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Moving On: (l-r) Steve and Rocky Roy. Photo: Joe Putrock

Rockin’ the Suburbs
Music Shack pulls up its stakes in downtown Albany and sets up camp in Colonie

Albany’s music enthusiasts will have to travel just a little further in search of new music now that Music Shack is packing up and moving up Central Avenue into Colonie.

“It’s been a rough year,” full of tough decisions, said Rocky Roy, co-owner of Music Shack, from behind the counter. The original Music Shack in Troy, which Roy’s father opened 30 years ago, closed in February, and now the Albany shop is readying for more change. Rocky and his brother Steve say the move is bittersweet, but it would have taken quite a lot to get them to stay.

“I can’t see anybody in their right mind doing business down here,” Rocky Roy said, though he’s stuck it out for 21 years on Central Avenue. In that span, Music Shack has faced many of the same problems as any independent shop: big stores skimming away customers, “stealing” (what Roy calls downloading), and the advent of burning instead of buying. “We’ve lost over 40 percent of our business over the last four years,” he said. So rather than watching the slide continue, it was time to rethink things. After consolidating resources into the Albany shop, the same complaints kept coming to the fore: problems with crime and parking.

Roy said it’s not that he’s getting old, it’s that the neighborhood’s getting rougher, and many of his customers agree. “If people feel there’s a problem with parking or muggings they won’t come,” said Roy, adding that customers are afraid to park off of the block because of the crime. But perceptions aside, Roy still would have moved: “Just what I witnessed was enough.”

Two years ago, Roy spotted crack dealers and a hooker turning tricks across the street, and a store with bootlegged CDs up the block, all flagging his customers down. Then Music Shack experienced two attempted burglaries within six months, and the cops involved told him even more stories he didn’t want to hear. He’s also had bunches of kids try to steal from him, and when he kicked them out they threatened to cut him up and worse. “Having a militia out there would be the only thing to keep me here,” he said, half-joking.

Interestingly, Biff and Abram Pock, the son-father team who run the 55-year-old Blue Note Records a few blocks up Central Avenue, have not experienced comparable problems. And according to Anthony Capece, executive director of the Central Business Improvement District, “Your car is more likely to be broken into at Crossgates Mall than it is on Central Avenue.”

To Roy, the parking problems have not been relieved by the avenue’s new meters [“Pleased to Meter You,” Oct. 9], and won’t be without a residential and employee permit system and the creation of new lots using “nothing short of wrecking balls.” People have to let go of some historic architecture in the name of making necessary improvements, he said. “What do you want to have? People driving down a street with the door locked looking at old buildings or pulling into a lot, getting out and shopping?”

But Capece thinks the meters are working, and said business on Central Avenue is experiencing something of a renaissance. “Right in the area where [Music Shack is] located, there’s about 1,000 employees that weren’t here three years ago,” he said, and they’re in what were “blighted, boarded-up buildings” a few years ago.

The Roys are taking the family business to the strip-malled lots of Central Avenue in Colonie—still on the bus line—to a new space next to Soccer Unlimited and across from Grandma’s, and are confident their devoted customers will follow them.

“What we lose in terms of those people who won’t want to make the trek there, we’ll make up for that by people who don’t want to come down here,” Roy said.

Roy knows neighborhood retailers survive by giving their customers what they want. When the Albany store opened in 1982, the family expanded their stock to suit the taste of a DJ market and, as Roy proudly notes, it was “the first store in the area to have a rap section back in ’83.” But don’t think that means they’ll have to push the new Britney album in Colonie. “I refuse,” Roy said. “If it gets to that point I’m out of the business!”

—Ashley Hahn

Wanting to be heard: (l-r) Gloria DiLella, Velma McCargo, Barbara LaRose, Peter Rinne, George Dersham, Brianna van der Hoef, Alice Raab, Pat Kelly. Photo: John Whipple

The Process Matters
Some residents of Albany’s Park South say the city’s attempt to get their input didn’t go far enough

The chairs around the square of tables were full, and latecomers stood in a cluster by the door as last Thursday’s (Dec. 11) meeting of the Park South Neighborhood Association got underway. The tone was friendly and fairly upbeat as the 35 or so people present discussed their annual Christmas party, snow removal (better than last year) and even helicopter noise. But then association president Andrew Harvey took a deep breath and raised the topic that has never been far from the minds of those in the room this year: the revitalization planning process for the neighborhood.

Emotion rose to the surface quickly, as people raised familiar points both for and against the plan. [See “Wither Park South?” Dec. 4, 2003.] Among those who spoke, critics outnumbered supporters of the draft plan by at least two to one, and they got several loud rounds of applause. They raised concerns about displacement, abuse of eminent domain and being saddled with a huge concentration of students without being consulted, while supporters of the process insisted that bold strokes are both necessary and desirable in the long term to turn the neighborhood around.

Some who didn’t speak up at the time nonetheless had strong feelings. “Four- hundred students will be much better than even four crackheads,” said Jude Ojukwu, grimly, from his home just outside the plan boundaries on Morris Street. Ojukwu has attended most of the meetings on the subject but prefers to listen. He is frustrated with what he sees as stalling based on narrow self-interest.

