was only 6 weeks after the Plan was passed by the Council, helping to assure that the first bid request would involve only one block’s Petition.
  3. ONLY ONE BID. When only one Contractor submitted a Bid for the Ardsley Road project, the Plan administrators pushed ahead, rather than waiting until more Petitions were ready for a joint bid request, even if that meant waiting until Spring for the projects to be started.
  4. 84% HIGHER. When the single bid for Ardsley Road came in with prices to the Homeowner 84% higher than the Polimeni estimates given in the Plan Statement earlier in the year, the cost overage was
    1. Never brought to the attention of the full City Council
    2. Never used as a reason to delay the Plan implementation
    3. NO DISCLOSURE. More importantly, never revealed to the Ardsley Street homeowners, despite requests by Homeowners for cost information throughout the summer.
  5. SidewalkCmteMtgPREMATURE COMMITTEE VOTE: When Mr. Wallin presented the Contractor Bid for approval and award of the Contract (at City Council Committee Meeting for Sept. 3, 2019), neither he nor Mr. Polimeni alerted Council members, and the viewing public, that the Homeowners had not yet seen the dollar figures, much less been given the chance to withdraw their Petition. And,
    1. LAST-MINUTE SUBMISSION. Wallin did not submit the focus of the Presentation, the actual Contractor Bid, for Council members to review until the start of his 15-minute presentation to the Council Members on Sept. 3, 2019.
    2. NOT “ALMOST EXACT”. Mr. Wallin specifically told City Council members prior to asking for the Committee approval of the Bid, that that the Bid “comes in almost exactly at our construction estimate, based on our historic experience.” Intentionally or not, Wallin seems to have confused the historic cost of $80 per square yd. that was used in Polimeni’s Estimates, with the Bid price of $81.71 per linear foot, which resulted in a cost 84% higher than the Polimeni Estimates. Or, as he has done before, Mr. Wallin said the Party line to support a favorable vote.
    3. SILENT PROFESSOR. At no point did Mr. Polimeni, chair of the Finance Committee and sponsor of the request for bid approval, correct the mis-impressions presented by Mr. Wallin, leaving some Council members unaware of the failure to present the Bid numbers to the Homeowners, and unaware of the giant cost increase from Plan estimates.
      1. AND, FINANCE COMMITTEE MEMBERS: It is very difficult to believe that the two other members of the Finance Committee, John Mootooveren and Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas, allowed this matter to be placed on the Council Committees agenda without knowing how high the price would be for the Homeowners and without asking whether the Homeowners were ever told of the Bid results. If they knew the situation, they are also at fault for failing to inform the rest of the Council before they all voted to accept the Bid and award the construction contract.
  6. CONSENT AGENDA. Still not informed of the mis-impressions stated above, on September 9, 2019, the City Council approved the bid and contract award presented at the Sept 3. Committees meeting, with the Resolution placed on the Consent Agenda and no public discussion.
    1. There is no indication that any of the Ardsley Rd. Homeowners were notified formally or informally of their Contract Bid being on the Sept. 3 or Sept. 9 agendas.
  7. KEPT IN THE DARK. At the time construction of the sidewalk project began in October, the affected Homeowners were still unaware of the cost increase. And, they were never shown or told of the higher prices after the project was completed in November and into December.
  8. SURPRISE BILLS. When they received their bills in late December from the City for the first of ten annual Sidewalk Payments, the Ardsley homeowners had still not been shown the approved Contractor Bid Sheet, and were given no explanation for the amount they were charged, which was about $100 per ft., another 25% higher than the Contrator Bid “Total Resident Cost” of $81.71 per foot of sidewalk.
  9. TOP SOIL? Mayor McCarthy stated the extra cost was due to unexpected tree removal and landscaping expenses. But, the Contractor Bid specifies that Tree Removal was a City Share expense (see detail from Bid to the Left), not a Homeowner Expense. And the $81.71 price per foot already included seed and topsoil expenses, and has no provision for adding on unexpected costs. See image to Left. update (Jan. 23, 2020): Mayor McCarthy, along with Ed Kosiur, have kept up the refrain that the Ardsley bills were so high because of unexpected Tree Removal and Top Soil & Seed costs. See “Schenectady Mayor promises to fix troubled sidewalk program” (Times Union, by Paul Nelson, Jan. 23, 2020). The detail from the Contractor Bid above in ¶8 shows that the total Top Soil and Seeds cost in the Bid came to under $4000, only 3.3% of the $116,435 total cost to residents.

. . Ardsley Rd. Homeowners generally like the new sidewalks, but they cannot forget how poorly they were treated during this “pilot” block project . . 

Why would City Hall treat the Homeowners on the Ardsley Road Petition so shabbily? It is difficult to believe that John Polimeni and Chris Wallin are too ignorant of fair play and good government processes to accidentally keep the Residents and the Council informed.  If nothing else, Mr. Polimeni was being asked for the bid/cost information before and after the sidewalks were completed. Wallin said he wanted to beat the winter weather, but that assumes there was some great disadvantage to waiting until Spring. The only reason that makes sense to me is that Polimeni (and probably his Party leaders) wanted the block to be a milestone to point to in the Election.

ardsley-campaignsign

follow-up (Jan. 11, 2020): CITY COUNCIL ADDRESSES THE ARDSLEY BILLS

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Olaf at the gates

IMG_0695-001   .  snowmencameo

IMG_0696Olaf-001 As you may know, given the name of this weblog and its content, the proprietor believes Schenectady has been suffering the ill effects of having Snowmen at its Gates since the tragic night of the February 8, 1690 Massacre, when the appointed sentries were having a drink at the Mill Lane pub, and only two snowmen were “guarding” the Stockade gate.*/  Naturally, the Stockade and its Gate, along with the guards, were meant to protect the residents of Schenectady.

Harkening to that history, we fervently believe our current Mayor-for-Life Gary McCarthy, in addition to supporting the new craft brewery at Mill Lane, vastly prefers appointing and re-appointing “snowmen” — silent, deaf, and weaponless citizens, who melt if subjected to heat — to Schenectady’s Boards and Commissions, and naming managers to important City jobs with similar attributes. The result is “enforcement” of Schenectady’s laws and regulations that appears to serve the Mayor’s favorite causes, people and enterprises, rather than serving the public interest. See, our Snowmen Effect Category of posts, and “McCarthy only wants snowmen on his Planning Commission“.

*/ By the way, the Stockade gates had been left wide open on the night of the 1690 Massacre, inviting attack, because the mostly-Dutch villagers did not like having a newly-appointed Englishman in charge. So, they ignored his orders to remove the high snow blocking the entryway.  As a result, Indian scouts reported back to their French commanders that the Schenectady gate was wide open, while Albany was well-guarded, making Schenectady the better choice for attack.

OlafVita We are also quite keen on irony and twists of humor here at Snowmen at the Gates. So, this week, it was with a gleam in our eyes that we spotted Frozen‘s famous snowman Olaf “guarding” City Hall. More precisely, an ice sculpture of Olaf by Charlie Jones, of “The Ice Man Custom Ice Sculptures“, was on duty near the main entry stairway on Jay Street, a leftover feature of last Saturday’s City Hall-iday“.

IMG_0695OlafHead-missing

  • IMG_0695OlafHead Adding another element of either irony or reality to our Snowmen at the Gates theme, the top of Olaf’s head was leaning against the base of the sculpture when I arrived. Whether the victim of vandals, Mayoral edict, or strong sunshine, we do not know. While taking pictures, I decided to move the head over a bit to permit the character’s name to be read again by passersby.
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Here in Schenectady, however, an Ice Olaf gives cold reassurance to a populace about to endure four more years of Mayor Gary McCarthy. To overcome the curse of the Snowmen at the Gates, we need strong warm bodies at City Hall, with open minds, eyes and mouths, equipped with fully-operating and courageous brains. Is that too much to wish for in this Season of Hope?
IMG_0694
P.S. To help celebrate Olaf’s visit to our lovely Downtown, I have put together this one-page 2020 calendar, formatted for an 8×10″ print, for you to download and use for any non-commercial purpose.
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2020Downtown-Olaf
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OlafIceMan. . . The Ice Man’s finished product

more squawkable than walkable

DSCF5301  .  Union at Erie and Lady Liberty

. . above: always-scary Erie Blvd. at Union St 10 AM: [L] sw corner unshoveled with giant snow mound blocking access to pedestrian signal; [R] se corner, ditto. As of 5:15 PM, conditions were unchanged.

Union St betw S. College and Erie Blvd. The sidewalks from College St. to Erie Blvd. were also unshovelled. The south side borders a City parking lot.

