Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Midtown Grid: The Movie

Central Avenue now has its own commercial.

Interns from the New School Center for Media spent the summer on Central Avenue, soaking in and recording all the street has to offer, including three music venues, 80 international restaurants, and a thriving international community. And it's all adjacent to area colleges, and just a hop-walkable skip-and a-jump to area employers.

The result is a short 4-minute ode to the street's emerging identity as an arts and entertainment district--what we're calling, The Midtown Grid. The piece features interviews with local business owners, close-ups of the international restaurants that call this street home, and shots of daily life on Central Avenue.

Take a gander. We think you'll be intrigued.

For more information about The Midtown Grid, please visit our website: www.themidtowngrid.com


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Back to school means back to business for Campbell family

John and Deanalee Campbell celebrate the ribbon cutting for their new school
uniform business, Faith Creative Names, with Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

John and Deanalee Campbell celebrated the opening of a brick-and-mortar location for their school uniform business, Faith Creative Names yesterday. 

The business is actually eight years old, but the Campbells have run it as a mail order business out of their home until now. "We wanted more exposure and more convenience for our customers," Deanalee Campbell says. They carry shirts, blouses, sweaters, skirts, shoes, and book bags. They says they are looking forward to a busy school year.


The store is located at 257 Central, in vacant storefront that was home to an insurance company. The store will offer uniforms for boys and girls, as well as an embroidery unit.

Campbell started her uniform business in 2007. She was a stay-at-home mother and wanted to add to the household income. She says she prayed every day, and eventually, was lead to the concept of the uniform business. “By seeking the Lord, he blessed me with the idea.”

She began the business with one client, Philip Schuyler Achievement Academy, and this in turn, lead to relationships with other schools including private and charter. She recognized each of these partners at the ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday, and thanked them for their support. You can find pictures of the celebration here.

Campbell also credits the business's success to her strong religious faith. She believes in the community she lives in, and in giving back. In fact, she often gives away uniforms to families in need. 

“Some of our parents are struggling, and when we see that need, we fill it,” she says. “To be honest, it is a struggle for us, but we put our faith in the Lord.”

Campbell immigrated with her husband from Clarendon, Jamaica in 2000. She and her husband have five children, ages 15, 12, 10, 7, and 3. Prior to this business, the couple had a business selling personalized items, including keychains and picture frames.

Faith Creative Names has two full-time employees and vends at 11 different schools, including Albany Community Charter School, Green Tech High Charter School, Brighter Choice for Girls, Blessed Sacrament, Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls, Martin Luther Charter School, Thomas O’Brien Academy for Science and Technology (TOAST), Pine Hills Elementary School, Arbor Hill Elementary School, Saint Ambrose, and Philip Schuyler Achievement Academy.

Faith Creative Names is located at 257 Central Avenue, Albany, NY. The store is open 8am-7pm Monday through Saturday until October 1, and then 8am-5pm after that. For more information, please call (518) 364-2849 or visit the website: www.faithcreativenames.com

Monday, August 17, 2015

ReZone Albany launchpad for exciting projects on Central?

Want to change the city? The ReZone Albany Planning Workshop on Central Ave. / Manning Sq. offered plenty of actionable steps that will do just that.

"There's widespread support for catalytic change and transformational projects in these midblocks of Central Avenue," says Anthony Capece, Executive Director for the Central Avenue Business Improvement District. "We have pressure and demand to create housing and mixed use development along this busy stretch of Central Avenue, and with the right governmental support and partners, these projects are not only economically feasible, but potentially profitable.

“This week’s workshop underscored our belief that there is tremendous opportunity within the area of study and the Central Avenue corridor as a whole," says Bradley Glass, Principal Planner, City of Albany Department of Planning. "The adoption of a new regulatory framework will go a long way towards stimulating the public and private investments necessary to implement our vision.”

The workshop, which included public and private meetings, tours of the area, and meetings with property owners and stakeholders culminated in a public presentation on Wednesday by Dover, Kohl & Partners, the firm hired to help guide the form based coding initiative. The consultants, working with the city and the Central Avenue BID, identified two large lots that could be redeveloped for housing and mixed use, and a host of other ideas, geared toward making the city more hospitable to business and residents.

When asked how to program this area, and what role it could play in the city's revitalization, workshop attendees said they wanted to see more housing and mixed use development.

