Op-ed: A New Music Venue for Albany won’t open because of two local businessmen

The city of Albany has a thriving arts scene, from The Palace to Capital Repertory Theater, from Alive at Five to the Albany Symphony, as well as the incredible art found on the Empire State Plaza and inside the concourse below. In recent studies, Albany ranks #9 in Top Metro Areas based on Musical Acts per 10,000 and Rochester and Albany both rank among top music scenes in country in Metro Music Index.

We have the music, we have the population who go see live music in the Albany area (and beyond) but one thing we do not have is a music venue for acts to graduate to from the smaller clubs and bars, such as Valentine’s and Red Square. We had Revolution Hall, but that venue closed because Brown’s management felt it was better empty than having occasional shows. Musicians and music fans need a venue of comparable size and there has been a gap since the venue closed in 2010.

Currently, we have venues of 100-300 (Valentine’s, Red Square), of 1.000 (The Egg) up to 2,500 (The Palace) and of course, The Times Union Center (20,000). Note the size that is missing – between 300 and 1,000. Recently, that gap looked to be filled as local businessmen Chris Pratt andAlessio Depoli applied for a Zoning Variance to change the warehouse at 28 Thatcher Street, in the Warehouse District of Albany (one block north of Wolfe’s Biergarten), into a music venue. The venue would have held up to 800 patrons, only open for shows, one hour before and one hour after shows, shuttered otherwise but providing a venue for musicians, acts and bands that cannot fill The Egg or The Palace, but already grown out of Red Square and Valentine’s. This move was a wise one – a non-residential area with a couple bars nearby that would be open until the late hours of the night and give patrons a place to convene following a concert on Thatcher Street.

This variance was recently denied because two local business owners, Mike Graney (owner of Stout) and Matt Baumgartner (owner of Wolfe’s, Scortino’s Olde English, and Bombers – soon to open a third location in Troy) voiced their concerns at the recent Zoning Board meeting in March (Graney in person, Baumgartner through his lawyer) citing two things – a lack of parking and the underage crowd that would be at these shows (the venue can have fans 16 and older). Baumgartner went further in his Friday Puppy blog, flat out saying “I don’t want this in my backyard”. Of course, it was Matt who decided to move to a Warehouse district with industries right around the corner and trucks driving in and out on a regular basis, rather than a residential area. So NIMBY has become half the battle cry for this owner. This is an industrial area, not a residential neighborhood and is the perfect place for a venue of this size, one that Albany desperately needs.

It boggles the mind that an Albany business owner who has found success throughout the city, and now in Schenectady soon in Troy, will not allow others to find the same success with a new music venue. This is hypocrisy at its finest and stifles the music scene in Albany, which benefits all in the long run.

Lets look at the two issues that were brought up in resistance to the new music venue, the underage crowd that will be at these shows, and parking.

There is not a great deal of parking lots in this part of town, because it is an industrial district. Even though I have had trouble parking when I have gone to The Barrel, Baumgartner’s Wolfe’s or  Graney’s Stout, I find a spot on the street a block or two away and make a short walk – not the worst thing in the world. To have businessmen complain about there being too much traffic in their neck of the woods had shades of elitism. Traffic means patrons and patrons lead to good business for all. Graney and Baumgartner are essentially saying they don’t want anymore patrons beyond what they have already. When it rains, it pours, but only the amount they want it to pour.

Consider this: 800 people are not going to drive to music venue singly. Double up each car and there may be 400 cars. Factor in some who take the bus (the 22+23 run right past these bars on Broadway), plus some will get dropped off or take a cab. Let’s round down to 250-300 cars. People will find a place to park. They find places now for Graney’s Stout, The Barrel and Baumgartner’s Wolfe’s, especially on the days the latter blocks off the street for Oktoberfest and recently, World Cup games, so how hard will it be to find parking? Not much more difficult, but it will also encourage people to get dropped off and picked up, staving off drunk driving as a side-effect, one that everyone can support.

The 16-20  age group comprises five ages that cannot drink in bars. But what about the 21 and older crowd? Fans up to age 60 (and above, depending on the show) will be happy to stop by for a drink following a show on Thatcher. That’s a range of 40+ years that Graney and Baumgartner are shorting themselves on, all because they don’t want to deal with the risk of the younger crowd coming into their bars. Talk about missing the forest for the trees. Inform your doormen to keep an extra cautious eye on show nights and the problem is solved.

Of course, there is the benefit these local bar owners would have, in that they will get business following shows for those looking to continue their night. I can think of many nights at Revolution Hall where I went to Brown’s, Jose Malone’s or Ryan’s Wake for a nightcap or two. The short-sightedness of these two businessmen is denying another businessman the ability to bring to Albany a music venue that is desperately needed and will give them a boost in the long run.

With their continued opposition to the bar, it is selfish of these bar owners to put up such a resistance so that a fellow bar owner cannot open up a music venue because of a ‘not in my backyard’ attitude accompanied by a short-sighted view of business potential.

There is no reason to support these businesses if they can’t support the music scene and fellow business owners in Albany.