Events Are Coming Back, and So Is Downtown Albany

show floor of albany capital center

The dazzling LED lights that line the ceilings of Albany Capital Center (ACC) are illuminated quite a bit more these days. Electric bill aside, that’s a good thing. Eventgoers and event planners alike are running full steam ahead in this new day-to-day norm we are all living in with the Covid-19 virus. Over 60 events already committed to the book for 2023 and with dozens of holds in place, the ACC is on its way to not having a weekend free until August.

A sharp contrast from 2020-2021 when everything came to a screeching halt. Large gatherings, whether for work or entertainment, were largely on pause. Working from home became commonplace, and that trend hasn’t “completely” reversed. It may never happen.

The good news for the world of hospitality is that most event planners and attendees prefer the in-person rapport that you can’t replicate from those virtual meetings in the home office. People are eager to get back to it, and consequentially, downtown Albany continues to awaken from its intermission. While not “at capacity,” there’s plenty to back up a post-pandemic economic recovery.

Discover Albany, which heads tourism promotion within Albany County, crunched the numbers for 2022, and hotel room revenue and occupancy are up. The third quarter during the summer months proved especially profitable with revenue generated per available room up by nearly $15 as compared to 2019.  This, according to Discover Albany, may very well be a result of an uptick in events at MVP Arena, Albany Capital Center and Empire Live.

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Mass transportation is always a good metric to go by when trying to gauge how busy a city is. So, if we go by the latest numbers put out by the Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA), there’s much to be optimistic about. September saw the highest number of riders since the start of the pandemic—1.27 million. That puts ridership at only 15% below pre-pandemic numbers.

For those commuting in, finding a place to park your car can be a bit of a challenge these days. According to the Albany Parking Authority, city lots and garages have increased their revenue by 38% this year compared to 2020, putting it only 10% lower than pre-pandemic levels. Street parking is up 58% in 2022 compared to 2020, also only 10% lower. And music to the ears of meeting spaces and event venues is that event parking revenue is up 25% from 2019, which equals to all of 2019’s revenue in just the first three quarters.

Despite the ongoing economic impact of the pandemic, downtown Albany’s small businesses have pivoted and are adapting. Business owners are reinvesting in themselves. According to “Capitalize Albany,” a nonprofit that facilitates economic development, more than $330,000 has been awarded in Covid-19 recovery small business assistance grant programs along with other available programs that support capital improvement projects to more than 30 downtown businesses. These matching grant awards are leveraging more than $1.3 million in new investment back into local businesses with the completion of all awarded projects.

Another indicator is current and future construction projects within the city. More than $500 million of new investment is under construction with another $350 million-plus in the pipeline.

Downtown’s trajectory is significant, with $44.8 million in new mixed-use commercial retail and multifamily apartments where construction is well underway. That’s not even including the more than $174 million-plus in new investment in the pipeline across several projects which are planned to include over 300 multifamily apartments.

More encouraging are the numbers of residential occupancy. According to the Albany Business Improvement District, occupancy currently sits at 97%, so this would tell us that people aren’t leaving in droves. New apartments are experiencing waiting lists, and apartments are being pre-leased before they’re even completed. Furthermore, the resumption of construction on the 110-room, $36-million Hyatt Place Hotel downtown illustrates the need for additional space for visitors whether for business or pleasure.

Shannon Licygiewicz, CEM, is general manager of Albany Capital Center in New York.

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