But even more than the substantive disagreements, much of what has people upset is the feeling that they’ve been cut out of the process.

Barbara LaRose, a member of the stakeholder advisory committee, said she feels like that committee was more of a “sounding board” whose job was to advise the city and consultant on how to sell their ideas to the neighborhood, rather than to shape the outcomes substantially. She noted that the focus groups were held from 9 to 5 on election day, hardly accessible to many working people.

“The meetings were a sham, they were a checklist, there’s a certain procedure they have to go through,” said Lou Hacker, who owns property in Park South, but doesn’t live there.

Pat Kelly, leader of the local Walk & Watch, said it felt like the main ideas of the plan were being “crammed down our throats.”

Lori Harris, Albany’s planning commissioner, said the city is in fact gathering feedback right now, and that the full plan won’t even be presented until January. “We asked [people] to contact us if they had additional comments,” she said. “The past 60–75 days has been all about gathering input, to try to get as much feedback as possible. . . . We’re gathering up not only what the people have said, but also what the economists have said.”

When asked why Park South has not had a planning charette, where residents gather for a daylong meeting to discuss what they want to see in their neighborhood, something the Upper New Scotland area had during its planning process, Harris said that was appropriate at the design stage. “In Park South we’re talking about the economic feasibility issues,” she said. “We’re so conceptual at this point, design isn’t our prime issue.”

But Tom Angotti, urban planning professor at Hunter College and former chair of the Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment at Pratt Institute, said that a hands-on community planning effort “in which community people sit down and develop visions for their neighborhood” would not only be perfectly appropriate at the conceptual stage, but is becoming “very widely practiced in the U.S.” Having community people intimately involved in developing the strategy is important, said Angotti, because “if they do, then they’re going to have a much greater commitment to carrying out the strategy.”

Harris, however, is worried about not being able to please everyone and about residents setting their sights too high. “Will we ever have 100-percent consensus?” she said. “No. We need to build as much consensus as possible around what’s economically feasible. We could put in a plan that we’ll have a grocery store, but two years down the road people will just be frustrated because there was never a chance.”

“It’s not good enough to just say we have market analyses,” countered Angotti, who is currently working on a book about the Cooper Square neighborhood in New York City, which rebuffed an urban renewal effort 40 years ago and created its own plan. “It might just be that the bureaucrats sitting in planning offices dream up visions that are unrealistic and unfeasible. . . . There are many more things besides the land market that make up communities and make communities valuable.”

In fact, many plan supporters and critics alike question the low projections of demand for for-sale housing returned by the economist hired by the city.

Although the fear of eminent domain, which LaRose said has kept people “on the edge of their seats” all year, is behind much of the emotion surrounding the process, LaRose and others say they don’t want the process derailed, they just want to feel listened to and taken seriously.

To that end, they are seeking ways to rework the process so they can have more of a say. Hacker has suggested polling all the property owners in the neighborhood to see who is willing to sell and assemble property for redevelopment that way. LaRose suggested that the city take the final report from the consultant Design Collective and use that as a starting point to “work with residents toward a plan that will work for everyone,” something that Harris has expressed a willingness to do. And Joe Galu, the neighborhood association’s corresponding secretary, suggested setting specific understandable criteria for the use of eminent domain. “A lot of people would be cheering for this if we knew what the criteria were,” he said.

—Miriam Axel-Lute

Where Should We Park This Thing?
Albany alderman irked by assemblyman’s plea to move a garage being built for state workers

When state Assemblyman Jack McEneny (D-Albany) asked the Albany Common Council if it would look into moving a proposed state-worker parking garage last week, he didn’t expect a response as pointed as the one he received from Albany Common Council President Pro Tempore Michael Brown.

With the state’s Office of General Services scheduled to begin construction on a $25 million, multilevel parking structure on Sheridan Street in the spring, McEneny is making last-ditch efforts to bring to fruition a proposal to find the garage a different home. Two weeks ago McEneny told the council, as he has anyone who’d listen over the past decade, that the garage would be of better use to the community if it were placed on Elk Street, atop OGS’s existing state parking lot. There, the garage would not only provide parking for state workers, McEneny said, but it could also be used for special-event parking in the evenings and on weekends.

The additional parking could attract more people to the Albany Institute of History and Art, could provide additional parking for special events like Larkfest, and would be a potential parking option for the Albany Public Library if it moves into the Washington Avenue Armory.

“You don’t have to tear down a single building, you don’t take a penny off the tax rolls, and you’ve got this spin-off for weekends and evenings that will be of enormous benefit for Capitol Hill, lower Central Avenue and Lark Street,” McEneny said. “Who is supposed to be benefiting from this other than 9-to-5 workers who are transient to the neighborhood?”

But Brown sees things a little differently. Brown views McEneny’s proposal as an attempt to steal a parking garage from his constituency, an asset that is hoped to alleviate congestion on the streets of Sheridan Hollow caused by state workers.

“You have basically said that the people of Sheridan Hollow live in the wrong part of the city and as a result don’t deserve basic services. That is outrageous and it is wrong,” Brown wrote in a letter to McEneny, which was circulated to council members, the mayor and a number of state politicians.

