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    Economic development report to city holds some surprises

     A stretch of Cleveland Avenue, Albany

    A stretch of Cleveland Avenue, Albany.

    More than a third of Albany’s business tax revenue, or 38 percent, comes from retailers on Eastshore Highway, according to an economic assessment report delivered to the City Council this past week.

    Without the retailers on that small stretch of road, particularly the Target Department store, retail sales and sales tax revenues would have slipped 2.7 percent over the past four years. Instead retail sales rose 42 percent, providing a similar boost to sales tax revenues.

    This bit of information from the “Economic Development Strategy & Action” interim report by consultants Neil Mayer & Associates and Urban Transformation Inc. provides some food for thought on what else could boost Albany’s economy, said Marge Atkinson, Mayor of Albany. One recommendation in the report is that Cleveland Avenue, a stretch very similar to Eastshore Highway in that it runs parallel to 1-80 but north from Buchanan rather than south, could be developed to be vibrant as well.

    Cleveland Avenue is zoned for industrial and retail use but currently produces very little tax revenue for the city because of several vacant lots.

    “Cleveland Avenue is under-utilized, but is part of our redevelopment zone,” Atkinson said, so the City could take action to attract businesses there. “Eastshore also was part of our redevelopment zone,” and the city was able to recruit new businesses there. “One thing seems clear: these two areas are pretty important to our success.”

    Atkinson would like to see Cleveland Avenue become a hub of green businesses such as solar installation or recycling companies and envisions the city helping to recruit green firms to this area.

    In 2007, the City Council drafted a list of goals and priorities that ranged from economic development to providing more activities for teenagers to determining the future of the waterfront.

    “Strengthening the commercial tax base” of the city was cited as the top priority. The city council commissioned this report in 2008 to assess the economy of Albany and help strategize for how to improve it. The report indicates that Albany’s economy is relatively healthy – at least up to the autumn and before the financial collapse of recent months. Commercial vacancy rate for most of last year was 5.9 percent, a reasonable rate. Solano Avenue and San Pablo Avenue both contributed to the economic vitality of the city, even if the Eastshore Highway racked up the biggest numbers.

    Neil Mayer & Associates and Urban Transformation suggest that Albany could be more active in recruiting businesses, for instance, by developing a brochure about Albany to distribute to interested businesses and by improving the City’s Web site information about doing business in Albany.

    Businesses provide about $4.2 million in taxes to Albany each year through sales taxes, property taxes and business licenses taxes. That sum represents 15 percent of total city revenues. The commercial sector also provides about $2.1 million to the Albany Unified School District through property taxes and parcel taxes.

    Article and photo by Barbara Grady-Ayer.

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