Montgomery County

Many ideas for new Amsterdam walking bridge offered

Eric Whiting of Saratoga Associates, head architect of the soon-to-be-built Amsterdam walking bridge

Eric Whiting of Saratoga Associates, head architect of the soon-to-be-built Amsterdam walking bridge, was hit with a deluge of ideas at a public brainstorming session Monday evening.

The bridge is slated to cross the Mohawk river from Bridge Street on the South Side to Riverlink park on the north bank. Construction will be funded by $16.5 million allocated to the bridge in a transportation bond act passed back in 2005, and completion is expected by June 2015.

But it’s not as simple as laying a cement link between north and south. A lot is expected of the future bridge.

“The whole thing is to go beyond getting from point A to point B,” said U.S. Rep Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. “There’s going to be a soulfulness to the place. It’s going to be a park over the water, an expression of our reverence for those who built this place, made us who we are.”

It’s a tall order for a piece of architecture, but Whiting broke out a note pad and listened to the diverse ideas of about 60 community members gathered in the high school cafeteria, many of whom brought their own note pads.

The idea was to gather all the things residents feel embody Amsterdam and work them into the construction of the bridge.

“There are a million ways to figure them in,” Whiting said. “We’re going to take lots of notes and filter them down.”

Some filtering will definitely be necessary. Ideas ranged from Vegas-style lighted water features, to Mayor Ann Thane’s idea of laying a mosaic out of people’s donated heirloom china, to Tonko’s lighted Plexiglas map of the world showing where Amsterdam residents originated, to Michael Palumbo who suggested orientation theaters and iPhone apps for visitors to keep all the exhibits straight.

Local historian, writer and radio personality Bod Cudmore even suggested rotating exhibits to save on space.

Aside from specific ideas for physical bridge features, the meat of the session came down to broader, more intellectual concepts.

The bridge is supposed to express what Amsterdam was, while making it new again. Whiting modeled it after The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Mass.

“It’s a small, narrow bridge in the middle of nowhere,” he said, “but around it this little town is just flourishing.”

He said about 500,000 people visit the bridge every year, and 80 percent of the structure’s upkeep is paid for by free-will donations at a coin box.

“I’m glad the city is finally embracing its past to move toward the future,” Palumbo said.

Hopes are high with the completion date still three years out. It was clear at the meeting many are already imagining the finished bridge funneling hundreds of thousands through a downtown, busy again after decades of decay. And all those hopes land squarely on the shoulders of history.

The question now is which past to depict. Tom Porter of the Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community was on hand to offer the Native American perspective.

“A lot of Native American history is not told at all, or is told wrong,” he said. “We have a chance here to make that right.”

Second Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman suggested honoring veterans, while others suggested a focus on the various immigrant groups that came to run the carpet mills.

“The bridge is only so long,” said Dave Dybas, 4th Ward alderman. “Keep it simple.”

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