 

 

 

SnowySchdyStroll

Jan. 13, 2019

I would not have been walking around Downtown Schenectady at about 9 AM today (Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019), if I did not have a medical appointment at Liberty and Lafayette Streets. A similar appointment after a snowstorm early this year yielded a dreary walk hobbled by intersection after intersection inhospitable to pedestrians. [click on collage thumbnail to the left] Sadly, despite million$ spent to be a $mart City, all the same problems were on display today. See examples above and below.

. . Click on a photo for a larger version . . 

Here are two of the corners at City Hall at 10 AM:

Jay St. and Liberty . . in front of Pho Queen at Liberty and State

corner at City Hall .. crosswalk at Liberty and Clinton

 Post Office at Liberty and Jay Streets . . Post Office at Liberty & Jay

 

 

 

Jay at Liberty - P.O.

. . below: Seward & Tubman got plowed in at the Library:Seward-Tubman in snow bank

What about Erie Boulevard and State Street, our busiest intersection? Well:

SE State & Erie . .State & Erie - Wedgeway 

The sidewalks along our new Train Station were equally forgotten:

Erie sidewalk at Train Station. . sidewalk on Erie at Train Station

 

SW Erie at Liberty

SW Erie at Liberty

And, if you want to park along State Street or Liberty or other places with the Pay Parking Kiosks, you could walk quite a way to find entrance to a sidewalk, and still need very high boots to make a payment (and then walk back to place your receipt in your car, etc.)

DSCF5328 . .State St. across from Proctors - problems for parkers 

This Sideshow has all of the above photos, and more.

  • for a larger version of a photo in the Slideshow, pause on the photo, right-click and choose Open Image in New Tab.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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As the City tells us of the wonders and benefits of being a Smart City, with services assumed to be provided more efficiently, let’s talk about the need for Boots on the Ground to make our Downtown safely and conveniently walkable.

shovel follow-up (Dec. 5, 2019): As of the end of the afternoon yesterday, Tuesday, December 4, 2019, most of the trouble spots at corners described above had been addressed by the City (or others), although the Seward-Tubman statues were still plowed in. However, around 5 PM, there were at least three places that I saw in a quick walk around the block needing further snow removal in the Stockade near Washington Ave., Union Street, and Front and N. Church Streets.

Here’s my email message late last night to a few City Officials and the press, along with attached photo collages (click on a collage for a larger version):

Begin forwarded message:
From: David Giacalone <dgiacalone@nycap.rr.com>
Subject: more Stockade snow removal needed
Date: December 4, 2019 at 11:35:05 PM EST
Cc: Pete DeMola <pdemola@dailygazette.net>, “Nelson, Paul” <pnelson@timesunion.com>, Sara Foss <sfoss@dailygazette.net>

 

The photos below were taken late Wednesday afternoon, December 4, after snow removal trucks and crew worked along Washington Avenue and Front Street in the Stockade.

Please send the crews back to finish the job. As further shown in the collages below, the locations involved include:
1] Cucumber Alley. The Dec. 2-3 snow was plowed only halfway into the Alley, and pushed into a snowbank left at the spot where plower stopped. There is no access for vehicles or pedestrians to the River end half of the Alley, and two feet of snow still blankets that end of the Alley on its paved sections.
2] The NE corner of Union St. and Washington Ave. has been left with plowed snow blocking all pedestrian access to the street. This location is directly across from the YWCA, with its child care center.
3] The corners at North Church Street where it ends at Front Street. Snow plows pushed snow onto both corners, allowing no pedestrian access to or from the sidewalks or the street.
Please direct work crews back to these locations and problems.
David Giacalone
16 Washington Ave. Apt. 3, at Cucumber Alley

CucAlley4Dec2019

update (Dec. 12, 2019): On Wednesday, December 11, 2019, one week after the email message above (and another the morning of Dec. 11), Cucumber Alley was finally unencumbered of the snowbank blocking the second half of the Alley from vehicle and foot traffic. To wit:

CucAlley11Dec2019PM

Should we be optimistic about the next big snow storm?

Neither of the two other problems depicted below were remedied as of Thursday afternoon, December 12.

 

WashAv-UnionSt4Dec2019

NChurch-Front4Dec2019

DSCF5444followup (December 30, 2019): My photoshoot on December 26 of the new mural welcoming people to the East Front Street Neighborhood (see posting at “suns along the Mohawk”) was momentarily stymied when I came upon this frozen reminder of the infamous December 1, 2019 Not-So-Smart-City snowstorm (photo on the right), and its aftermath and uproar, with its unplowed streets, plow-created obstacles, and un-shoveled sidewalks. This particular sidewalk runs along City property (the Front Street Pool lot). I ended up crossing the street and shooting from the opposite side of the underpass. Today, Dec. 27, I sent a photo and a plea for help to Paul Lafond, General Services Commissioner. Twelve minutes later, Mr. Lafond wrote back that he sent out a crew to handle the problem. I appreciate the quick reply, of course, but do not believe residents should have to report problems that City workers and City Smart Cameras must have seen for three weeks.

Beloved Chamber Welcome Sign is Back

IMG_0644-001 . . IMG_0637-001 

IMG_0640-003Originally erected by the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce in 1925 behind the Van Curler Hotel, the Schenectady Chamber’s Welcome to Schenectady Sign, with its silhouette depicting the 1690 Massacre, was placed in Liberty Park at the corner of Washington Avenue and State Street in 1977. Like the replica of the Statue of Liberty, the Chamber sign was removed during reconstruction of Liberty Park into Gateway Plaza. Unlike Lady Liberty, the Chamber sign has been refurbished and returned to its old neighborhood, despite the original neglect it received on Foster Avenue.

IMG_0642-002

IMG_0645-001  The unique and much-missed sign is back a block from its old spot, at the northeast corner of State Street and S. Church Street, alongside the Kindl Building (201 State Street).  For a comprehensive history and description of the Chamber Sign, see its page at The Historical Marker Database, written with photos by Howard C. Ohlhous of Duanesgurg.

ChamberSignAug2008 . . ChamberSignMay2008

. . above: two photos from 2008 by Howard C. Ohlhous (full-sized versions, here and there) . . 

I’m glad the Chamber Welcome Sign is back. Thanks to the City, Metroplex, and Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. for supporting its return in great shape to a prominent location. Wouldn’t it be great if Mayor McCarthy comes to his senses, and brings Lady Liberty back to Her Park, rather than continuing her exile at a forlorn site alongside a train trestle, planted in a forest of poles.

 

Council, do your Smart City Homework

4monkeysSepiaupdate (Oct. 29, 2019): With the support of his Four Sure Votes, the Mayor got $2 million more to spend on his “Smart City” project, and the people of Schenectady got left in the dark with the bill to pay. See “City Council adopts spending plan” (Gazette, by Pete DeMola). It is clearer than ever that wise voters must “break up the Mayor’s Council-clique“.

Saturday, October 26, 2019:

. . . . Yesterday afternoon, I sent an email Letter with Appendix (see below) to Schenectady City Council President Ed Kosiur, and others. My recommendation was that the Council first do its Smart City Homework before allotting another large budget item for the Mayor to use in his Smart City efforts. Unfortunately, as a Gazette article reports (online, Sat. AM, Oct. 26, 2019), the Mayor’s automatic Rump Majority, led by Ed Kosiur and John Polimeni, ignored its responsibilities, and are prepared to force through more Smart City dollars at the Council Meeting on Monday, despite the efforts of Council Members Riggi, Perazzo and Porterfield.

McCarthy-Kosiur-PrimaryNight . . .
. . above: Mayor McCarthy on primary night, with his 4-person Rump Majority standing behind him . . 
From: David Giacalone
Subject: Please hold up the $2M until you do your Smart City Homework
Date: October 25, 2019 at 1:58:55 PM EDT
To: Ed Kosiur <ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov>, et al
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Dear Council Members:
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  • Wise Cities know which experts to consult with first: the residents. (see Appendix Item #1 below)
The Mayor and Council recently announced plans to finally hold publc informational meetings about our Smart City program. Late is surely better than never, unless the cyber-security, data-privacy, and citizen-trust horse has already left the barn.
 
Sinking more money into Smart Cities before an informed public discussion seems like an act of disrespect to your residents. At the very least, isn’t it poor planning to earmark $2,000,000 Smart City dollars for the Capital Fund before finding out what your residents and electorate want from Smart City technology and what limitations they feel are needed on the use of the data? 
 
