The Mill Artisan District says it aims to be a “residential, retail and social destination” for downtown Schenectady. Anyone familiar with previous downtown revitalization efforts – let alone efforts of other formally industrial-based upstate cities – knows that is a bold, ambitious, and compelling objective.
As a resident of Schenectady for more than 30 years, I admit I had an initial healthy degree of skepticism about this claim. Despite their best efforts, too many upstate urban centers are effectively modern-day ghost towns, as their industrial base eroded and the economic landscape shifted irreversibly.
But when it comes to urban renewal and reinvigorated vibrancy, the Capital District has been a shining example of possibilities. Downtown activity in Albany, Troy, and Schenectady has enjoyed a steady uptick as revitalization efforts fueled by a mix of public and private investment are paying dividends.
The $30 million Mill Artisan District is the latest in this ongoing string of redevelopment projects, and it’s on track to be completed sometime in the late spring – about three years after its initial conception.
Situated on an immense block of lower State Street bordered by Mill Lane and South Ferry Street, the Mill Artisan District is the brainchild of architect J.T. Pollard of Re4form Architecture. The project is currently anchored by the development of Frog Alley Brewing at 108 State St., scheduled to be fully up and running by St. Patrick’s Day, and soon-to-be-completed residential apartments.
The District sits in the shadow of the iconic General Electric plant and is a mere stone’s throw away from Thomas Edison’s original machine works site. It’s the next logical phase of recent improvements to upper State Street near Proctors Theatre and the ongoing Erie Boulevard enhancements facilitated by the Rivers Casino waterfront redevelopment.
With the exception of Frog Alley Brewing, the District is still largely under construction, but progressing rapidly. Frog Alley Lofts, 74 modern luxury apartment units, sit atop the fully operational brewery and are slated for March availability. Coming soon are Bountiful Bread and Annabel’s Wood Fired Pizza. The Jahnel Group, a software developer, recently moved in to occupy office space.
Mixed-use development like what is envisioned for the District is the current approach of choice for downtown revitalization efforts. An increased focus on environmentally sustainable development aims to incorporate walkability and a combination of residential and commercial use into new projects.
Proctors has been a downtown arts destination in Schenectady for decades, and the District aims to expand on that offering. Frog Alley provides live genre-spanning music every day, holds festivals to engage the community, and hosts activities like line dancing and painting events.
I learned more from Jessica Leavitt, Frog Alley’s marketing and events specialist. We started with a tour of the brewery, which is a state-of-the-art facility with some unique equipment and a canning line. Despite being in operation for only a short while, Frog Alley cans and distributes a wide variety of beers throughout the Capital District including restaurants, beverage centers, and major supermarket chains.
Take a drive by and you can’t miss the grain silo adjacent.
Frog Alley also has a relationship with Schenectady Community College’s culinary program, which enables students to learn brewing techniques on-site in dedicated space with opportunities for graduates to explore start-ups of their own on premises. Additionally, there are dedicated nights with specials for Union College students and their families.
The brewery made headlines recently with the appearance of actor Kelsey Grammer, of “Frasier” fame, to mark a brewing collaboration, as well as last week’s Brewmageddon festival that hosted dozens of area brewers.
After seeing the Mill Artisan District up-close, I am personally excited for the future prospects of downtown Schenectady. Do yourself a favor and check it out soon.