Posted at: 08/10/2012 12:59 AM
| Updated at: 08/10/2012 10:13 AM
By: Dan Levy
ALBANY - At a time when city leaders have been singing the praises of their downtown Albany Entertainment District success, a longtime business owner is pulling out.
Jillian's, which originally opened its doors in 1999, has been run by Ralph Spillenger since 2007. Now, after investing more than one million dollars into the business, Spillenger says the perception of danger on downtown streets has driven away customers.
If people really are afraid to come to downtown Albany, you wouldn't know it on Thursday night. With a large crowd that was undoubtedly bolstered by an overflow from the city's final Live at Five Concert of the Summer, North Pearl Street was shutdown to traffic, music was blasting, people were dancing, many bars appeared to be hopping, and sidewalk cafes were filled.
It's what you couldn't see in the downtown landscape that Ralph Spillenger says has forced Jillian's belly up.
"My family does not have any money left," Spillenger says. "We bet the family farm on my native city and we've had nothing but heartbreak from it."
Spillenger says there are too many people who perceive downtown Albany to be a dangerous destination.
"That's an irresponsible statement," said Mayor Jerry Jennings, after calling a city hall news conference Thursday to address Spillenger's concerns.
"It's too bad he had to go in that direction because as far as I'm concerned there are a lot of positive people that have invested in downtown Albany that are staying here and for a long time," the mayor continued.
According to police statistics, overall crime in the city is down 17% city wide, and down more than 50% in the downtown entertainment corridor.
"It is not an area where crime occurs often," said Albany Police Chief Steven Krokoff. "It's actually a very vibrant area that gets a lot of attention."
The Spillenger family isn't buying in to the city's crime statistics.
"It's easy to promote that crime stats are down if nobody is getting arrested and there's no police there to arrest them," said Shane Spillenger, Ralph's son.
Thursday night there was a large police presence in downtown Albany. Brian Duncan, who has worked in downtown for ten years, says he feels safe day or night, but he also understands why people may perceive danger.
"It's downtown Albany. It's between a couple of neighborhoods that are perceived as being less than safe," Duncan opines. "But the reality of it is I just haven't see it (violence) here."
It's not just city leaders who are troubled by Spillenger's statements. Several other downtown business owners joined the mayor at his news conference, all of whom said they're doing just fine.
Several other business owners who spoke to News Channel 13 Thursday night, said they agree with many of Spillenger's views, some of them acknowledging that they too are having trouble keeping their heads above water.