That is especially true when Mayor Gary McCarthy has apparently felt no obligation to even keep the Council President, much less the entire Council, in the loop when he is deciding on Smart City purchases and strategies. When venders are called “technology partners” and the notion of making revenue from collected data bandied about freely, doesn’t this Council want to create guidelines, regulations, and protections before allowing even more unsupervised spending on Smarty City initiatives? 
 
  • Until you each know what information is being collected, and whether it could be used by outsiders to identify individuals, especially if cross-referenced with other data sources, you should not be thinking of writing another big Smart Cities check.
    • Do you know, for instance, what sorts of information is being collected by the City’s WiFi stations, and whether that data might be misused? Do our sensors keep a record of which smartphones are passing by?
 
WHAT HOMEWORK?  Council members need to know enough about the facts and issues presented by Smart City technology that you feel ready to spend significant amounts of money constructing a system that will affect the welfare and finances of your City and its citizens for many decades to come. Are you there yet? Or, is it “merely” another two million dollars? 
 
From the perspective of many experts, you have not done your Smart City Homework if you have not had meaningful discussion with well-informed residents. The failure to have the public conversation about what the public wants and does not want, with open discussion of the privacy and data risks, and installation of real cybersecurity measures, should mean that no additional money, or only small amounts of targeted funds, be authorized at this time. 
 
Please read the summaries of three thoughtful Smart Cities articles that are presented in the Appendix below.
 
Thank you for your time and consideration,
.
David Giacalone, Schenectady NY
 

P.S. In a thought-provoking article that is discussed in the “Appendix” below, I was concerned to see this sentence: “These technologies range from the mundane (speed cameras) to the fantastical (“Streetlight hubs that host WiFi nodes, license plate readers, environmental sensors, and gunshot detectors)”. The Future of Living: Smart Cities, Uneven Safeguards (Washington Lawyer, Nov. 2018P) Note that Schenectady already has that “fantastical technology”, but with no transparency, public input, or disclosure of how security, privacy, and consent are being handled.

 
APPENDIX
 
1] The article “Smart cities: good decision-making vital for turning technology into real solutions (from Urban Hub) offers advice that seems worth taking, using the experience of Boston, Massachusetts:
  • The technology disrupting urban living today undoubtedly has the potential to improve quality of life, but exactly how that happens still boils down to good decision-making.
  • Boston’s Smart City Playbook brings up one central question time and again: “What can it do for us?” Whether talking about building a platform, collecting big data, or boosting efficiency, the playbook insists on a strategy built from the bottom up. A similar approach called The Clever City also advocates downsizing before upsizing.
        And, especially:
  • Boston knows which experts to consult with first: the residents.
 
2] Another resource that I hope you will study before appropriating the $2 million is the article “I’m an Engineer, and I’m Not Buying Into ‘Smart’ CitiesSensor-equipped garbage cans sound cool, but someone still has to take out the trash. (New York Times, by Shoshanna Saxe, July 16, 2019) Dr. Saxe is an assistant professor of civil and mineral engineering at the University of Toronto.
 
Here are a few excerpts from Prof. Saxe’s OpEd piece, which is well worth reading in full:
 
  1. “There is a more basic concern when it comes to smart cities: They will be exceedingly complex to manage, with all sorts of unpredictable vulnerabilities. There will always be a place for new technology in our urban infrastructure, but we may find that often, “dumb” cities will do better than smart ones.
  2. “New technology in 2015 will be outdated before 2020. If we widely deploy smart tech in cities, we need to be prepared to replace it every few years, with the associated disruption and cost. But who will assume those costs? 
  3. [W]who can guarantee that future elected leaders, in an effort to cut costs and appease taxpayers, won’t shortchange spending on replacement technology?” 
  4. Managing all the sensors and data will require a brand-new [expensive] municipal bureaucracy staffed by tech, data-science and machine-learning experts. . . . . If the answer is to outsource that staffing to private companies, then cities need to have frank conversations about what that means for democratic governance.
 
In addition, Dr. Saxe reminds us that:
 
The most critical question, however, is whether having a smart city will make us meaningfully better at solving urban problems. Data and algorithms alone don’t actually add very much on their own. No matter how much data a city has, addressing urban challenges will still require stable long-term financing, good management and effective personnel. If smart data identifies a road that needs paving, it still needs people to show up with asphalt and a steamroller.
 

3] DCBar-Cover-p16The November 2018 edition of Washington Lawyer (the D.C. Bar magazine) also has an article that I recommend to those who want to make smart decisions about Smart Cities. It is titled “The Future of Living: Smart Cities, Uneven Safeguards (by Sarah Kellog). The author talked with and quotes technology, legal and privacy experts. The key points:

  • The need early in the process for a policy and rules for cyber-security and privacy protection
  • “Transparency” in the collection and sharing of all the data is very important
  • The temptation to make money on the data raises the risk of abuse. 
  • It is incumbent upon governments to first engage communities and communicate effective about these questions” [about privacy and data risks].
 

An expert of digital forensics and cybersecurity points out in the article that “few are even remotely aware of how intrusive these applications can be in their daily lives. . . Most people below a certain age don’t care about all the sensors in our lives. . . .The folks of a certain age tend to get the privacy dangers.

 

A major issue is Consent. Consent to be monitored may not be a legal requisite, but consent should be obtained from individuals whose data has been collected and massaged to allow the identification of individuals (especially if the buyer of the information can cross-reference it to other data bases, before a municipality shares/sells it to outset entities. 


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Updates will be added, as appropriate in this space. 

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break up McCarthy’s Council Clique

. . click this link for the discussion below of the Polimeni Sidewalk Plan.

. . subtitle: let’s fire John Polimeni . .  

SchdyCouncilFinal  update (Nov. 6, 2019): Last night’s election results [click on image to the left from Times Union] for Schenectady City Council were quite disappointing to those of us who had hoped to achieve a more deliberative and better-informed City Council, to make its dynamics and processes wiser and more small-d democratic. The entire 4-person Democratic Party slate was elected, with a surprising loss by independent Vince Riggi, our “voice of reason (in the wilderness)”. [see Gazette article; TU Election Results] I hope newcomer Carmel Patrick will resist the “mushroom management” style of Mayor Gary McCarthy, and demand to be better informed about facts, goals, alternatives, legal requirements, etc., before voting on matters before the Council.

Congratulations to Leesa Perazzo on her impressive re-election result. Leesa will need to be more vigilant and persevering than ever.

. . Gazette‘s Halloween Trick: At the bottom of this post I respond to the Gazette editorial that endorsed John Polimeni for re-election.

When it became clear in late June that Mayor Gary McCarthy would have no opponent on the November 5 ballot, I wrote to his primary opponent Thearse McCalmon and at my Facebook Page that:

4monkeysGreenX THE BEST THING we can do right now is to continue to work toward this November election, to DENY MAYOR GARY McCARTHY HIS NEARLY CONSTANT FOUR-VOTE MAJORITY of the same four Democratic Council members. If he knows that he could lose any particular resolution he presents, Mayor McCarthy will have to:

  • Seek Council and Public input early in the legislative process
  • Provide more information to the Council and public;
  • listen to the public and respond accordingly;
  • encourage and expect probing questions from the Council ; and
  • stop insisting on nearly instant passage of resolutions, without evaluating and explaining options, and without incorporating thoughtful criticism, including comments received at public hearings, and without supplying relevant information, even when requested by Council members.

The next best thing to a new mayor is a mayor who can no longer count on getting all his desires rubber-stamped.

Looking at the people who will be on the November 2019 City Council Ballot, we need to think about and support the people most likely to be independent thinkers, who will insist that the Council is the City’s legislative and policy leader, not the Mayor. And, who see themselves as the partners of Schenectady’s residents and neighborhoods, not partners of the Mayor’s favored developers and commercial interests. [update (Nov. 3, 2019): The Sunday Gazette has an article by Pete DeMola that captures the dynamics of the City Council race, “In race for Schenectady City Council, Democratic unity belies more complicated tensions: Seven candidates campaign for four seats”. It notes, for instance, that if Vince Riggi wins one of the four contested seats the four Democrats on the ballot are competing with each other for the three remaining seats.]

McCarthy-Kosiur-PrimaryNight. . the Mayor and his Gang of Four

FIRE POLIMENI. The 4-member Council “Rump” Majority is made up of Council President Ed Kosiur, John Polimeni, John Mootooveren, and Karen Senecal Zalewski-Wildzunas. Only Ed Kosiur and John Polimeni are on the ballot from this Council Clique. Vince Riggi and Leesa Perazzo are also on the ballot, seeking re-election. (See Gazette article)

 Because of the many legislative missteps that we have seen initiated and pushed by John Polimeni, in addition to his virtually always acting as either a silent rubber-stamp or cheerleader for Mayor McCarthy, I believe we should work to ensure that Prof. Polimeni does not win re-election to the Schenectady City Council. 