"Mixed use development in this part of the city will bring in a completely new market, looking for something that is not currently available here," says Capece. This part of town has a host of assets, including a robust public transportation network, connectivity to I-90, and an impressive array of retail and access to two large parks.

Workshop attendees were also quick to point out ways that these assets could be enlarged upon, and issues that detract from these strengths.

Based on feedback, consultants recommended the following:


  • Focus on intersections, creating safe, green spaces that welcome you to the neighborhood
  • Provide ample (but consolidated) parking, and encourage a "park-once environment"

    • Transform Central Avenue into a “great street” by investing in the design as we have on other streets, including Madison Avenue and Delaware Avenue. Upgrade lighting, plant trees, enhance pedestrian crossings, and install pedestrian furniture. Conside "road diet" to calm traffic and increase safety. 

    • Enhance park visibility, upping real estate values in the area by connecting neighborhoods to this park

    They also asked that any additions to the area, assist existing housing and small businesses:

    • Don't zone out existing businesses
    • Fix up storefronts
    • Provide housing for the working class 

    Capece says market studies for housing would be a good next step, to help prove out some of the concepts brought up during visioning. "We know the market is ready for these types of development uptown, and we're certain that further study could bear that out," says Capece.


    Friday, August 14, 2015

    Albany Department of General Services Begins to Treat and Remove Ash Trees Damaged by the Emerald Ash Borer - Townsend Park Affected

    Damage from an Emerald Ash Borer larvae. Burrowing like this cuts off water
    flow and nutrients, effectively killing the tree within 2-4 years of infection. 
    The City of Albany’s Department of General Services (DGS), with funding from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), has launched a program to treat and remove ash trees on City of Albany property that have been damaged by the emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive pest that has attacked ash trees in NY State, including Albany.

    “Treating and removing these trees is essential,” DGS Commissioner Daniel C. Mirabile said. “Our forestry unit has been working with state and local agencies to develop a program that will protect as many trees as possible while ensuring the safety of City residents.”

    A recent street tree inventory identified 1,000 ash trees on City property along Albany streets and an additional 1,200 in City parks and public spaces.

    "It's been brought to our attention that ash trees in Townsend Park and adjacent areas, including portions of Central Avenue and Washington Avenue have been impacted by the Emerald Ash Borer. The city did an evaluation of the trees in the district earlier this year, and began treatment on the affected trees," says Anthony Capece, Executive Director of the Central Avenue Business Improvement District. "We want to make sure that our members are aware that the city is doing everything it can to save the trees. We will monitor the progress of the treatment, and update our members on the damage, as information becomes available."  

    DGS will take down approximately 40 trees this fall in various locations around the City and more ash trees will be taken down next year. Residents who have ash trees adjacent to their homes that are being removed have been notified. Currently trees are slated for removal on the following streets: 

    -Delaware Ave
    -Mapleridge Street
    -Sard Road
    -Twiller Street
    -Hacket Blvd
    -Picotte Drive
    -New Scotland
    -Lenox Ave
    -Washington Ave (the 900 block) 

    The program, which is funded by NYSDEC’s Urban and Community Forestry Program, treats trees to slow the damage done by the emerald ash borer. The funding will also pay for much of the removal of dead or dying ash trees on City property to protect residents from falling trees. 

    The emerald ash borer was first identified in Albany in 2014. 

    The City is currently working to find sufficient funding to pay for planting new trees on City property for residents who would like a replacement tree for a removed ash tree. However, DGS always encourages residents to support tree planting programs, and has a 50-50 matching program for new trees. For information on how best to support replanting initiatives, residents can contact Eva Petkanas at DGS (epetkanas@albanyny.gov /518-434-5822).

    DGS Forestry Department has been working with NYSDEC and the Albany Cornell Cooperative Extension to deal with this environmental issue. For more information, including images of ash trees and the emerald ash borer, residents can go to NYSDEC’s emerald ash borer website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7253.htmlTheir EAB hotline is 866-640-0652. Albany Cornell Cooperative Extension can be reached at 518-765-3500. The Extension’s EAB website is http://albany.cce.cornell.edu/environment/invasive-pests/emerald-ash-borerAlbany residents also can contact DGS at 518-434-CITY for more information.

    Wednesday, August 12, 2015

    Surprising Takeaways from ReZone Albany's Central Ave/Manning Sq Workshop



    We are learning so much about Central Avenue. It helps to get an outside perspective.

