Shining a Bright Light on Schenectady: An Interview With Talia Cass

By ArianDavidPhotography

When I visit and tour cities, a lot of what I see and experience is organic and unplanned.  However, in order to see the richness of a city that might not always be apparent to a guy with a camera on the street, I also rely on guides, on people that know their city and all its potential.  When I traveled to Schenectady last year, one of those guides was Talia Cass.  Talia gave me vital information about Schenectady and all there was to see and do, and this information helped power one of my favorite city blog entries.

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Talia is the new Tourism & Convention Manager for the Schenectady County Visitors Agency.  What makes Talia special is the fact that she has been tasked with the enormous responsibility of bringing people and groups to Schenectady… at age 23.  But while her youthful spirit shines brightly in the work that she does, a conversation immediately betrays the tremendous maturity of one of Schenectady’s bright young leaders.  Recently I “sat down” for a little e-interview with Talia Cass about her passion for her city, the work that she’s doing, and the future of Schenectady.

Photo by Richard Lovrich

ME:  Talia, give the readers a little background on who you are and what you do?

TALIA:  Simply put, I’m the Tourism & Convention Manager for the Schenectady County Visitors Agency, which is housed at Proctors. My job is to promote Schenectady County as not only a travel and tourism destination, but also an ideal location for meetings and conventions. I started out at Proctors as a Marketing Intern during my last semester at The College of Saint Rose, and was hired after graduation as an Account Executive. The position was brand new at the time, which allowed me to really make that job my own.

For awhile I focused on planning and marketing local events such as the Annual Wing Walk and Schenectady County SummerNight. The idea was to help establish local pride in Schenectady, and then bring people in from the Capital Region to see all that has changed in this city. My position grew within the last six months to accommodate for Schenectady’s growing convention business, which I built from ground up with support and assistance from Metroplex, Meeting Industry Experts, Inc and Proctors.

ME:  How, at such a young age, did you become such a passionate advocate for Schenectady?

TALIA:  I grew up in Duanesburg, a small town in Schenectady County, and went to Schenectady County Community College for my first year of undergrad. I remember walking to Jay Street in between classes to have lunch at Ambition (I was addicted to their lava cakes at the time). I spent evenings getting countless tacos at Bombers, and walking through the arcade at Proctors gawking at the MainStage while reminiscing about my theater days in high school. I never had trouble finding things to do in Schenectady!

My internship at Proctors brought back my love for Schenectady while I was at school. I was actually surprised by all the new restaurants and businesses that developed even in the past three years. I’ve always thought that Schenectady had the potential to grow into a business and performing arts hub, but now that idea is becoming a reality. I believe this has to do with the fact that there are a lot of other passionate people here who share the same love for this city as I do. It’s a very exciting time to be working and living in Schenectady, and my goal is to spread that message.

ME:  How has Proctor’s Theater and the Metroplex worked to improve the community as a whole?

TALIA:  I always say, Proctors is the living room of downtown Schenectady. By that, I mean Proctors brings in people in from all over the region and beyond to see Broadway performances, concerts and movies. Over time, our downtown district has developed a variety of restaurants and bars to accommodate for this. What some may not realize, is that Proctors is extremely involved in the community through partnerships and support for organizations such as miSci (Museum of Innovation and Science), Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation (DSIC), Schenectady Historical Society and more. In addition to this, Metroplex is one of the main sources of funding and development for businesses to thrive and grow in Schenectady. Schenectady Metroplex and Proctors share the same goal of bringing more people here to showcase all of the many attractions, restaurants and activities in the county.

ME:  How is “walkability” a factor in reviving our urban areas?

TALIA:  Walkability is a huge advantage for any urban area. As a Schenectady resident, I cannot tell you how great it is to be able to walk everywhere. Even for someone who’s visiting— all you need to do is find parking (which isn’t difficult here), and only walk a block or two to your destination. It’s difficult to get visitors to an area that’s spread out and lacks parking because it’s easier to get lost. Not only is Schenectady walkable, but the city also has ambassadors that act as concierges for pedestrians. They’ll help with anything from holding open doors to directing traffic and giving directions and advice. There’s nothing more relieving for tourists than visiting a city that is pedestrian friendly and welcoming in general. You want to be in a place that’s vibrant and filled with people walking around.

ME:  What do you think Schenectady has done well with regard to its revival? Where do you think it can improve? Where is Schenectady headed?
TALIA:  In addition to walkability, Schenectady has a diverse collection of restaurants. To showcase this, organizations such as DSIC, Schenectady County government office and the regional chamber work together to create different food walk events. The idea behind these are to get people to not only see how walkable downtown is, but to also go into each restaurant for samples. I think it’s important that organizations and businesses in Schenectady work together. These collaborations are how we make things happen. Starting the convention business in Schenectady wouldn’t be possible without all the support and participation from our hospitality partners.

In regards to improvement, I would love to see Schenectady have a thriving shopping district. I’m not talking about H&M or Old Navy, but boutique clothing stores. We have some great shops already, but I think Jay Street Marketplace has the potential to be completely filled. In addition to this, I’d like to focus on establishing a music and art scene here.

I see some big changes happening in Schenectady once the Rivers Casino opens in 2017. What I’m excited about with the Mohawk Harbor project is that it’s not just about the casino— we’re also getting restaurant and retail space, more apartments, bike paths and three new hotels. It’s safe to say that Schenectady is headed in a positive direction!

ME:  What is the secret to generating a new vibrant energy in our cities? How do you contribute to this energy?

TALIA:  Getting people out of their homes and in the community. I’m a firm believer that festivals and events are necessary for a vibrant city. Events get people involved in their community, and bring others from outside the area. In July, Schenectady County’s Annual SummerNight festival brought in around 15,000 people to downtown Schenectady with headliner Bernie Williams. It was amazing to see thousands of people hopping from each restaurant for food and drink specials and children enjoying face painting and other activities. One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to go shopping at the Schenectady Greenmarket! It’s like a mini festival every Sunday.

I’m actually very involved in a lot of the events that happen in Schenectady. It’s part of my job to help amplify event sales and awareness. There are so many different types of events I can see happening in Schenectady— some are even in the works. Stay tuned!