  • Riggi-Kosiur Council Members Vince Riggi (Ind.) and Leesa Perazzo (Dem.) are also running this year. Schenectady needs to re-elect Vince Riggi and Vince has earned it, by listening to constituents from all parties, asking tough questions, and by seeking more and better information. Unfortunately, Vince has been frustrated time and again by the rush to voting that the Rump Majority allows the Mayor to pursue.
  • If Leesa Perazzo is re-elected, I hope she will become an even stronger independent-thinker and actor on the Council.

 SILENT WITNESS/Co-Conspirator. John Polimeni has not spoken out to [1] Ask for Privacy Safeguards for the City’s Smart City information gathering, and now says he wants to use the data to generate revenue, which means No Privacy, as the City sells information gathered about its residents and visitors to marketers. (see our post “Council, Do Your Smart City Homework.” [2] Demand that the Mayor return our replica Statue of Liberty to Liberty/Gateway Plaza, as was promised in the Final Plan approved by City Council and the Mayor in 2013. (In fact, he signed an error-filled petition to send Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park; click here for the full Lady Liberty Story.) Nor, [3] Complain when Rivers Casino acknowledged that its lobbyists were seeking to reduce the 45% gaming tax on slots revenue to below 40%, meaning at least a 12% reduction in slots gaming revenue. Any reduction, of course, would mean less money coming into the City’s coffers.

  • Our Council members must actively and vigilantly serve the interests of Schenectady’s residents, and speak out when Mayoral proposals, Department action or inaction, or Corporation Counsel opinions, need to be further investigated and explained.

Continue reading

greeting Omar McGill at Mangino’s

img_2727.jpg

 This afternoon (Sunday, October 13), there was a Meet and Greet for Omar McGill at Mangino’s Gourmet Market and Restaurant (754 1/2 Eastern Avenue). Omar is running against veteran Democrat Peggy Smith for the open District 1 seat on the Schenectady County Legislature. He is on the Working Family Party’s line on the November 5 ballot. In addition to Rick Mangino and Bonnie Goodwin at Mangino’s, the event was co-sponsored by Mary Moore Wallinger, a landscape architect and Chair of the City of Schenectady Planning Commission, and Hon. Dorcey Applyrs, member of the City of Albany Common Council. 

Omar-PeggyKingAs I’ve written elsewhere (for example, click on thumbnail to the left from Omar’s Facebook platform page), although a lifelong Democrat, I believe Omar McGill is the clear choice for our County Legislature. We need a representative who listens to the people and not just Democratic party leaders — and who demands explanations, facts, open consideration of alternatives, and more if necessary before deciding to support or oppose a legislative resolution. (Although Omar and Marion Porterfield, the Democratic City Council member who is his campaign manager, insist on having a positive campaign, I personally do not believe that stating the record of the opponent and explaining what Omar would do differently is a negative campaign.)

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. . above: [L to R]: Noble and Dorcey Applyrs, Mary Moore Wallinger, Omar McGill; below: Our Community’s Future:

IMG_2726 . . IMG_2732

You will find an 11-minute video with remarks by Mary, Dorcey and Omar McGill’s at the Meet & Greet posted at his Facebook page.  In the columns below are random photos that I took of the thoughtful and amiable folks who came to meet Omar today at Mangino’s. Click on an image for a full, larger version.

 

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Several varieties of pizza and soft ice cream were consumed with gusto. The beautiful Mangino’s has much more on its menu. Thanks to the sponsors!

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  • My Facebook coverage of this event is here.

we need better regulation of digital signs

CrosstownBillboard . . EMB-NEFJnight

. . above: [R] digital sign at Union St. and Baker Ave.; [L] digital billboard along Rt. 7 between Albany St. and Watt St. 

GazDAG-DigialSigns7Oct2019C6

Thank you, Schenectady Daily Gazette, for publishing the Guest Column “City needs smarter digital sign regulation” (October 7, 2019, C6), by David Giacalone [editor of this website]. We have been discussing this topic for several years, in posts containing commentary, images, and excerpts from expert sources, such as:

. . share this posting with this short URLhttps://tinyurl.com/EMBregs

follow-up (Dec. 1, 2019): See the Sunday Gazette Editorial, “City right to get on regulations of electronic billboard signs” (Dec. 1, 2019).

Gaz-EMB29Nov2019A1 . . Gaz-EMB29Nov2019A10 And see, the news article, “Schenectady may weigh changes to electronic billboards” (Gazette, by Pete DeMola, Nov. 29, 2019).

ProctorsMarquee06Mar2015

it is not growing on us

No, Mr. Mayor, the spot you chose for our Statue of Liberty Replica is not growing on us. It seems just as outlandish and disrespectful as when you plopped her there at the end of August.

Below is the view of Lady Liberty heading north on Erie Boulevard approaching Union Street.

DSCF5019

Meanwhile, a perfectly appropriate and quite popular spot is still available just a few blocks away at Liberty-Gateway Plaza, where in 2013 you, Mary Wallinger, and our City Council promised She would be returned. Once again, we ask you to Put Her Back, as promised, as planned, as preferred by the public.

PutTheLadyHere

PutHerBackPetnE

bad reviews for “Our Lady of the Scary Underpass”

LL-NewLocationPollResultsGIMG_2109-001 It is no surprise to anyone with eyes, good taste, and a working brain. And, it probably isn’t news to Gary McCarthy, who might be relishing the anguish he is causing residents of Schenectady by demonstrating his arrogance and power.

Since Friday, August 28, 2019, the City has been abuzz with negative reactions to the new location given to our Statue of Liberty replica statue by Mayor McCarthy, near the railroad underpass on the southeast corner of Erie Boulevard at Union Street. People have been reaching out with email and phone calls, and crossing the street to voice an opinion:

The New Location is an outlandish choice, an insult to the Lady and to Schenectady. (see our prior posting with more photos and discussion of the Mayor’s Choice, and this link to pdf file of heavily-redacted email, which is the City’s “response” to my FOIL request for documents relating to the choice of location for Lady Liberty ). On the right above is a colorized screenshot of the final results of a Daily Gazette poll placed online from Saturday through Tuesday. Gary McCarthy’s choice could only attract 61 votes, despite all his political suasion, and the favorable poll position and wording. The choice of the Original Location received 130 votes in the poll, 45% of the total.

IMG_2108-001On August 30th, the Gazette Editorial Board published “Editorial: Lady Liberty’s New Home – try again: Historic statue needs a more appropriate location than busy street corner”. After noting the disappointment of one viewer who gasped, “Oh God, you can hardly see it”, the editorial stated:

Instead, the final placement seems almost like a dismissive afterthought, that in order to shut up the people who were demanding its return, they just stuck it anywhere, hoping that those who cared about its placement would finally drop it and move on.

Well, the only thing that should move on is the statue itself.

Like other observers, the Gazette editors noticed right away the many problems:

. . . Mayor Gary McCarthy — without input from the public or the collective City Council — appears to have unilaterally decided to dump it on one of the city’s most cluttered street corners — uncleaned and unimproved — where it’s difficult to see clearly from either side of the five-lane road, against a thick, ugly metal power pole and utility boxes, and in the shadow of an unsightly train bridge at the end of a parking lot.

In summary, the Gazette opined:

Anything’s got to be better than the manner in which this location was selected and where the statue ended up.

Lady Liberty deserves better.

Of course, here at Snowmen At the Gates, we insist She Deserves the Best: Her Original and Only appropriate Home, Liberty-Gateway Park.

what can you still do? Contact the Mayor and City Council directly:

  • McCarthy-Kosiur-PrimaryNightMayor Gary McCarthy – gmccarthy@schenectadyny.gov – who has not offered any justification for changing (ignoring) an important element of a very important and approved Plan.
    • Photo to the right, L to R: J. Mootooveren, J. Polimeni, K. Zalewski-Wildzunas, G. McCarthy, E. Kosiur
  • Ed Kosiur – ekosiur@schenectadyny.gov, City Council President, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park, despite its gross factual errors, and has declared without explanation that “only the Mayor has the delegation” to make this decision.
  • John Polimeni – jpolimeni@schenectadyny.gov, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park
  • Leesa Perazzo – lperazzo@schenectadyny.gov, who sponsored the 2013 Resolution adopting the Implementation Plan, but has been most silent on the topic
  • Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas – kZalewskiWildzunas@schenectadyny.gov, who signed the Goose Hill Petition to move Lady Liberty to Steinmetz Park. (Update [Sept. 3, 2019]: According to the Aug. 28 Gazette, Ms. Z-W “liked the location, citing its proximity to the Schenectady Train Station and the Stockade, and thinks most residents will find it to be an acceptable location.)
  • John Mootooveren – jmootooveren@schenectadyny.gov, Chair of the Council’s Health and Recreation Committee
  • Marion Porterfield – mporterfield@schenectadyny.gov, who suggested in March 2018 we might poll the affected neighborhoods, but has been silent since.
  • Vincent Riggi – v_riggi@verizon.net, the only Council member to consistently demand implementing the Implementation Plan and suitably honoring Lady Liberty and her Schenectady history.