    ReZone Albany and the City of Albany Planning Department is hosting a three-day visioning, zoning and form-based code workshop that focuses on the area around Central Avenue and Manning Square. The city has hired Dover, Kohl & Partners to help guide the process. This Central Avenue / Manning Sq. Design Workshop is a follow-up to the Warehouse District Design Workshop that took place in MayUltimately feedback from these workshops will be used to inform the city's rezoning process.

    The Central Avenue design workshop sessions included public meetings, tours of the area, meetings with property and business owners and stakeholders. The series will culminate in a presentation tonight at 6pm at The Linda, WAMC's Performing Arts Studio. The Central Avenue Business Improvement District is co-sponsoring the design workshop.


    Over the course of the last two days, we've heard from residents, business owners, and stakeholders. Here are some of the big ideas that are coming out of these sessions, and some of the surprising takeaways: 

    "I was impressed with the focus on transit and the vision for a more attractive and sustainable cityscape for Albany's midtown area," says Seth Rosenblum, CEO of the Rosenblum Companies.

    The sessions revealed that Central Avenue is one of Albany's busiest transit corridors, hosting 25% of CDTA's 17 million riders. Another surprising fact? The significant investments that have been made in CDTA's Bus Rapid Transit system on Central Avenue have served to boost ridership significantly--which means that dollars invested are paying off!

    "I was surprised at how much synergy exists at Manning Square. It is the convergence of several neighborhoods, a business district, and a major park -- all along a mass transit route," says Darren Scott, Director of Planning and Development at Albany Housing Authority. "The possibilities for placemaking are endless and would bring cohesion, a sense of identity and purposeful investment to that part of the city."

    Scott went on to say that the Albany Housing Authority is "willing to partner with anyone interested in making a common vision for Manning Square a reality."

    Manning Square is right on the edge of Swinburne Park, and just down the street from Bleecker Stadium. It's commuting distance from several major employers, and right in the middle of the Albany community. The consultants are exploring what the addition of mixed use development could do here, and what some connectivity to the park might bring.

    "I was most surprised by all of the amenities that are so easily accessible from Central and how beneficial the CDTA line is to the area," says Lisa Crompton, ‎Architectural Warehouse Marketing Specialist & Technical Services Coordinator at Historic Albany Foundation. "It was great to see how different parts of the neighborhood relate laid out on map. Central is very linear but it has a lot of offshoots that represent numerous neighborhoods throughout the city." 

    Here are some other requests participants had:


    • Road Diet on Central Avenue 
    • Enhance park visibility and access -- better sightlines to two big parks
    • Centralize parking -- eliminate some of the surface lots
    • Get the Delaware Avenue treatment for the street ( lights, trees, pedestrian amenities)
    • Break up blocks - extend Erie north through the big block to the park
    • Redesign the triangle at Manning and Central to create more of a gateway and green space
    • Build additional housing for working class people in place of parking lots and vacant space
    • Fix facades and plant trees
    • Calm traffic and make this area safer for pedestrians


    For more information, please attend tonight's final presentation at 6pm at The Linda, 339 Central Avenue, Albany. www.rezonealbany.com


    Thursday, August 6, 2015

    ReZone Albany turns its focus to Central Avenue

    An apartment building, a garage, a veterinary hospital. What do these businesses have in common?

    They're part of a swath of Central Avenue that is being studied as part of the ReZone Albany initiative. Beginning August 10, ReZone Albany will host a three-day visioning, zoning and form-based code workshop that focuses on the area around Central Avenue and Manning Square. The City of Albany Planning Department will bring in Dover, Kohl & Partners, an urban design firm to help guide the workshop.

    This Central Avenue / Manning Sq. Design Workshop is a follow-up to the Warehouse District Design Workshop that took place in May.

    Ultimately feedback from these workshops will be used to inform the city's rezoning process.

    The Central Avenue design workshop sessions will include public meetings, tours of the area, meetings with property and business owners and stakeholders. The series will culminate in a presentation on Wednesday, August 12 at The Linda, WAMC's Performing Arts Studio. The Central Avenue Business Improvement District is co-sponsoring the design workshop.

    "The goal is to help us gather input from the community, particularly in that area, because it holds a great deal of opportunity, that has yet to be defined," says Anthony Capece, Executive Director for the Central Avenue Business Improvement District.