Brown blasted McEneny for emphasizing the garage’s use for special-events parking, and also noted that the construction of the garage was to coincide with the creation of a memorial acknowledging the city’s history of slavery. A colonial-era cemetery for slaves and freemen rests near the site designated for the garage’s construction, and the state has plans to build a memorial with the garage.

Considering the months of planning that have gone into the garage’s construction thus far, McEneny acknowledged that it would be difficult to change the garage’s placement at this late stage, but the legislator is hoping that the common council or Mayor Jerry Jennings will intervene.

“I mean what is wrong with taking surface-level, state-owned parking that doesn’t pay anything anyway, and putting layers on top of it? Surface level parking is the greatest waste of taxpayers’ dollars,” McEneny said.

Jennings, however, is offering Mc-Eneny’s proposal no support. The mayor said the garage, and its some 1,500 spaces, needs to be built on Sheridan Street to deal with the glut of 9-to-5 workers who will be looking for parking after renovations to the Leo O’Brien federal office building are completed over the next few years.

“What Jack should be working on is getting a permit-parking bill through the Assembly and through the Senate,” Jennings said. “That should be his number-one priority, not taking away a parking facility.”

—Travis Durfee

With Us, or Watched By Us
Local activists react to recent memo showing the FBI slipping back into some old, sneaky habits

Uncle Sam now has an eye for protester guys, according to a confidential FBI memo recently leaked to The New York Times. The memo, sent to 15,000 local police forces around the nation, details how the federal government has been monitoring antiwar and antiglobalization rallies and is trying to collect personal information on protesters. It instructs police forces to spy on these events and report unlawful actions by demonstrators to the bureau’s counterterrorism agents.

Labeled “Law Enforcement Sensitive,” the Oct. 15 memo, which can be downloaded in PDF format online at Free.cfm?ID=14452&c=207, was drafted in advance of the antiwar demonstrations that occurred on Oct. 25 in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. In it the FBI admits it has no knowledge of any planned disturbances at the rallies, but warns, “the possibility exists that elements of the activist community may attempt to engage in violent, destructive, or disruptive acts.” The document also appears to equate civil disobedience with terrorism in directing law enforcement agencies to “report any potentially illegal acts to the nearest FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

“This memo confirms our fear that the USA Patriot Act and other anti- terrorism measures instituted by the administration step way over the line, infringing upon our fundamental free speech rights. Beware everyone, Big Brother really is watching you!” said Melanie Trimble, the executive director of the Capital Region chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The memo lists sit-ins, marches and banners as traditional forms of protest, and vandalism, human chains, makeshift barricades, trespassing and physical harassment of delegates as more aggressive methods. In an ominous passage, it then says, “Even the more peaceful techniques can create a climate of disorder, block access to a site, draw large numbers of police officers to a location in order to weaken security at another location, obstruct traffic, and possibly intimidate people from attending the events being protested.”

The bureau wants to know who these protestors are, the memo reveals. “After demonstrations, activists are usually reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement officials,” it says. “They seldom carry any identification papers and often refuse to divulge any information about themselves or other protesters.”

The document singles out the use of training camps, the Internet, cell phones and radios as protest methods to be watched. “It is interesting and bears watching that the memo singles out new technologies: Internet, cell phones; in truth these have become incredible and exponentially empowering tools for fostering informed, connected participatory citizenship,” said Maureen Aumand, a local activist affiliated with Women Against War.

Critics have charged that the memo presages a return to the FBI’s abuses of the 1960s and 1970s, when director J. Edgar Hoover had dissenters like Martin Luther King placed under surveillance. Restrictions preventing the bureau from investigating domestic political groups were later imposed, but last year Attorney General John Aschcroft relaxed them significantly as part of the government’s antiterrorism campaign.

Speaking on ABC’s This Week on Nov. 23, the day The New York Times broke the story, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said of the memo, “This reminds me of the old Nixon times and the enemies list. . . . That, I think, is a fundamental flaw of this administration. It is absolutely outrageous in terms of what this country is about. How could we be fighting abroad to defend our freedoms and diminishing those freedoms here at home?”

Lawrence Wittner, a University at Albany history professor who studies popular protest movements and the author of Toward Nuclear Abolition, echoed Kennedy, remarking, “Unfortunately, the FBI seems to have fallen back upon its discredited policy of spying on law-abiding Americans and confusing nonviolent dissent with terrorist activity.”

FBI spokesman Whitney Blake refused to comment on the memo, instead referring to a statement on the bureau’s Web site, which says in part, “The FBI is committed to protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans, including those who oppose current policies of the government. In order to do so, we must make law enforcement aware of the tactics of those who wish to impinge on those rights by violently disrupting otherwise peaceful marches and assemblies.”

Asked if he would be deterred from taking part in future antiwar events knowing the FBI or local police may be watching, Paul Tick, founder of Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace, said he would not. He added, “Maybe the question of surveillance needs to be looked at from this overall picture—what is happening to our country under the Bush administration? Hopefully, more than ever, people will realize that their involvement is the only thing that can, in fact, save our democracy.”

—Glenn Weiser

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