William Street investments add color and light to Downtown pedestrian space

ALBANY, NY: The Downtown Albany Business Improvement District (BID) celebrated the culmination of significant investments made to the William Street pedestrian walkway today with a ribbon cutting ceremony followed by a grand opening event. Joining Downtown Albany BID Executive Director Georgette Steffens were Capitalize Albany Corporation President Sarah Reginelli, Counsel to the Albany County Executive Jeff Jamison, National Grid Director of Customer and Community Management Laurie Poltynski, and artist Eugene O'Neill. 

Updates to William Street - located one block west of S Pearl Street between Beaver & Howard Streets, and adjacent to the MVP Arena - include new overhead lighting, colorful street furniture, and an expansive 150-foot-long sidewalk mural by local artist Eugene O'Neill. 

The project was funded through a grant from National Grid's Urban Center/Commercial District Revitalization Program. This program is designed to assist metro centers in National Grid's Upstate New York service territory achieve revitalization goals, increase property tax bases, and promote “smart growth” and sustainable investment in central business districts and commercial corridors. The Urban Center/Commercial District Revitalization program provides matching grants of up to $250,000 to local municipalities, development corporations, universities, and medical complexes undertaking major neighborhood revitalization projects.

The goal of the Downtown Albany BID's Urban Center/Commercial District Revitalization Program award was to create a vibrant pedestrian corridor between the MVP Arena and the Albany Capital Center that invokes a welcoming atmosphere, provides visual interest, and attracts visitors. The project connects the area's two largest entertainment venues in a way that makes visitors feel safe and comfortable to explore, while activating underutilized alleyways for residents, small businesses, and conventioneers.
Through a partnership with Albany County and the Albany Convention Center Authority, the BID was able to leverage the investments in lighting and streetscape occurring at both facilities – the MVP Arena's LED screens, exterior lighting, additional light poles and new sidewalks, and the Albany Capital Center's digital sign, landscaping, exterior lighting, and new light poles - resulting in a $250,000 grant.
The William Street mural adds to an increasing number of permanent public art pieces added to the Downtown district in recent years. As noted in the Americans for the Arts' Why Public Art Matters green paper, public art contributes substantially to a city's cultural, social, and economic value, humanizing the environment and invigorating public spaces. More than activating the spaces where they exist, public art also serves to activate the imagination and encourage a deeper connection to the surrounding space for those experiencing the works. Similarly, The Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community initiative surveyed some 43,000 people in 43 cities and found that aesthetics of a place – its art, parks, and green spaces ranked higher than education, safety, and the local economy as a driver of attachment.

Artist Eugene O'Neill was selected through a competitive artist application process to work on the mural. O'Neill is an art educator and one of the founding partners of the Amplified Voices Mural Project, a program that focuses on amplifying the voices, experiences, and expression of BIPOC youth through art. O'Neill and his team were instrumental in the creation of the Amplified Voices mural at the former South Pearl Street McDonald’s site. In addition to his extensive resume of mural work and educational programming, his company Made in Truth Clothing has been designing, screen printing and embroidering apparel for businesses and entrepreneurs since 2012.  

Entitled "Meet Me in the Middle", O'Neill's artwork is intended to provide a narrative journey to connect heart and spirit. These colorful portals are a notion to dig deeper beyond the surface, stepping beyond the shadowed doubt of impossible thoughts and welcoming a metamorphosis of changes designed to clear a path to a breakthrough moment.  

The completed project allows the Downtown Albany BID, as well as local businesses, to activate the walkway with new events to attract guests to explore all that the District has to offer. This, combined with the completion of the Skyway, the forthcoming Clinton Market Collective, and increased pop-up programming at Downtown spaces such as SUNY Plaza, Tricentennial Park, and Beaver Alley, will make the neighborhood an even stronger destination in the Capital Region. 

With the addition of street furniture, the space also acts as an extended patio for nearby restaurants in and around the MVP Arena, as patrons can enjoy a wide variety of take-out options in a comfortable seat on William Street.

Downtown Albany BID Executive Director Georgette Steffens said: "Through incredible partnerships, we've taken a dark, underutilized alleyway between parking garages and transformed it into a colorful, welcoming, functional space. Eugene O'Neill's spectacular artwork is designed to draw you in and invite you to reimagine what Downtown can be with every step. Whether William Street is a shortcut to a show at the MVP Arena, a lunchtime lounge, or an outdoor event venue, these investments will enhance the experience of all that live, work, and recreate in Downtown."

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said: “The William Street pedestrian walkway is forever changed to a hospitable space thanks to the brilliant work of artist Eugene O’Neill, an investment from National Grid’s Urban Center/Commercial District Revitalization Program, and the ever-present support of the Downtown BID. Through this partnership, William Street is now an inviting and vibrant area that welcomes walkers, offers a space for workers and visits to dine, and showcases the true potential of the streets of downtown Albany."

Albany County Executive Daniel P. McCoy said: “The William Street walkway is a regularly used route that connects the Albany County Office Building and surrounding businesses with the MVP Arena, especially on days when we’re hosting events. As we continue to make investments to benefit downtown Albany and our county-owned facilities, I’m happy to see this hidden gem is not being forgotten. The newly hung lights and the mural along the pavement to match make this corridor more welcoming for walking or pop-up events."

Albany Convention Center Authority Board Chair Michele Vennard said: “Changes of this type are dynamic, adding vitality to our streets, welcoming residents, workers and guests alike, showcasing the great potential of our City, and highlighting the effective partnerships that make them possible.”   

National Grid Director of Customer and Community Management Laurie Poltynski said: “National Grid is pleased to be able to provide a $250,000 grant from our Urban Center/Commercial District Revitalization Program to help improve lighting and accessibility for this critical project in the center of the City of Albany’s commercial district. In addition to improving lighting and signage in the corridor to make it safer and improve utilization, the energy efficiency lighting strategies being implemented are important infrastructure improvements. We are proud to play a role in the continued invigoration of downtown Albany,”

Artist Eugene O'Neill said: "Painting such a long walkway was not something I could accomplish alone. I am very grateful for my team and all the people who supported my vision coming to fruition. It was my intention to bring joy and inspiration to a space that is often perceived as just a means to an exit. Art helps us to slow down, be more intentional with our steps and reflect in the time we take to stop moving."

For more information on the William Street project and mural, visit downtownalbany.org/williamstreet.