Albany as tourist hub

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Albany as tourist hub
By Paul M. Bray

August 2008

Visitors to European cities find tourist companies offering a wide variety of day trips to interesting places outside of the cities. With this in mind, image the historic city of Albany as an attractive hub or base camp to a remarkable number of festivals, sites, recreational activities and other places of interest.

In one week this summer my wife and I went 50 miles south to Bard College for a world premier performance of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet at the flamboyantly designed Fisher Center. It was part of a summer long series of performances at the Bard SummerScape and Music Festival. We then went east about 45 miles to the Williamstown Theatre Festival to see the musical She Loves Me. Going about 25 miles north of Albany we saw the world class New York City Ballet. And, with her friend, my wife traveled about 70 miles west to the Glimmerglass to see Kiss Me Kate. Each destination offered many opportunities for repeat visits.

These performances are only some of the attractions and activities for day tripping. Albany is in the center of many first class art museums like its own Albany Institute of History and Art. Within easy reach is MASS MoCA, the largest and perhaps funkiest, center for contemporary visual and performing art in the USA. More arts museums are in Williamstown, Glens Falls, Canajoharie and Saratoga Spring. The racing season in Saratoga Springs, the Tulip Festival in Albany and so on and so forth add to a list of attractions.

Within easy reach of Albany are trails to hike, water to kayak, lakes for swimming, fall foliage and mountains to ski in the winter. The opening of the $300 million EMPAC at RPI this fall adds to the Troy and Cohoes Music Halls, the Egg in Albany and Procters in Troy for 4 season vibrancy. There is a year round menu of art, culture, heritage and recreation going on in and around the Albany.

Despite all this, no one has managed to make Albany a tourist magnet. Are they even trying?

The Albany Aqua Duck has shown the way for getting visitors and local residents to tour the historic streets of Albany and then to go out on the Hudson River. But it is only a start.

Albany’s great State Street between the Capitol and SUNY Plaza along with Lark Street for urban amenities and the Empire State Plaza for an architectural and New York School of Art wow experience are bones of what should be the hospitality hub. But a cloud hangs over us keeping us from being the magnet we should be for visitors.

The business and civic powers that be in Albany need to get their act together with pride, vision and entrepreneurial commitment. Of course, they would have to believe in the full value of what we have in and around Albany, which curiously they don’t.

“Come to historic Albany and experience a universe of arts, recreation, cuisine and landscape in all directions within 70 miles” should be the invitation to prospective visitors who want to enjoy the character of an historic city rich with landmark architecture, access to the Hudson River, a wide variety of food and places of entertainment and proximity to the Hudson Valley, the Berkshires, Vermont, Saratoga and the southern Adirondack Park and Cooperstown.

Strategic planning is necessary to link and market accommodations in Albany, establish the connectors bridging both Lark Street and State Street in Albany and close-in architectural and heritage sites and develop bus packages to Bard SummerScape, Tanglewood, SPAC, Cooperstown, ski areas and the list goes on.

I can image domestic and foreign visitors arriving in Albany by plane or train for visits highlighted with day trips designed to their particular interest. Those coming by auto could park their car for the duration of their visit when they would have similar memorable experiences as my wife and I have regularly from our home base in Albany. Wake up Albany; realize your uniqueness and great opportunity to become a tourist destination.

Paul M. Bray is founding President of the Albany Roundtable civic lunch forum. His e-mail is secsunday@aol.com.