City and county development officials will be sitting down with state officials next year, trying to determine what they can do with a dock grant.
As part of the Regional Economic Development Council process, Schenectady had sought $2.4 million to build a 1,000-foot dock along the south bank of the Mohawk River between the mouth of Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino, and connect it to the pedestrian-bike path.
However, when the REDC awards were announced Dec. 13, the city learned it was in line for $503,251 to plan the dock and build the connector path.
That’s much more money than needed to plan the dock and not nearly enough to build it, said Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen, who leads development efforts in the city and county and was involved in the application process.
“We need to meet with the state to determine how to take maximum advantage of that grant,” he said. “It’s a significant amount, it should move the project forward.”
Gillen said the hope is that the state Department of State will allow construction of a small piece of the dock — as much as is possible with the funds awarded now. The city would seek to pay for the rest of construction through future REDC grants.
“Our intent right now is to go back and apply for the balance of the funds,” he said. “We think it’s a very worthwhile project.”
The idea is to attract operators of large pleasure craft and passengers on tour vessels and give them an easy way to stop and explore Schenectady.
Two hotels and a casino with dining options operate just steps from the riverbank where the dock is planned. More restaurants are planned right in Mohawk Harbor, and additional dining, entertainment and lodging options are nearby in Glenville and downtown Schenectady.
“It’s just another amenity for the waterfront,” he said. “It’s a good fit with what the state is trying to generate as well, which is reconnecting to the waterfront.”
Mohawk Harbor is one of the largest waterfront projects in upstate New York, he said, and probably the largest on the canal system. The harbor has been completed but can’t fit anything more than 40 feet long.
“Smaller boats can all pull in the marina, but the goal is to have larger vessels come in, parallel park,” Gillen said. “Come up the trail, you’ve got so many services and opportunities.”
Large vessels have comfortable sleeping accommodations aboard, but industry sources indicate that their operators sometimes enjoy taking a break to sleep on shore, Gillen said. They also come ashore to eat.
Gillen recalled fishing at Lock 7 this past summer and seeing the owners of a large boat pull up to the dock, tie up, and take off for dinner in a taxi.
Brian Stratton, executive director of the state Canal Corporation, said he was excited that the grant was awarded to Schenectady. It’s under the oversight the Department of State’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, but it falls right in line with what the Canal Corp. is trying to accomplish with the waterways it maintains and operates: drive tourism and economic development in upstate communities.
“We see it as a great opportunity to harness large-scale tourism,” Stratton said, referring to large tourboats like the ones operated by Blount Small Ship Adventures. “This is great way to have a true connection.”
Much is happening on the water across upstate New York, he said.
Utica and Syracuse are developing their harbors, housing development is underway in Rochester and Buffalo has its Canalside district, which is actually not near the modern canal system. Mohawk Harbor is the only one with a casino, Stratton said.
“I think this is probably the largest and most dynamic project along the entire canal system. Under my administration,” the former Schenectady mayor said, “we always wanted to get waterfront access, but this goes way beyond that.”
The canal also gives back to the region, Stratton added, generating $400 million a year in tourism spending and $6.3 billion a year in other economic activity.
The work on the bike-hike path, meanwhile, is a small part of the larger effort to build and expand the network of trails across the state.
The Erie Canalway Trail, a series of on-road and off-road trails from Albany to Buffalo, is being developed as a tourism and recreation resource of its own for bicyclists.
“The river’s really just another trail system, for boaters,” Gillen said.