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Big Movies Little City

July 25, 2017

Usually, I’m happy to make a definitive stand on a ridiculous principle. More than happy. Some might even say it’s my calling. I care deeply about things that aren’t on most people’s radar, and I’m okay with that.

That explains yesterday’s rant about blotting pizza, and perhaps past rants about spoons and lettuce.

I still don’t live in Troy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the city. I do. In fact, I care about it a great deal. Largely, because it’s been the heart of culinary innovation in the Capital Region for the past few years, and I’ve loved watching its growth over time.

But Wednesday, it looks like there is going to be a big decision, and I just can’t figure out how I feel about a big blocky modern movie theater being built in Monument Square.

Maybe I’m in a unique position because I have friends on both sides of the issue.

There’s an actual article on this over at All Over Albany that I’d encourage you to check out. You might actually learn some of the facts on the ground over there. Here, you are just going to hear some navel gazing.

Some local business owners are excited about the movie theater, because it will bring people downtown. More people equals more foot traffic. If you recall, I was just recently talking about how more foot traffic is needed to support our great local businesses. So they make a good point.

Other residents are concerned about the project’s size and visual impact. Right now there is a giant hole in the ground, so anything might be better than that. However, once you build something, it takes a long long time for it to get unbuilt. So it makes sense to build it right. Especially since so much of Troy’s charm is based on its historic architecture. They make a good point too.

Cities like Saratoga Springs have done an enviable job keeping the look and feel of the small, historic town as big brands opened up shop. But even Saratoga Springs has a big movie theater that feels outsized for the village. At least the theater is off the main drag.

Schenectady has a fancy cinema right in its downtown, but the economic impact of the movies pales in comparison to that of Proctors. Of course, I have no data to back this up. But I almost never see anyone in the relatively new Schenectady theater, and whenever Proctors is having a show, all the local restaurants get slammed.

I remember a particularly empty movie theater in Saratoga Springs some Saturday night this past winter, when I had the place almost all to myself. And I suppose it’s fair to say that Saratoga is a different market from Troy. But part of me wonders if Troy will even be a harder nut to crack.

Still, I get the impulse behind those local business owners who are pushing for this project to move ahead. Part of me believes in the notion of letting a company try to build something awesome. If it’s a win, it’s a win for everybody. And if they fail, so be it. Let the enterprise fail on its own, and not through governmental interference.

I suppose the only problem is if the new business will fail with money from the city that could be used for other purposes. And I don’t think any of these big building projects come without financial strings attached.

So it’s never quite that simple.

Ultimately, I’d love a movie theater in downtown Troy. It would be awesome to catch a film after a dinner on the town. Heck, I wouldn’t need to take an Uber back to Albany after sitting through a two hour feature.

I’m just really glad that I don’t have to be the one making this decision.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave permalink
    July 25, 2017 10:16 am

    It is amusing to watch individuals who have adopted a certain sort of cache reject the importance of the aesthetic and historic feel of a city center, and for them to give full-throated support for unhindered growth and all other considerations be damned… Typical sociopathic capitalism. But, like you, I understand both sides.

    In any event, the whole issue seems a neat little summation of all this “Enjoy Troy”/Troy renaissance hooey. It’s a lot of manufactured horse manure and mostly about bottom lines.

    But I’m biased. I’ve always harbored an irrational hatred of Troy.

  2. Jessica RW permalink
    July 25, 2017 10:48 am

    I’m torn about this issue too. I love downtown Troy as it is, expect for that gapping, unused hole. I don’t even mind the idea of a modern looking building in the midst of our current gorgeous architecture, but it just seems like it will be HUGE. And yes, on the flip side, Troy has been in need of a movie theather to keep people in town and away from the malls.

    The only reason I’m leaning toward supporting is that someone I admire as a progressive in the community and strong advocate for Troy was on the planning committee, and I trust his judement.

  3. July 25, 2017 2:05 pm

    What Vic and Cory are missing in their support is that the new complex aims to offer better food choices than the typical movie theater and will act more like a mall or casino, keeping the patrons there to eat as well as seeing a movie. The foot traffic may or may not increase to the benefit of thier businesses but the lack of enough additional parking will surely harm them. I live downtown and love walking around Troy but the sad truth is most people who come here from out of town want parking near to their destination. If the theaters draw the 11,000 people a week that is projected (which I dont think is reasonable or sustainable) those theater patrons will likely use up the existing street and city lot parking and if they do not include a local restaurant in their plans for the night that will take away parking from Vic’s customers. And, not enough people will use Uber or Lyft to get there as people are realizing those services are kinda expensive for the distances they will be travelling from. Troy, even with the recent addition of market rate aparments,
    cannot support either the luxury theaters nor upscale places like Peck’ s. And if this is such a risky financial project thatBow Tie needs millions in tax breaks and grants (that this project does not line up with the requirements of the grants) then they should think about a smaller scale project like adding theaters behind the American Theater and leaving thr hole for someone who will build residential at Monument Square.

  4. July 25, 2017 10:08 pm

    Movies in Troy could help generate more customers for other businesses, but I wonder if One Monument Square is not the best location for that.

    1MS might already be the most visited area. Would building a giant movie complex be more beneficial to Troy’s downtown economy if built away from 1MS; helping to establish another popular destination; adding value, spurring growth in that area and every walking point between there and 1MS?

