Final phase of project to be completed near September
A group of business owners will soon see the beautification process of their street and storefronts completed.
The third phase and final of the project includes the stretch of Union Street from Woodland and Baker Avenues to the end of the Business Improvement District at Garner Avenue. There will also be some improvements to Lakewood Avenue. An estimated cost of the phase is $700,000, which is funded by the City of Schenectady and Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority.
Upper Union Street shows what is possible when the private sector and government work together t create new jobs, tax base and economic activity, said Ray Gillen, chair of Schenectady Metroplex.
In 2009 the first phase of the project was completed, which stretched between the Niskayuna town line and at Van Antwerp Road to Dean Street. Last year the second phase was completed between Dean Street and Baker Avenue. The current project is planned to extend the curb, sidewalk and pavement and implement street trees and lighting changes to match the rest of the shopping district. There are also plans to include diagonal parking in front of 1600 to 1610 Union Street, so the parking area could include 11 spaces rather than the three spaces when parallel parking.
`The overall growth in this area compared to others in the same economic downturn has been extraordinary,` said Chris DiCocco, president of the Upper Union Street Business Improvement District. `There are very few empty store f fronts, so we attribute that to the existing customer and business base and the addition of some new ones We’d like to say that as a result of the beautification process over the last few years it has done a lot to attract customers and future businesses as well.`
Without the project, DiCocco said he didn’t believe new business owners would be attracted to the area.
`There were more empty storefronts in previous years and the sidewalks and the landscaping was just dated, it was old, so that was the real driving force behind getting it cleaned up and made new,` he said.
While there is some minimal disruption during the construct, he said the project was broken into phases to help minimize the affect. He said about 20 businesses would be affected by the final phase, along with some improvements to residential areas along Lakewood Avenue.
`The newer section has a nice new feel and vibe to it,` he said. `A big draw these days is for people to see a little bit of flash and beauty when they walk into a place.`
To implement the diagonal parking, which Gillen said was to improve vehicle and traffic safety, the city needed to acquire property from business owners. Two business, Head to Tail and Domani Spa, agree to sell a portion of their property to the city, but one property owner is holding back.
During an Upper Union Street BID board meeting on Dec. 1, the group unanimously passed a resolution `to support any action by the City necessary to assure that Phase III of the Upper Union Streetscape Project proceeds in 2011.`
If negotiations can’t be completed, officials said the city might try to acquire the property through the eminent domain process, which can be used to obtain property for road improvement projects. Other stated alternatives are to place a curb along the entire block, resulting in less parking, or leaving this area out of the streetscape project.
`The BID board agrees fully with the plan to the parking design as it was originally done three years ago,` said DiCocco. `For safety concerns, people going in and out of that parking area right now is very dangerous for both pedestrians walking on the sidewalk and the cars backing out to a pretty busy intersection.`
Mary Lu Aragosa, owner of Ferri Formals and Bridals, doesn’t want to sell a piece of her property on 1608 Union St. to the city. For her, the main issue is that it could affect her business negatively.
`I believe in improving the looks of Union Street, I am a proponent of that. I was one of the second business to invest $40,000 in modernizing the faCade and invested in a large window display so we could show off the latest styles,` said Aragosa. `My concerns for the parking is people spend in some cases thousands of dollars for their weeding gowns and brides made dresses we carefully bag them and carry them out to the car for a personalized service, so we need direct access from the front door.`
She said dresses would be more likely to get exposed to the elements and if an accident did happen there wouldn’t be time to correct the mistake. Also, people come to her store from bordering states as well, so she is worried about the experience some of her customers would have after long trips.
`We have been in business 20 years and we have been at this location since 1997 and I feel it is the property owners that pay taxes that should be making the decisions,` said Aragosa. `Our bottom line is affected by this decision and I am concerned that it could have a negative impact in our business and could affect people’s jobs.“