    The study area, which begins at Quail Street and extends to King Avenue, was part of the city's second and third westward expansion, and land use was much more dynamic. The corridor includes high-rise apartment buildings, garages, home improvement stores, car dealerships, discount stores, and not-for-profits. At the time, the focus was on development--and you can see that reflected in the types of buildings that were constructed. The mentality was "out with the old, in with the new," Capece says, and buildings were constructed without public input or a great deal of regard for the future of the area.

    As a consequence, the area is challenging to develop, and it's harder for property owners to achieve the highest value for their property.

    "The zoning of the past made it harder for property owners to achieve the highest and best use, and ultimately get the real value of their property," says Capece. "We're interested in making this area the best possible use for the neighborhood."

    The workshop will take place Monday, August 10-Wednesday August 12, at The Linda, WAMC's Performing Arts Studio, located at 339 Central Avenue. There are two parking lots on-site. A kick-off meeting and hands-on design workshop will take place Monday, August 10, from 6-8pm at The Linda. On Tuesday, August 11, there will be open-design studios from 11am-12pm, 1:30pm-3pm, and 4pm-5pm at The Linda, and on Wednesday, August 12, the group's findings will be presented during a work in progress presentation for the public, at The Linda.


    The History of the Midtown Grid: From Tail Fins to Yellow Tail Sushi

    Midtown Mojo: John Mancini, Graeme McKenna, and Howard Glassman
    Live music. Poetry slams. Comedy jams. And a mean monthly Rock 'N' Roll brunch.

    One part of town has it all! The Midtown Grid.

    Once this stretch of Central Avenue was known as "Albany's Main Street." The neighborhood was home to the city's auto dealerships in the golden age of the automobile, and each day, gleaming new cars rolled off lots for the first time.

    Today, this section of Central Avenue -- three blocks extending from Robin Street to Ontario Street -- has become a destination for canny, one-of-a-kind entertainment options. The moves in this area have prompted the CBID and local stakeholders to launch a rebranding effort, creating new materials, banners, and a website that celebrate this area for the arts and entertainment district that it's become.

    The street offers great live music performances in intimate settings and outstanding international cuisine. The district is also home to a diverse international community, who are responsible for bringing nine international restaurants and four ethnic markets to the district. These businesses give transplants a taste of home, and new initiates, a delicious glimpse into another culture.

    Much of the headway that's been made in this district can be ascribed to the curatorial talents of Howard Glassman, Graeme McKenna, and John Mancini, proprietors of The Low Beat, The Linda, and Pauly's Hotel, respectively. This trio has worked tirelessly to seek out and promote local talent.

    "We're always trying to be that community for artists," says McKenna, who is the general manager of The Linda, WAMC's Performing Arts Studio. "It's a reflection of the station's goals. Our interest is to reach out to local groups seeking greater exposure, seeking an audience for something they want to say."

    "We strongly believe in the local Capital District music scene, so much that the area bands get first dibs here," says Glassman, owner of The Low Beat. During his time at the helm of The Low Beat, and before that, Valentine's, Glassman is credited with giving many bands their start. When he moved to Central Avenue in 2014, he was excited to have Pauly's next door and The Linda right next to it, because it makes the corner a destination for music. In fact, in the spirit of collaboration, the three institutions often waive cover charges for one another's patrons.

    "When Howard moved in, I gave him a present. I had two stamps made up, one for his place, and one for mine, so customers could go back and forth between our places," explained Mancini.

    The three impresarios also hope that their patrons take advantage of other local businesses, including a wide array of international restaurants. "People can come for a show, and they can grab a bite at The Low Beat, or Salsa Latina, or Van's Vietnamese, Afghan Kabab, Casa Dominicana, Northeast Dumplings, or Ichiban." says Glassman.

    The three venues also open their doors to a wide array of active local artists, who produce a refreshing line-up of engaging entertainment every night of the week. By supporting groups like Capital Cinema Cultural Exchange, Urban Guerilla Theatre, Albany Poets, and The Pine Hills Review, and providing them with support they might not otherwise get, The Linda, Pauly's and The Low Beat are nurturing talent that could pay big dividends for the surrounding community, where customer crossover is not only hoped for, it's expected. They are also laying the economy for a thriving creative economy, right here on our little strip.