    Locations such as Uncle Sam Lanes (it’s for sale), the corner of Congress and 6th where EOC used to be, or the northwest corner of Prospect Park which is zoned commercial and has undetermined plans to be an extension of City Station. 1801 6th Ave might also be possible since it’s nearly empty. Those locations would be more appropriate for a giant bland boxy design, and perhaps would not have parking or traffics concerns that some say might happen at 1MS.

    I think most people, or at least those supporting Bow Tie at 1MS, do not give enough credit to the value of Troy’s charm and historic architecture. It’s similar to getting people to understand the value of a green park downtown instead of simply using that parcel to add more property to the tax roll. Troy being a quaint downtown holds significant economic value. A giant building of Bow Tie’s design degrades that value of charm and architecture.

    I agree with Xi about Troy having the most beautiful and best historically preserved downtown in the capital region.. by a long shot. That makes Troy a more challenging and sensitive area for new development. Both Schenectady and Saratoga’s downtown is more forgiving to new bland or bad design. Notice I specified bland and bad. I’m ok with new construction at 1MS being historically accurate, but I would love to see a brilliant modern design that awesomely adds character while not degrading charm or historic value.

    I’m not sure if Saratoga Springs has done an enviable job recently. Compared to what other downtowns? Maybe they have done a pretty good job, but I don’t enjoy their downtown as much compared to visiting there pre 2000 or slightly into. The atmosphere has changed too much for me. A few years ago, Jeff Pfeil gave a talk about development in Troy and Saratoga, stating that he also no longer enjoys what Saratoga has become. For a successful local developer to make that statement, especially one who contributed to the development of Saratoga, I think is revealing.

    Troy morphing much or slightly more into Saratoga than it already has would be very sad. A little is good, but not so much that it drastically changes beautiful unique culture in Troy. If keeping culture means Troy cannot have as many big shiny objects, I think that’s ok – not merely for personal preference, but also for being economically successful and resilient long term.

    Burlington, Vermont is what I consider enviable development, and I think they are a better model than Saratoga for Troy’s essence and potential. There’s a great book about Burlington’s development during the past 30 years:

    If Bow Tie fails, I think the problem is more than Troy taxpayers only losing their $1.5 million pilot investment + $3.8 million in grants. Troy will no longer own a prime piece of public property, which I think has value beyond monetary, and Troy will have to repeat the process of what to allow built as the crown of its Nationally Historic downtown heart.

    I think Bow Tie failing in Troy should be carefully considered. Bow Tie says their investment isn’t worthwhile without the $5.3 million public funds. Bow Tie also says their investment isn’t doable with less than 10 or 11 screens. Is there that big a chance of failure, or does worthwhile investment to Bow Tie mean they consider $15 million profit in 25 years (the length of pilot) worthwhile, but not $5 million profit.

    And how long until movie theaters are niche like vinyl? Executives of newspapers, Blockbuster video, record labels all said the digital revolution wasn’t going to affect them.. movie theaters claim the same. Bandwidth is nearly plentiful enough; all that’s missing is a software platform for production studios to make more money selling directly to consumers instead of using theaters.

    I think a wise approach for a giant theater in Troy is only for short-term gain and growth; expecting the building to need remodeling or redevelopment in 20-30 years. The area around and nearby 1MS seems to be doing very well and is perhaps already sustainable long term. Using the movie theater to create another area full of great bars, restaurants, and other attractions – to be sustainable after the theater goes away – seems smarter to me.

    If not a giant theater, a few smaller, independent movie theaters might be a better and more sustainable model for Troy.

    Here’s an idea for One Monument Square to be a new home for The Children’s Museum of Science and Technology + City Hall, along with a redeveloped Riverfront Park. There are a few photos:

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/140087029399434/permalink/1564484140293042/

    Jessica RW, the planning commission only had two choices; neither of which greatly embraced what was discussed during Troy’s public forum for One Monument Square a few months prior. I might know your friend and agree he has good judgment, but, if only given two choices, and one must be selected, that doesn’t mean it’s a great choice; only the best available – after a measly 30 days for submitting proposals before Christmas and after New Years. And Bow Tie’s proposal has changed considerably from what the committee agreed to. Back then, Bow Tie stated they would design to fit in historically. Now, Bow Tie says that costs too much. That’s often how this works: promise a great package, people say yes; their desire heightens, then change plans later and people don’t like it but don’t want to back out after the time spent, or people are tired of trying for better than what’s offered and give up. We Care About The Square has listed many similar details:

    Dan Palmer makes an interesting point questioning how much will other restaurants [and bars] actually benefit since Bow Tie will be serving food and alcohol.

    Also, I wonder if most people will most often go to their favorite places before or after a movie regardless of where Bow Tie is. However, if Bow Tie did create another hotspot away from Monument Square, I think that distance would create more likelihood of people seeing and at least trying new places along the pathways between.

  5. July 26, 2017 11:30 am

    I just think it’s short sighted to put a giant building with limited use and windows in that space. I don’t think a 10-11 screen movie theater is a sustainable business for that location over the long term. What happens in 5-10-15 years when Bow Tie is out of business and now you have this hulking windowless building that was built for movie theaters? You’re back to where you began before you tore down City Hall, with a building blocking the river that no one wants to buy or rehab based on the design of the building. Oh and the city is out millions in grants and tax revenue. Sweet deal.

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