Montgomery County

Initial plans released for Amsterdam recreation center

Initial plans have been released for a proposed $3 million recreation center in Amsterdam that some

Initial plans have been released for a proposed $3 million recreation center in Amsterdam that some officials hope will draw outsiders to the city.

The plans, prepared by C.T. Male Associates of Latham and presented to the city’s recreation committee last week by Director of Recreation Rob Spagnola, call for a 65,000-square-foot facility with three basketball courts, a six-lane indoor track around a 180-foot turf field, an indoor golf simulator and a multipurpose room.

“It will encompass everything you can imagine, really, as far as sports go,” said Spagnola, “from people who want to have a birthday party for their 4-year-old son or daughter to senior citizens who want to walk on the track.”

So far, no definite location has been chosen for the center, but officials say the intersection of Forest Avenue and Fourth Avenue, known locally as the “Five Corners,” is at the top of the list.

“We’re looking at several different sites, but in particular we’re focusing on the Five Corners,” said Robert von Hesseln, director of community and economic development for the city of Amsterdam.

The plans have been in the works for about a year and half, after members of the Amsterdam-based non-profit Wishful Thinking first dreamt up the idea of a full-scale recreation center in the city, while working to convert the Clara S. Bacon School into a small recreation center in 2013, said Spagnola.

“We have a nice little facility there, but we’ve so outgrown it in a very short period of time,” he said.

In choosing a location for the center, Hesseln said several factors come into play: It needs a fairly large lot, including plenty of parking, it should be accessible to both locals and outsiders, and it shouldn’t conflict with the character of the neighborhood in which it’s placed.

To fund the initial construction, project leaders plan to pursue grants and other fundraising avenues, said Spagnola. In the long run, they intend the center to be self-sustaining through usage fees and other revenue streams.

“We think the tournaments that we can have and soccer and then baseball — we think there’s plenty of revenue that we can tap into to make the building self-sufficient,” he said.

Von Hasseln said he, Spagnola, and Mayor Ann Thane have already begun meeting to discuss grant opportunities. They may also include an online crowdfunding component, he said.

Spagnola said the initial plans were drawn up at no cost by C.T. Male Associates. The estimated $3 million price tag is on the high end of the range being looked at, he said.

“That will build us a first-class facility,” he said. “That’ll be top of the line.”

So far, the plan is for the city to operate the center.

That idea, and the price tag, raised a red flag for Barbara Wheeler, the city’s 4th Ward Alderwoman and representative in the Montgomery County Legislature, who said the project — grant-funded or not — will be a burden on taxpayers at a time when the city needs to prioritize its spending.

“Grants are taxpayer money,” she said. “My objection is that I don’t think it would be appropriate to do something that would be on the backs of the taxpayers. If it was a private entity, nothing would make me happier.”

She said the community already has a YMCA, though it’s just outside the city, and a smaller amount of money spent supporting that — perhaps in improving transportation options to it — might be smarter than building a competing facility.

“I think while the more we have for the youth is always better, you have to be accountable to the taxpayers,” she said.

The project’s supporters, however, hope the center would be a destination that would draw people in from neighboring communities who might otherwise go to similar facilities in Niskayuna or Latham, said von Hasseln.

“It will bring money directly into the community,” he said. “And once the money is spent here, it gets spent several times over.”

The plans presented this week are the “very early stages” of the project, said Spagnola. He hopes to have a location chosen by late spring or early summer to begin pursuing grants and other funding sources.

“It’s nothing that’s going to happen overnight,” he said. “It’s going to be a long line of hopefully successful ideas that we have to make this happen.”

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