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Infrastructure improvements eyed for downtown Albany

ALBANY -- As the city continues to pursue downtown development, several infrastructure projects are being discussed as another way to facilitate growth downtown.

While downtown does enjoy some items that developers don't have to spring money on -- sidewalks, paved streets and underground cable lines -- much of that infrastructure is also among the oldest in the city and poses challenges should growth begin.

Those challenges are on the minds of some of the people in charge of revitalizing downtown and will likely surface as some of the projects on the upcoming 1 percent sales tax referendum in November.

Interim Downtown Manager James Taylor says that separation of the city's storm water and sanitary sewer systems remains one of the government's biggest challenges, but that serious consideration will likely be given to dedicating millions to that endeavor under Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax VI.

"That's likely to be a project that approaches $100 million before it's all said and done, and that would include dealing with the sewer downtown," Taylor said. "So we would likely do it in incremental portions until the project is done."

Upgrading existing sewer systems would help facilitate further development in the downtown area but would also reduce the chances of problems arising from an outdated system.

On a much smaller scale, Taylor said that he would like to see the few downtown blocks of Broad Avenue narrowed to two lanes to facilitate the construction of larger, more pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.

"That way, cafes could set tables up outside and vendors could have sidewalk sales and pedestrians could walk downtown without fear of being run over," Taylor said.

Taylor said that he would eventually like to see the construction of additional restrooms in Ray Charles Plaza so that businesses nearby don't have serve as impromptu public restrooms.

One project that shows real promise is the development of a wireless Internet cloud that would benefit people downtown and possibly further out as well.

"All these are things that we are looking," Taylor said.

Voters will decide in November whether to allow the city and county to collect another six years worth of sales taxes for local projects. City and County officials are in the process of developing proposed projects that will ultimately be presented to the public in a referendum.