And, Mary Moore Wallinger, mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com, who changed her mind after designing Gateway Plaza and writing the Implementation Plan and now says Lady Liberty “does not fit in” with Wallinger Plaza’s contemporary theme.

McCarthy disses Lady Liberty (and all of us) again

IMG_2117-002  . . IMG_2109

IMG_2107-001

Our “Smart City” Mayor, Gary R. McCarthy, has made another very unwise decision. Six years after the City Council and Mayor approved the official Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan to return Lady Liberty to Her Original Home; two years after our Lady Liberty replica statue was removed for safe-keeping during the reconstruction of Her Liberty Park; and 17 months after the Mayor was first publicly asked to explain the failure to return the Statue, Mayor McCarthy announced today that the Lady had been placed at her new permanent location: The southeast corner of Erie Boulevard and Union Street, with a railroad overpass and retaining wall, and parking lot as Her backdrop. See Pete DeMola’s Gazette article this afternoon, here [screenshot image]; and a TU article [screenshot image] by Paul Nelson (both online August 28, 2019).

IMG_2106-002

 The Mayor’s statement today again gave no reason for not following the approved Implementation Plan for Gateway Plaza, and failed to identify his so-called “design team”, which understandably wants to remain anonymous. As reported in the Times Union:

“Upon completion of the newly redesigned Gateway Plaza and after careful consideration and discussion with our design team, it became clear that we would need to seek a new location for the statue,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said in a statement Wednesday. “This is an extremely high-visibility intersection with approximately 30,000 daily travelers on Erie Boulevard.”

  • GPTour-MMWallingerNote: Only one person, Mary Moore Wallinger (image at right), has tried to explain the exile of Lady Liberty from Her Park. See our posting “Wallinger’s Excuses“, which discusses the reasons given by Ms. Wallinger since March 2018 for her conclusion that Lady Liberty “no longer fits” with the Plaza. Mary Wallinger was the original designer of Gateway Plaza, and is also the Chair of the Schenectady Planning Commission. Mayor McCarthy has bent over backwards to make her wish come true of keeping Lady Liberty away from Liberty-Gateway Plaza. Since her role has become public, Ms Wallinger has been quick to point out that it is “the Mayor’s decision”, not hers, whether to return the Statue to its home.
  • (August 29, 2019) My Freedom of Information Request to the City, dated June 11, 2019, asked for documents relating to the decision to return Lady Liberty or place Her elsewhere. This morning, I finally received a pdf file of heavily-redacted email from Corporation Counsel’s FOIL office, with the explanation that:
Records have been redacted pursuant to FOIL Public Officers Law Article 6 §87(2)(g)(iii) “Agency records”.  States, an agency may deny access to records or portions thereof that are inter-agency or intra-agency materials which are not final agency policy or determinations. If you would like to appeal your request, you may do so in writing Mayor Gary McCarthy, City Hall 105 Jay Street, Schenectady, NY  12305.  Your written appeal will need to be within 30 days.
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Of course, nothing requires the redacting of this information. The Mayor has never told us why Lady Liberty needs to be exiled from Liberty Park, and his FOIL office (Corporation Counsel) has decided to hide whatever those reasons and reasoning might be. Somehow, an appeal to the Mayor sounds futile.
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* At the foot of this posting, I have a few comments and screenshots from the pdf FOIL packet. You will note that none of the “careful consideration and discussion with our design team” mentioned by the Mayor made it into any legible portion of any document (e.g., email, memorandum, phone call memo, etc.).
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IMG_2117-002

peek-a-boo statue

Indeed, this is such a “high visibility” intersection, that several people have already told me they passed right by without seeing Lady Liberty today. I was one of those who did not notice The Lady, as I drove west on Union late this morning heading to the Stockade. Drivers coming west on Union and going straight or turning right will almost certainly fail to see the Statue without an effort to do so. That fat pole itself blocks the view, but so will vehicles turning left and waiting with you for the light to change.

The idea of the beloved green Statue distracting the already driven-to-distraction motorists and pedestrians at that intersection is downright scary. Whether taking the time to look for Lady Liberty, or being surprised by Her in the middle of a turn, or texting a friend that you just saw the Statue, the City’s creation of such a remarkable distraction is exactly what we do not need at Erie Blvd. and Union Street.

LL-longcrosswalk

It is most certainly not a pedestrian-friendly intersection, as drivers are immediately allowed to start turning when pedestrians get the Walk signal at that long crosswalk. Ironically, just yesterday (Aug. 27), two left-turning vehicles came speeding in front of me, as I tried to cross with the Walk Signal in that very crosswalk. I jumped back and signaled the third driver, in a large black SUV, to stop. She did, but angrily (and ignorantly), yelled at me: “I have a green light!” I hope Lady Liberty is not too squeamish as she gazes out at the intersection.

IMG_2110

. . quite a view for, and of, Lady Liberty . .

. . by the way: the straw is very slippery; better stay off it. . 

I’ve been trying to keep this posting relatively light, to stifle my great disappointment over the crassness, arrogance, and pettiness of the process that ignored the approved Plan and the public’s preferences, only to result in this disagreeable location for our Statue of the Lady who brings Enlightenment.

Her Real Home. In case you need a reminder, this is where Lady Liberty reigned and inspired for 67 years, before she was moved “for her protection” during reconstruction of Liberty Park; photos taken September 2016:

libertypark1

Beyond the Mayor, the irresponsible and/or cowardly posture of City Council members other than Vince Riggi on this issue makes very little sense politically, but should be a big concern in a City that is about to “celebrate” four more years of Mayor Gary McCarthy. I hope the electorate will have some serious questions for those seeking reelection this year (Kosiur, Polemeni, Perazzo), about their independence from the Mayor, and their commitment to transparency and integrity.

gpladyPlanCollageTHE SORRY TALE of the EXILED LADY.  If you look down the Right Margin on our Homepage, you will see many postings concerned with Lady Liberty, Liberty Park and Gateway Plaza, that are part of this too-long story. A good place to find important images and documents and coverage of the tale, including links to additional webposts, is the posting “Lady Liberty is Timeless.” To the immediate right is a thumbnail of an Advocacy Poster I presented in March of 2018 that helps explain why we felt betrayed.

  • In the posting “Letters for the Lady“, we’ve compiled Letters and commentary in the press supporting return of Lady Liberty to Her Liberty Park home since March 2018. A new section has been added at the foot of that posting that will present similar pieces since the revelation of the New Location.

 

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. . Above and Below: a very wide intersection for a small statue and Big Symbol . . 

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BTW: Below is my view of Lady Liberty from the front of the line, waiting in my car for the light to change, heading west on Union Street; I had to roll up a foot or two to see Her at all (taken Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019):

LL-Waiting4Light

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follow-up (April 1, 2020): Seven months after Lady Liberty was planted at Her location-in-exile, it seems there have been no attempts to spruce up her seedy surroundings. On the 1st of April, 2020, I stopped by on my daily walk, and saw the following unmitigated, still-rusting eyesore, about 10 yards behind the Statue:

LLexile-plumbing

GP-RelocateLibertyred checkfollow-up (Sept. 10, 2019): Meanwhile, City Council President Ed Kosiur told me after the Council meeting on September 9, 2019, that he only learned about the new location when I posted about it at my website. Kosiur also said, as an excuse for not demanding the Mayor return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park, that its return was never actually mentioned in the Plan, but was only in images. I assured Ed he was wrong, and wondered who gave him that misinformation (got no answer). He asked that I show him treatment of Lady Liberty in the Gateway Plaza Plan. Back at home that evening, in response to Ed’s request, I looked through the Implementation Plan to find proof that the return of Lady Liberty was indeed included explicitly in the Plan (and not merely shown in a rendition or on the cover). Click on the thumbnail of a portion of p. 37 to the right above. I also and sent Ed several other screen shots from the Plan.

