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Albany’s Times Union Center Celebrating 30th Anniversary

Times Union Center in downtown Albany is marking its 30th anniversary — and looking for a new sports tenant.

Frank Sinatra was The Knickerbocker Arena's opening act on January 30th, 1990: the county-owned facility eventually became the Pepsi Arena and now The Times Union Center.

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Credit Mary Rozak
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General Manager Bob Belber says it’s been a remarkable ride.  "It's been great with 4,500 different events and some 20 million tickets being sold over the last 30 years, over $39 million in gross profits from operating, which is the best that I know income of any secondary market in the country. And while that's all great and extremely proud and the staff of the arena, even more proud because they made all that happen. I really am looking at it like the best is yet to come."

Belber says the recently-upgraded facility "looks terrific" as it gets ready for the men’s NCAA Tournament to return in March for the first time in 17 years.   "With the atrium being enclosed and concession stands being renovated, sports bar being completely gutted and changed and beautiful now. We're working on the backup house ???? in the dressing room areas, and the reinvestment back into the arena from the county has made such a difference not only to the fans, but even for me to be able to show the agents that represent the artists and the NCAA as well that this facility is a state of the art venue. Even though it's 30 years old. It's a state of the art venue with the attachment of the convention center, it's become a tremendous asset.

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Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
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Albany County Executive Dan McCoy

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy:   "We have a great history of bringing big acts in here, from Paul McCartney to you know, Jonas Brothers, to you know, you name it. They've been here. Sporting events from the MAAC from the NCAA. But he also gave us record attendance. I mean, we broke all records last year. You know, our numbers are great. And we're given that mixed use for the people of Albany County in the Capital District where you can come see wrestling, basketball, synchronized skating."

McCoy and Belber are hopeful the TU will be able to bring back Arena Football. The Albany Empire led the Arena Football League in attendance in 2018 and 2019 and won the ArenaBowl in August. But the AFL went belly-up in November. Belber says there are two other leagues and one just might land in Albany if ongoing discussions to move the Empire name and logo to one of them are successful.

Belber:  "Imagine how cool that would be."

McCoy:  "We have a history of Arena Football here in the area. The people here love it. You know, we had huge attendance. It took right back off again after the Firebirds left and you know they renamed it to Empire, did a phenomenal job. Unfortunately in the other markets, they weren't getting as much success but it looks like we're coming back and you know we're in negotiations and working some things out and see what happens. You know, we're hoping we're hoping for the best."

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BONUS AUDIO: Bob Belber on the arena’s three decades...

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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