    Wednesday, August 5, 2015

    National Night Out 2015: A great night for meeting the neighbors

    Kids enjoy bubble tornado--beats last year's weather!
    A great night to meet your neighbors! For the 6th straight year, the Central Avenue Business Improvement District has celebrated in the Albany Police Department's National Night Out Celebration. 

    Each year, the Central Avenue Business Improvement District partners with St John's Lutheran Church and the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany (FUUSA) to throw a rockin' block party on Robin Street. Last night neighbors enjoyed pizza from Little Anthony's, ice cream from Stewart's, as well as hula hoops, bubbles, and sidewalk chalk. McGruff the Crime Dog dropped in and everyone was enjoyed a visit from Mayor Kathy Sheehan and Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox. 

    Last year's event was almost rained out, but St. John's graciously agreed to open their fellowship hall for the festivities. This year, the celebration returned to Robin, so that neighbors could enjoy a warm night in community. 

    More pictures of the event can be found here.

    Many thanks to everyone who came out!

    Friday, July 24, 2015

    Cricket Wireless adds new location on Central Avenue

    Today, the Rensselaer Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon-cutting celebration for a new Cricket Wireless location in Albany. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, and Albany Treasurer Darius Shahinfar helped Cricket Wireless District Manager Jonathan Lonczak cut the ribbon at the new location in Westgate Plaza. This is the second location to open in Albany; other local stores are located across the river in Troy.

    Cricket Wireless is a national franchise with local retailers owned by MobileLink USA. MobileLink is the largest Cricket dealer in the US, with 183 locations nationally, including stores in TX, WI, IL, VA, PA, NC, TN, FL, AR, NV, CO, and NY. Cricket Wireless is a no contract carrier that offers affordable prepaid phones and plans.
    There are currently five locations in the Capital Region, with 18 employees, and Lonczak said the company expects to expand to 10 locations soon. 

    In 2013, AT&T acquired Cricket Wireless, expanding the telecommunications company’s reach, and in turn, giving Cricket customers access to more coverage because they have access to a stronger network. At this point, Cricket customers are expected to remain Cricket customers.

    This is a family owned business that is extremely interested in attending events to benefit the local community and create brand awareness. Past community involvement includes the GE Kids Day, Hannaford Kidz Expo, Jerry Burrell Park Stop the Violence event and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes in Troy.

    Photos of the ribbon-cutting celebration can be found here.

    Cricket Wireless is located in Westgate Plaza at 911 Central Avenue. For more information about the business, please visit their website at www.cricketwireless.com.

    Tuesday, July 14, 2015

    The new 9: Central Avenue Dining Guides have arrived--fully updated with 9 new businesses

    Central Avenue Dining Guides have arrived -- and we're taking
    them on the road. Here they are at Albany's Alive@5 concert,
    being distributed to visitors. 
    The Central Avenue Dining Guide has arrived and will hit stands across the region, driving new customers to Central Avenue's restaurants. 

    Central Avenue is home to 80 restaurants and groceries from 19 different countries--and that's nine more than the last time the guide was released! 

    Additions to the local dining scene include: 
    The new guide features two new pieces, "World Food," about Afro-Caribbean cuisine and "Eating Well," about healthy eating on Central Avenue. It also offers new artwork from talented local photographer, Jamel Mosely, principal at Mel eMedia. 

    The guide, which is produced by the Central Avenue Business Improvement District to promote the district's restaurants and markets, is distributed at tourist destinations and hotels throughout the region. This full-color glossy 24-page guide provides a complete listing of the district’s restaurants and grocery stores, alongside feature articles.

    "The guide has been so popular. It's a great way to introduce people to all the restaurants on Central Avenue," says Anthony Capece, Executive Director for the Central Avenue Business Improvement District. The guide is distributed at tourist destinations and hotels throughout the region. It is also the basis for several dining events that the BID helps organize, including international dining events at two local colleges and an international grocery store tour on Central Avenue. 

    But the Central Avenue Dining Guide is also a teaching tool. "We want to use it to talk to hotel and venue staff off Central Avenue about all of the assets on Central Avenue. We want to show them what's here, so they can begin to make referrals," says Molly Belmont, Marketing and Communications Director for the Central Avenue Business Improvement District. "Most people simply don't know what's here, and we're happy to show them, so they can show their guests."

    To receive a copy of the Central Avenue Dining Guide, please contact molly@centralbid.com, or visit the website and download your copy. To speak with Central BID staff about organizing a dining event or presentation for your group, please call (518) 462-4300.