  • GPPlan-costsIn the email to Ed Kosiur, I also noted that “relocating” the replica statue within the completed Plaza had a $20,000 line item in the expense table that was presented in the Implementation Plan. Click on thumbnail to the left, item marked with a red asterisk. The related Plan item can be seen in the following Master Design sketch from the Final Gateway Plaza Plan: “Relocated Statue of Liberty Replica” is shown near State Street and the BusPlus structure as item #6 of the Legend.
    • GPphase1wLegend.jpg

Mr. Kosiur never responded to nor even acknowledged the September 9th email, nor a reminder email that included the same information, sent September 22, 2019.

*Click here for the FOIL packet re the Location of Lady Liberty. Here’s what I learned from the FOIL Packet:

Continue reading

Proctors Marquee Billboard (with updates)

MarqueeLia14Aug2019

MarqueeBonadio

MarqueeCDPHP14Aug2018Advertising space on the Proctors State Street marquee must be especially coveted this month, with Hamilton: The Musical, opening for a 13-day run on August 14, and crowds of theater-goers and media reps  expected. (see Gazette coverage). Of course, we shouldn’t expect Proctors to take advantage of that demand and display signs for other enterprises, because “Off-premises signs” — signs for businesses not offering services or products on the lot where the sign is located — are specifically prohibited under Schenectady’s zoning ordinance for signage. [§264-62(G)]

When Proctors was granted its Special Use Permit to install 5 digital signs in September 2013, it was specifically reminded that it could not display paid advertising for off-premises businesses. Here’s an excerpt from the Planning Commission Minutes of September 18, 2013, when the SUP was approved:

PCMinutes-ProctorsSUP18Sep2013Public Comments: A member of the public asked if there would be paid advertising on the sign. The applicant responded that while the sign might mention event sponsors, there would be no paid advertising. City staff noted that paid advertising would constitute an off-premise sign, which is not allowed under the city sign ordinance.

  • Off-PremiseSignBanThe screenshot to the right shows the relevant sections of Schenectady’s Signage Code, Prohibited Signs and Definitions. By the way, no new billboards are allowed in Schenectady, unless the requested permit fits a restrictive definition as being “a relocation of two billboards existing prior to the effective date of this chapter.”
  • Note:  You do not have to pay directly for a sign for it to be considered a prohibited off-premise sign. Under our Code the definition of a sign is broad, and means “display of an advertisement, announcement, notice, directional matter or name”, and includes “any announcement, declaration, demonstration, display, illustration or insignia used to advertise or promote the interests of any person or business when the same is placed in view of the general public.” I’m sure the Bonadio Group of CPAs and consultants could explain the relevant issues to Proctors, including treatment of benefits received by a donor to a non-profit and vice-versa.

I was at State and Jay the morning after Hamilton opened for other purposes, but when looking at the Proctors Marquee I could not help but notice that it often had what can only be called ads for off-premise businesses. And, those ads tended to stay on the LCD screen the full 8 seconds required under the City Code for electronic message boards. The collage shows at least seven such off-premise signs that I saw in the brief time I was on the block (click on it for a larger version).

ProctorsOffPremisesAds

In typical Applicant-fashion, Proctors representative told the Planning Commission it would not have such ads, while signaling its likely argument if caught doing so – saying that “the sign might mention event sponsors.” I do recall in other years seeing companies such as the Times Union and MVP mentioned as sponsors. But, the signs now showing at Proctors are not that subtle.

Readers of this space know: (1) I get irked when important local persons and institutions act like scofflaws and the City’s rule-enforcers turn a blind eye to their favorite persons and entities. And, (2) I have long been concerned about the way Proctors went about getting its Special Use Permit for its marquee signs. [See, e.g.,our discussion here] I hope the appropriate people will quickly take action to correct this situation.

When City Hall chose to subject the public to the hazards of digital signs at the busiest block in the City, to please a local favorite institution, I do not think it did so to help the other companies now taking up space on Proctors marquee. If, however, that little bit of “business friendly” governance was intentional, there is still time to correct the situation. Proctors and Philip Morris are local cultural icons, but that should not give them immunity from playing within the rules.

follow-up (Sept. 1, 2019):  A pleasant stroll on the Proctors block yesterday (Saturday, Aug. 31) was interrupted when I saw a Heineken bottle displayed across the Proctors marquee. I took out my little Fuji camera and snapped shots of off-premise ads until the Heineken ad returned. There were 19 such ads over about 15 minutes. Here is a compilation. I have just left a complaint at the City’s Citizen’s Request Tracker, noting the violation of Zoning Code §264-62(G) and providing this collage.

ProctorsBillboardCollage

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ProctorsBillboard2019-09-22follow-up (September 24, 2019): On September 18, 2019, Christine Primiano, the City’s Chief Planning officer, wrote me to say:

It’s our understanding that Proctor’s is in compliance now.”
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Unfortunately, when I drove up State Street a couple hours later, I could see the bold “Bonadio Group” ad playing on the Proctors marquee before I even got to Broadway, and more such ads thereafter. When I let Chris Primiano know they were still showing off-premise ads at Proctors, she seemed genuinely frustrated by the miscommunication with Proctors. On Sunday, September 22, 2019, I strolled downtown and captured 12 off-premise ads, ten different ones and two repeaters, in just under ten minutes snapping photos of the Proctors marquee. [See collage above to the right]
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Because Schenectady City Council member Leesa Perazzo is a longtime employee of Proctors, I had written to her to ask her to intervene, and she passed on my concerns to Philip Morris, the CEO or Proctors, and to their Marketing Director Michael Eck. I wrote Leesa again this week, telling her of the confusion in the Planning Office. Today, Sept. 24, she wrote back that:
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Proctors is working on redesigning these currently. Thank  you.
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My initial and continuing reaction to Ms. Perazzo’s note is that it sounds like Proctors is trying to find/create a loophole in the clear Zoning-Signage Code ban on off-premise signs. This is my email reply to Leesa:
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From: David Giacalone <dgiacalone@nycap.rr.com>
Subject: Re: Proctors Marquee is still a billboard
Date: September 24, 2019 at 4:12:44 PM EDT
To: Leesa Perazzo <LPerazzo@schenectadyny.gov>
Cc: Mary Moore Wallinger <mmwallinger@landartstudiony.com>, Christine Primiano <cprimiano@schenectadyny.gov>

Thanks, Leesa,

I am concerned that we will end up with what is really an off-premise ad —still prominently mentioning a seller of goods or services — that happens to mention the arts or Proctors. That is very different from an image meant to promote a Proctors show with a tiny “sponsored by” acknowledgement in the corner.

I hope that the Planning Office will insist that the intent and spirit of the No Off-Premise Ad Ban must be honored, even by Proctors.

Thanks for following-up on this.

David
questionmarkkeyRedWHY SHOULD WE CARE? Many of my fellow Schenectady residents will surely react to my complaint about the Proctors Billboard by thinking something like: “Proctors is so wonderful, let them do what they want to do. And, leave them alone, David!”
But, there are good reasons for banning off-premise signs, which would sprout up everywhere if allowed. Moreover, I hope we are a City of Laws not Favorites. More than that, I hope folks in the Planning Office and City Hall in general will ponder how, if Proctors can use this ploy, the City could refuse any other not-for-profit entity or governmental authority (i.e., schools, firehouses) that would like to use the “sponsor” ruse to garner “donations” by means of a big digital sign in front of their premises.
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follow-up (October 1, 2019):
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Planning Commission Chair Mary Moore Wallinger asked me in an email to let her know if Proctors continued to have off-premise ads on October 1st. In 28 minutes taking photos today from across the street, I captured a dozen ads that I deem to be off-premise ads. [See collage above.]
  • There were 8 signs that were purely off-premise ads for the seller of goods or services. 
  • Four proclaimed “Proud Sponsors of Proctors”, but were clearly signs to advertise sponsors not signs advertising a Proctors show or program, which a modest thank-you credit to a sponsor.
One ad, for CATS! seems to me to be an appropriate sign for the Proctors Marquee — promoting an upcoming show, with a small footnote of a credit to American National insurance as a sponsor.
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Cats-AmNat
.. above: sponsor credit done right. . 
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The Mazzone Hospitality ad that I call off-premise flips that relationship, with a tiny nod to Key Hall at Proctors in a corner, and a big spread for the actual subject of the ad. 
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below: large sponsor credit as excuse for an off-premise sign. . 
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MazzoneMarqueeAd

betting on sports betting?

