Albany City Manager James Taylor has a task ahead of him as he works to dispel an image of downtown that took a hit last week with the fracas that broke out during the Independence Day fireworks show.
Actually, the task is too big for any one person, even Taylor. But the retired Marine has point on this effort, which he exhibited Friday in a memo aptly titled “Challenges of Today ... Hope for the Future.”
“We refuse to have our community defined by one incident, we are moving forward and ask that the community move forward with us,” Taylor wrote. “We will determine what happened and take action to fix the problems.
“Our plan is to continue to serve the community with more events; however, given what we know, we will make some changes. Some of these changes will take time and others will cost money, but I think it is important we proceed to make future events downtown safer than ever, and we ask for your help and continued support.”
Action is exactly what is needed here. The downtown area has been without a real identity since the Albany Mall opened and retail businesses migrated northwest. Various efforts have been tried and failed, but the one that seems to be starting to take hold is the formation of an entertainment-type district. That’s resulted in an effort to create an arts park, along with the creation of a monthly Deck of Arts event that mixes artwork and music entertainment. The evolution has been gradual, but encouraging.
Then this fight breaks out during one of the city’s premier downtown events, bringing what should be a joyful celebration to a sour, unsatisfactory conclusion. All of a sudden, positives like the Albany State’s homecoming parade, the Deck of Arts, Mardi Gras, Flint Fest, the annual Christmas parade and even the previous two decades of Independence Day celebrations are forgotten.
The troublemakers were a group of teenagers who were in the park area unsupervised. Three teens were arrested in the disruption, including one on a firearms charge. The only positive was that no one was injured. Taylor indicated that this is an area on which he will focus in developing a plan to prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
In his memo, Taylor said that the public will have to reach an understanding that events such as the fireworks show are not city-sponsored childcare services. He also said that provisions will be looked at to prevent future disruptions and that a “special events curfew” for minors will be developed.
Other things that the incident exposed were also addressed by Taylor, including better communications between law enforcement officials and the public, making sure loiterers aren’t hanging around looking for trouble to get into, improving crowd control and establishing a risk management plan.
Taylor is asking for community support in these efforts and we hope that support will be forthcoming. While the easy road would be to write off downtown, and many Albanians would do just that, it would be a disastrous policy. The fact is that if downtown is abandoned to the criminal element, it will not stop there. Their tentacles will reach out to other parts of the city.
Downtown has been victimized by the unscrupulous, stigmatized by failed revitalization plans and marginalized by those who can’t see its potential. A revitalized downtown would make Albany a stronger community overall with a better quality of life. Implementing measures to make it safer and enforcing those measures are necessary steps in the right direction.