Downtown Albany may be getting a big boost, announced on the same day it lost its biggest booster.
The announcement Thursday that as many as eight new businesses could be located to the downtown area came hours after Downtown Manager Aaron Blair announced that he is wrapping up his four years in Albany to take the position of president/CEO of Fresno, Calif.’s downtown area. Blair will start his new job out west in early July.
We hope Blair’s departure will be on a high note. No business deal is complete until everyone’s signature is on the dotted line, but there appear to be some real possibilities of an infusion of life to the riverfront area in the near future.
The Albany-Dougherty Inner City Authority gave preliminary approval for $450,000 in funding that would be combined with a $1.1 million investment by Shandon Marketplace Development that would bring in the eight storefront businesses, which could also spin off other smaller shops. The funding would be used to acquire the properties and prepare them for the leasers.
Eight businesses have signed letters of intent to locate in the storefronts on Pine Avenue and Front Street, including the Kattalistt Group, which plans to move into the former Internal Revenue Service building and convert it into spaces for a children’s boutique, men’s clothing store, a hamburger spot, specialty restaurant, and barbershop/spa, as well as consignment areas.
Shandon’s funding deals are contingent on business owners, which Blair said include two established businesses from the west side of town, committing to the leases. When those come through, ADICA’s master plan for the 100 block of Pine and Front will be moving ahead of schedule. The business owners appear toe be enthused about the prospects, with Blair saying all eight wanting to be up and running by October and three hoping to be in business downtown by September.
Getting downtown off square one has always been a challenge. Some past efforts have focused on spreading out businesses with the hopes they would develop into anchors for a block. We think that having businesses start in one core area, building traffic and then building out from there as demand dictates is a better approach. Focusing on downtown’s biggest attribute — the area near the Flint River — makes sense.
We wish Blair success in his new job in Fresno. We believe he’s had downtown Albany’s best interest at heart, and he’s proved himself to be someone who’s willing to roll up his sleeves and pitch in. For example, earlier this week, we observed the future downtown president of Fresno, Calif., armed with a bag and grabber, picking up litter along the 100 block of North Jackson Street. Very few public officials do that sort of thing just because it needs to be done, and even fewer would do it without first calling a news conference. We have no doubt he’ll prove to be a good hire for that city.
We also hope one of his last actions as Albany’s downtown manager pays off as well. It just may be a game-changer for downtown.
— The Albany Herald Editorial Board