RiversSportsbookOpen 

We’ve been quiet here at Snowmen At The Gates about sports betting since our post in May 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court opened the way for all states to authorize sports betting. A couple weeks ago, Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor became the first facility in the State of New York to offer legalized sports betting at its Rivers Sportsbook lounge. [see Times Union coverage, and the Gazette article, July 16, 2019]

upstatenymap2019Having succeeded in keeping all but full-fledged casinos out of the sports betting game in Upstate New York for now, Rivers Casino is secure in the knowledge that its nearest competitors will be Resorts World International Catskills (123 miles away); del Lago Casino (156 miles away); and Tribal casino Turning Stone, in Verona, which is 97 miles away (see: “Turning Stone sports betting opens” (Syracuse.com, August 1, 2019, by Ben Coin).  

  • As a racino, Saratoga is not permitted to offer sports betting under the current NYS law.
  • What about Tribal Casinos, such as Turning Stone? Tribal Casinos are not included in the new sports wagering rules, but “tribal casinos in New York have legal reciprocity to offer any gambling games allowed at the state’s commercial casinos”. See LegalSportsReport] Earlier this year, the Oneida Nation announced that it is working on receiving the needed approval by the National Indian Gaming Commission for a partnership with Caesars Entertainment to offer sports betting at its three NYS casinos. And, Follow-up: Sports Betting opened at Turning Stone Casino on August 1, 2019. See NYCentral, July 31, 2019..

OpeningDayTUpic

Being slow learners, or good actors, our local pols have been brimming with optimism about all the new business and revenue, and tourism, sports betting will bring for Schenectady (City and County) and the State. [photo detail to the left by Paul Buckowski, Albany Times UnionNaturally, beyond the usual hyperbole and uncertainty of any wagering projection, no one has mentioned what will happen if existing Rivers customers substitute Sports Wagering (taxed at 10%) for their Slots betting (taxed at 45%), the only form of casino betting at Rivers that has been growing since its first year of operation; or, if they simply spend time at the Sports Lounge that would have been spent at the Tables.

Rivers Casino has apparently spent a million dollars preparing its 5000 square foot Sports Wagering Lounge. We now have figures for the first two weeks of Sports Wagering at Rivers Casino, as shown in this screen shot compilation, from the Rivers Casino weekly reports to the NYS Gaming Commission [click on the image for a larger version]:

Rivers-Sports-2wks

I have no idea whether the total of Sports Wagering for the first two weeks, $260,334, should be considered large or small; I do not think Rivers/Rush Street gave any public projections. But I will note that the two weeks included two very successful Saturday evening Harbor Jam concerts at Rivers Casino and the Mohawk Harbor Marina, creating the potential for thousands of the curious to check out the Sports Wagering Lounge.

Just looking at the numbers, I do see that:

  • plungegraphsmSports Betting Week 1: $168,743.
  • SB Week 2: $91,591
  • Week 2’s Sports Wagering total was down $77,152, which is 45.7% lower than Week 1
  • Slots Revenue during SBWeek 2 was down $4,918 from the week ending 7/14/2019, the week prior to the launch of Sports Wagering at Rivers.
  • Table Game revenue during SBWeek 2 was down $401,697 — that is down 45% — from the week ending 7/14/2019, the week prior to the launch of Sports Wagering at Rivers. Table Game revenue had also gone down the first week of Sports Wagering at Rivers Casino.
  • $2,898,960, Total Gaming Revenue at Rivers Casino for SBWeek 2 (the week ending July 18, 2019) was the second worse figure in over five months at Rivers Casino.

lifepreserverOf course, two weeks may not tell us much. But, Rivers Casino certainly got a lot of publicity for the opening of Sports Wagering in New York State. Fans of legal sports betting might have been expected to rush over to Mohawk Harbor. So far, totals at Rivers Casino suggest less overall revenue and therefore lower tax receipts than prior to the New Age of Sports Betting. If your tummy is easily upset, I’d suggest some dramamine to deal with the Spin Tsunami that may be coming. On the other hand, when it comes to less-than-rosy news about Rivers Casino, we mostly get deafening Silence from Rush Street Gaming, Rush Street Schenectady, and their handmaidens at City Hall, Metroplex, and the County and State Legislatures. Their unwitting public relations departments at our local media tend to run out of words (and follow-up questions), too, when casino news is not good.

plungegraphsmYupdate (Aug. 9, 2019): According to the Rivers Casino revenue report for the week ending 08/04/19, Sports Wagering GGR for the 3rd week at Rivers Sportsbook was $25,386. That’s two-thirds less than its dismal 2nd Week, and a mere 15% of the Week 1 sports wagering take. Total GGR at Rivers Schenectady was up 13% last week over the prior week, with Table Game revenue up 43% and Slots revenue up about 7%.

  • For another perspective, see “Rovell: Sports Betting Launched in New York and No One Cared” (Darren, Rovell, TheActionNetwork, Jul 19, 2019). “Put all the shine you want on it. Have comfortable plush chairs and good lines, without mobile, and with hard to get to retail sportsbooks, it won’t make an impact.”

Our elected leaders at Schenectady City Hall, who love to call the Casino their Partner, were all too thrilled to support Sports Betting on the Mohawk. Not one word was said by the Democratic majority or the Mayor’s Office about the not insignificant chance that overall tax receipts could decline, even if Rivers Casino got more profitable. I, for one, have no interest in throwing the ones seeking re-election at this time a life preserver. The least they could do is demand that the projection numbers be crunched to see how the net receipts are likely to work out for the City and County. And, start thinking of the people of Schenectady as their partners, not the Mohawk Harbor Gang.

  • Also, to bring up a pet peeve of mine, Mr. Kosiur or Mayor McCarthy should insist that Rivers Casino tell us their overall Visitor numbers for 2018, which they have not yet done, despite being halfway through 2019. Around Schenectady, No News is never good news. It is more likely to be a cover-up of bad news.

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RiversDesPlainesPylon follow-up FYI (August 4, 2019): Capital Region media never mentioned it, but in March 2019, Rush Street Gaming sold 61% of its ownership of the Des Plaines (Ill.) Rivers Casino, the largest casino in Illinois, to Churchill Downs. That surely got Rush Street a powerful influx of cash, despite all its crybaby antics at the NYS Legislature seeking tax breaks. The folk at Rivers Casino Des Plaines have announced a very large plan to get into sports betting big time. See “Rivers Casino owner is betting big with plans to expand Des Plaines casino, add sports wagering and go after a new casino license” (Chicago Tribune, August 2, 2019, by Robert Channick)

is anyone enforcing our digital sign rules?

 If you have followed this website over the past several years, you know that the Editor believes Schenectady has been far too lenient in allowing frequently-changing digital signs along its roadways. [see, e.g., this 2015 posting] The digital/LCD signs are called Electronic Message Boards [EMB] in the City Zoning Code, and Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs [CEVMS] by New York State.

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In addition to the Planning Commission’s nearly-automatic granting of Special Use Permits for EMBs, I’ve recently realized that the City’s Zoning and Code Enforcement Offices have been allowing highly visible violations of the relevant Zoning provisions for such Electronic Message Boards. Specifically, there appear to be ongoing violations of Schenectady Zoning Code, § 264-61(I), which states: “[3] In no case shall the message change at a rate greater than once every eight seconds.” This posting demonstrates and explores the lack of enforcement. [For another form of digital sign non-compliance, see our posting “Proctors Marquee Billboard“.]

. .  .

. . Query: What’s the advantage for the business shown above in installing the digital sign on the right, over its attractive and effective predecessor on the left, in Schenectady upscale retail district? . . Also, with the bright digital sign placed at the sidewalk and very close to a busy roadway (with heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic), and located near a complicated set of intersections and parking alternatives and restrictions, in addition to residences, what does the public gain that warrants added traffic hazards, questionable aesthetics, and setting a regulatory precedent that will certainly be exploited by nearby businesses? [see the Google Map depiction of the relevant stretch of Union Street]

