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Book details Schenectady's revitalization effort

Author William Patrick
Lucas Willard
Author William Patrick

A new book by a local author details a comeback story in the City of Schenectady — detailing the grassroots efforts to change the future of the Electric City.

Inside the events center at Rivers Casino & Resort, with windows facing the Mohawk River, Neil Golub, local philanthropist and executive board chair of the Golub Corporation, which owns Price Chopper/Market 32 supermarkets, pondered the economic misfortune had that fallen on the City of Schenectady.

Home of General Electric and American Locomotive Company factories, Schenectady flourished in the first half of the 20th Century. But changes at the companies and outsourcing of jobs led to a decline that lasted decades.

“When GE was here they cost us 45,000 jobs. And before that, ALCO was on this property, and that cost us, I think, about 15,000 jobs. Schenectady really got beaten up by big businesses,” said Golub. “Not that they weren’t bad or good or anything like that, but that’s what happened to Schenectady and we were paying a price for it, and our downtown was paying a price, and it was time to get it fixed. So we decided on writing the book and bringing us up to date.”

In the last couple decades, Schenectady has seen a transformation of its downtown with new development, including the casino. Proctors continues to bring entertainment to State Street. And new mixed-use high rises dot downtown.

Local author William Patrick chronicles the city’s efforts in his book “Metrofix: The Combative Comeback of a Company Town.”

“Some of those cities have found ways to come back. Some of those cities have not – you look at cities like Flint, Michigan, they’re really not back at all – we got lucky,” said Patrick.

Patrick was approached by Neil Golub and Golub’s daughter, Mona, to help tell the story. According to Golub, what was originally pitched as a story of his family’s grocery business was refocused on the city.

Along with former Union College president Roger Hull, Golub was a co-founder of the Schenectady 2000 initiative in the early 90s. The effort, driven by volunteers, helped clean streets, plant flowers downtown, and restore city parks.

But to do bigger things, said Golub, Schenectady needed more.

“We realized that we lacked two things in Schenectady. One, we had no skilled economic developer. It needed somebody who knew what the hell they were doing…”

Golub continues:

“And second, we needed the financial resources and neither of those we had,” said Golub.

The idea was to create the city’s own IDA, what would become Metroplex Development Authority.

Bob Farley, son of longtime Republican State Senator Hugh Farley, wrote the legislation to create Metroplex. Farley served on the county legislature and as counsel in the state legislature. During Tuesday’s press conference, he recalled the legislation’s passage.

“Mayor Jerry Jennings, who is a very successful mayor of the City of Albany, turned to Neil after we passed the Metroplex Development Authority legislation and said, ‘Neil, I wish we had our own Metroplex.’ Because he recognized what a vehicle that could be, do in the hands of good and talented people. And the success of Metroplex, you only need look around,” said Farley.

Author Patrick said the book, however, could not just include big names. The author said he collected 135 interviews that amounted to 7,000 pages of transcriptions.

“That story had to not only include not just the prominent names that we all know from the past, but it had to include all the lesser-known movers and shakers. The boots on the ground, the people who really got things done,” said Patrick.

Third-term Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy called “Metrofix” a great book, and said he was proud to be a part of it.

“I look at this, really, as the first installment of the story of Schenectady’s impressive comeback,” said McCarthy.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.