This past March, two business owners in Albany looked to open up a music venue in the Warehouse District, an area away from residences and perfect for a music venue. The Zoning Variance was denied in part due to concerns about parking (which were overstated by local bar owners) and complaints from one bar owner who now lives in the district. This venue was a great need in Albany, as there are venues for 100-300 fans (Valentines, Red Square, The Hollow), 1000 (The Egg) and up to 3000 (The Palace) as well as the Times Union Center (it’s still The Knick to us) for larger shows. There is a gap between the 300-1000 crowd sizes, and that stifles the growth of bands and groups, as well as limits the music that can come to Albany – once you outgrow a venue, you cant play here unless you become big enough for The Palace.
This leads to a lack of income that stays in Albany, sending bands to Clifton Park, Saratoga, Western Mass and Central NY, as well as Burlington, VT and NYC. It makes no sense that local bands should suffer because of a lack of a venue, and a zoning board that won’t allow for simple variances when all things are in order.
We reached out to all 5 Mayoral candidates in Albany, asking them to share their thoughts on this issue, on the arts in general, as well as how they each hope to contribute to improving the arts in Albany. Covering music and arts across Upstate NY, takes this rare opportunity in a race for Mayor of Albany (that doesn’t involve a candidate named Corning or Jennings) to be a perfect time to enlighten our readers on an issue near and dear to their hearts.
We reached out to all 5 candidates on the ballot, and Jesse Calhoun (R) Alex Poretti (L) and Kathy Sheehan (D) all got back to us with their thoughts, see below. Corey Ellis (D), declined to give a statement. Despite efforts to contact him, James Sullivan (C) did not get back to us with his take on this pressing issue.
As both a musician and a candidate for mayor, this issue hits very close to home for me. It’s hard enough just being in a band. It took over a decade, to put together my band, The Ameros. It is hard to describe the feeling when you get the band that is a “perfect fit” but you know it when it happens. Due to the ever increasing legal restrictions on freedom and the oppressive bureaucracy here in Albany, two of my band mates are leaving the state. In addition, many of the venues we used to play have either picked up shop, or have been forced out of the area. The only thing that stands between Albany and a thriving nightlife is Bureaucracy. There are five local colleges. You guys reported in 2012 Albany had 154 musical acts per every 10,000 people. Let awesome places exist. Let the natural, young, musical environment that Albany is, thrive.
I ran for mayor back in October because I grew up in this city and have seen what they’ve done to the nightlife. The libertarian philosophy is about live and let live, and families I grew up with made a living off of the bars and clubs. I want to abolish residential and commercial Zoning laws, throw out many permits that are hindering growth, and even abolish last call in a section of the city, essentially making a nightlife district. Though the “kegs and eggs” riot is most well known as causing a crackdown on the city nightlife, the city started the crackdown on the nightlife in around 2007 when a couple of women who had left a bar crashed their car going in the opposite direction on the thruway. After that happened, the city began to shut down a number of bars, sort of causing a ripple effect on the nightlife. A lot of young people turned to underground house parties, and the neighborhood known as the “student ghetto” became such an underground nightlife scene, drunken parties ended up rioting one St. Paddys day. But if the bars were never getting shut down and people had a place to go, there would be none of these problems.
“It would be premature for me to comment on a specific project, but I am an active board member of a large arts organization and a strong supporter of the arts. As Mayor, I will move quickly to create and implement a cohesive arts strategy. We must ensure that we have venues in our city that meet the needs of our diverse population. By engaging all of the stakeholders in our unique neighborhoods, I’m confident we can build vibrant entertainment districts that will improve quality of life and provide economic benefits to our City.”