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NEFJsignpmNORTHEASTERN FINE JEWELRY. If you drive on upper Union Street, it is quite difficult to miss the digital sign [shown on the right] of Northeastern Fine Jewelry, at 1607 Union Street, on the corner of Baker Ave. The Jewelry shop’s application for a Special Use Permit to install the electronic message board was heard at the September 19, 2018 Planning Commission Meeting. As seen on pp. 3-6 of of the Commission Minutes for that meeting:
  • The Applicant originally asked that the new EMB be allowed to change every 6 seconds, but stated during the Meeting that it would be limited to every 8 seconds, the minimum interval permitted by the NYS DOT and the Schenectady’s Zoning Code. The 8-second interval was explicitly made a restriction on the SUP, and the 6-second request explicitly rejected. [see page 6 of the Minutes]
  • Tom Wheeler of AJ Sign, who presented the Application with his client, Gregg Kelly of NEFJ, also reassured the Commissioners that his “client was not proposing that the sign scroll or flash or have any animation.”
  • NEFJ-GoogleMapThe sign would be very close to residences (and, in fact, was within the 100-foot ban approved by the Commission in a pending proposal to amend the zoning Code). Commissioner Ferro was very reluctant to approve an EMB so close to residences. Nonetheless, rather than rejecting the Application for the same reasons that they have proposed the specific 100-foot ban near residences, the Commissioners added the mild restriction to the SUP that “The sign will remain static between the hours of 9 P.M. and 7 A.M.” The static sign overnight requirement is also a specific requirement in the proposed amendments. [see Minutes, bottom of page 6]
    • Note: A static sign, one that has the same image without changing, is nonetheless a very bright LCD screen. Moreover, in some months, people are in their residence and it is dark out, long before 9 P.M. Keying the Static Time to sunset or full dark would probably be more appropriate.
  • EMB-NEFJ-BIDEnablers. In deciding to approve the Application, certain individual members offered what seem to me to be very weak rationales. For example, Commissioner Bailey, according to the Minutes (see image to the right), “stated that he believes that the applicants are doing their best to incorporate the EMB in the most tasteful, unobtrusive way possible.” Bailey also agreed with Commissioner Beach that approval of the application by the Business Improvement District members is a plus. (Commissioner Ferro noted that BID members could very well want similar signs for their own businesses.) Meanwhile, Commissioner Wilson opined that the particular sign “is the highest quality”, and insisted that “people who live in a mixed use district should expect some commercial activity.”
    • Ed. Note: I’d say that people who live in a mixed use district should expect to be protected by their Planning Commission from inappropriate commercial activity, and businesses should respect the needs of the very residents that help make the district good for businesses.
    • Also, no one suggested that the sign was already quite large and perhaps the LCD screen should be smaller than the current sign area, given its proximity to intersections, the street and sidewalk, and residences.
  • Wallinger-Silhouette-001Planning Commission Chair Mary Moore Wallinger, prior to agreeing to approve the application, made several remarks that would seem to support its denial, give the burden on the Applicant to show the lack of negative impact. For instance, according to the Minutes: (1)  “Commissioner Wallinger stated that she also shares the same concerns [over impact on residences and the neighborhood], which is why she is supporting changes to the Code to address this issue. She added that neighborhoods have different characters, and she does not feel like the Upper Union Street area would be the right fit for a large number of these signs.” (2) “Commissioner Wallinger stated that in general the function of a sign should be to identify the business rather than offer information advertising special offers or products. She noted that the Upper Union Street district has a lot of pedestrian traffic as well, which most likely will not be the ideal audience for a sign of this type and size. ”  (3)  “Commissioner Wallinger stated that while she agrees that in this case the sign would be as tasteful as possible, she is concerned about neighboring businesses whose proposed EMB signs might not be appropriate.”
As seen in this video clip, taken on July 24, 2019, the digital sign at Northeastern Fine Jewelry changes every 6 seconds and has animation.
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  • The Complaint that I filed with the City’s online Citizen Request Tracker on July 9 about the 6-second intervals and use of  movement has not received any substantive reply as of July 28, 2019. update (July 31, 2019): Early Monday morning, July 29, Schenectady Zoning Officer Avi Epstein responded to an email sent by me on July 26 asking him to look into this matter, and said: “We’ll inspect to make sure it meets the required specifications.” Also, on July 30, I received an email from the Complaint Office concerning my complaint saying: “Request reassigned from Codes to Development. Reason: This is a Planning/Zoning concern. Thank you.” I will follow-up here if/as I hear more.

Moreover, on July 25, 2019, I discovered that Northeastern Fine Jewelry’s digital sign is not in compliance with the explicit condition in its Special Use permit to “remain static” after 9 PM for the sake of nearby residences. (I was there at 9:40 pm.) The content of the display is unchanged from the daytime display. Here are two images of the bright and changing NEFJ sign taken when it should have been “static”.

NEFJ-EMBafter9PM

update (Aug. 18, 2019): On August 14, the NEFJ digital sign was still changing at 6 second intervals (or less), and was still fully operational after 9 PM. on August 15 (images below).

IMG_2073 . . IMG_2017

  • checkedboxsupdate (August 21, 2019): Schenectady Zoning Officer Avi Epstein let me know this morning that (emphasis added): “Northeastern Fine Jewelry has been issued a notice of non-compliance as per the city requirements and special use permit. The City is still conducting inspections on many other properties that have electronic message boards, however the images and videos you submit are not admissible as part of our records, as an officer from the City needs to witness the violation in order to issue a citation.”
  • IMG_2100-NEFJ25AugJPG update (August 26, 2019): As of Sunday night, August 25, the NEFJ sign is still not in compliance, with change intervals still at 6 seconds, and the sign is not being held static after 9 PM.
  • follow-up (September 18, 2019): Four weeks after Zoning Office Avi Singer informed me that “Northeastern Fine Jewelry has been issued a notice of non-compliance,” their digital sign is still changing at least every 6 seconds, but there is so much movement on the screen that it is difficult to say just how many changes are actually being made. Recall, as stated above, that Tom Wheeler of AJ Sign, who presented the Application with his client, Gregg Kelly of NEFJ, also reassured the Commissioners that his “client was not proposing that the sign scroll or flash or have any animation.”

IMG_2104-001

UUHarvestFestMast October 12, 2019: Upper Union Harvest Fest 2019 — An otherwise enjoyable photo-stroll by me (documented here) at this year’s Harvest Fest was soured by the realization that Northeastern Fine Jewelry has apparently decided not be a fine neighbor or citizen. Its digital sign remains non-compliant with the City Zoning Code and NEFJ’s Special Use Permit for the sign. This 44-second clip has at least 10 changes, along with sparkles and animation. I have not been near the location after 9 PM to see whether the sign is put into Static Mode for the night out of respect to nearby residences.

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The Blue Ribbon Diner

BlueRibbonEMBThe Blue Ribbon Diner was granted Special Use Permits for signs at the Diner and next-door Bakery, at the Planning Commission’s Meeting of September 20, 2017. On my way home on the evening of July 25, 2019, I happened to pass by the Blue Ribbon complex at 1835 State Street, and marveled that the images on the EMBs seemed to change so rapidly. I parked and took a quick video to document the operation of the Blue Dinner EMBs.

The 28-second clip was taken at about 10:30 PM, and the lighting is not great. Nonetheless, you can see that some of the images change after only 3 seconds, not the 8-second requirement in our zoning code.

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In addition, the changes are blended, and have swipes and dissolves, which add to the distraction,. Such gimmicks are discouraged by best practices guidelines. Notice, also that the Blue Ribbon bakery sign can be seen making its changes in the background. The NYS DOT guidelines on digital signage state that, if signs are visible at the same time to a driver, they must be at least 300 feet apart.

Is the City’s lack of enforcement in the face of highly visible violations malfeasance or “merely” nonfeasance?

follow-up: On the morning of August 14, 2019 (five weeks after my first Complaint to the City), the digital signs at Blue Ribbon Dinner and Blue Ribbon Bakery, had not been adjusted to be in compliance, with dwell time averaging less than 5 seconds. The digital sign at Hair Design by Ralf and the one at Wedekind Auto (photo below), also in Woodlawn along State Street, were also changing significantly more frequently than the 8-second minimal interval required by the Schenectady Zoning Code.

IMG_2031  . .

EMBs granted special use permits in Schenectady, 2017-2019

1903 Maxon Road. – Pat Popolizio – Lighthouse – Feb. 15, 2017

2330 Watt St. – Crosstown Commons – May 17, 2017

Erie Blvd at Harbor Way – Mohawk Harbor – Aug. 16, 2017

1753 State St.  – Ralf Torkel – Jan. 17, 2018 – [hair salon]

416 State Street – Berkshire Hathaway – May 16, 2018

1607 Union St. – Northeastern Fine Jewelry – Sept. 19, 2018

[Ed. Note: For fuller discussion of potential safety hazards from digital signs along our streets, see our March 11, 2015 posting on “Safety Issues raised by electronic message boards“, which starts with a discussion of Proctors’ marquee signs and includes an appendix with general information and relevant links. ]

GazDAG-DigialSigns7Oct2019C6 FYI, see the Schenectady Gazette Guest Column, “City needs smarter digital sign regulation” (October 7, 2019, C6, by the proprietor of this website).

  • An appendix of relevant Zoning provisions, along with [in the near future] Best Practices or Model Rule recommendations, can be found at the foot of this posting.

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