Friday afternoon, the Central Business Improvement District partnered with local businesses and BIDs to introduce University at Albany's Residential Life Assistants to the fun that awaits students in Albany's downtown districts. The event was attended by nearly 200 RAs and student staff.
The event included Aqua Duck Trolley tours of Central Avenue, Lark Street, and downtown, and an afternoon-long party at the Ramada Plaza featuring Foosball tournaments, video games, a cariacature artist, a balloon twister, and many giveaways.
The event was an opportunity to introduce students to fun spots and activities they didn't know about in the city, with an eye toward promoting local businesses.
"The idea stems from an idea I had years ago, that the SUNY and St. Rose campus are right here, next door and there is almost an invisible bubble around them. I assumed that either they do not know what we have to offer, or they don't want what we have to offer. After holding nearly 20 focus groups with students, it became clear they simply didn't know, and rarely found reasons to venture off campus," says Anthony Capece, Executive Director for the Central Business Improvement District. Students are happy to learn about local restaurants and hotspots, and even more importantly, they tend to become repeat customers.
"What we also found was that those students who did venture off campus tended to remain loyal customers and even became much more of a local, and not just a visitor," Capece says.
The Central BID has been sponsoring a SUNY Showcase of the Avenue for years, held at the Downtown campus. This annual orientation event introduces students to the nearby community. This year in a much larger fashion we brought RAs and staff to their own event out into the community. The basis of the idea is they could be "concierges" for their fellow students, says Capece. "...Given they are the people students go to for information and help, if they know what to do, where to go, and how to get there, they will pass the word along," he says.
And students who attended the event say they will do just that.
"Any new thing I can teach [freshmen], I'm all for it," says Colleen Kutney, an RA at UAlbany. "It's pretty cool to have so many different vendors here, and different things that I've never seen or heard of in the City of Albany before."
"It's nice. Now we know where to send our campus residents, and there's a lot of new things I didn't know about like gyms off campus that I could recommend to them," says A.J. Williams, another RA at UAlbany.
I caught up with graduate assistants Vin Rindazzo and Leah Latella after the trolley tour. "There was a lot of information, a lot of stuff I didn't know, like restaurants, actually. I didn't know a lot about the restaurants and I've been here for like six or seven years," says Rindazzo. "I have no idea about food down there, I just know about [going] out."
"The thing we kept saying is that I really have never been down in that area during the day time so that was what caught me off guard," says Latella.
The two realized the City has more to offer than just clubs, and say they are looking forward to a nice meal off campus out on the Avenue and other areas of the City.
"I liked it. I always wanted to go on a trolley so it was really nice," says Graduate Assistant Shaquana Gadsen. "I didn't know there were so many historic buildings. I've seen them, but never knew what they were."
As students traveled through the city they were encouraged to post photographs of the sights and what they saw to the live blog Capece set up for the event. As photos were snapped and sent via text, they posted in real time on a large projection screen at the main event back at the hotel for all to see. The images posted for those who awaited their turn on the trolley tours. The winning photo that best represented the entire day earned the photographer a flat screen T.V.
Back at the Ramada, students piled plates high with tacos and wings, and watched their friends play video games and have their hair done by the Orlo school, Mildred Elley or Austin Beauty school. (located in the Central Avenue BID) Angela Caputo, instructor at Orlo said the event has been great for raising the school's profile. "I think it's going really well," says Caputo. "When we say, 'how you'd like to earn free hair?' They love it."
To make the event fun and interactive, nearby, students waited patiently for their turn to get a balloon sculpture from the balloon twister. The line was long, but students agreed the wait was worth it. "He's really good," says Cassandra Henry, holding up the teddy bear he'd fashioned for her. Her friend stood beside her, eagerly waiting for the same piece. "It's so cute," says Henry.
Students were also impressed with the skills of the caricature artist, who had stationed herself on the other side of the conference room drawing portraits. Sophomore Ryan Lawrence proudly held up the drawing she'd completed. Did he like the event? "I think it's really cool actually," says Lawrence.
Capece is hopeful that the annual event will become more than just a way to boost business; he hopes it will help the city as a whole rebound. "After a few years, every senior will have knowledge about the city," Capece says, "and maybe that will keep the graduates here and lower the brain drain."