State pledges $10 million for Amsterdam’s downtown

Officials see money as "catalyst" for improvements
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that the city of Amsterdam has won a $10 million grant.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday that the city of Amsterdam has won a $10 million grant.

AMSTERDAM — New York Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul says Amsterdam’s downtown Mohawk River waterfront “looks spectacular,” and “the downtown has great potential.”

That kind of positivity — the opposite of what is usually said about this aging former mill town — was on display throughout an announcement by Hochul on Wednesday that Amsterdam will receive $10 million from the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative.

Hochul made the announcement at City Hall, along with Mayor Michael Villa and an array of local elected officials. She acknowledged the award, reported by The Daily Gazette Wednesday morning, was a poorly kept secret. “Good news travels fast,” she said.

The city’s winning proposal in the third round of annual awards given to Mohawk Valley communities includes plans for a downtown multi-modal transportation center, a youth-oriented community center in the East End, expansion of the Amsterdam Free Library into an innovation hub, and landscaping and street work around the planned Chalmers Mills residential complex overlooking the river.

“We have found this will leverage outside investors,” Hochul said. “This money is really a catalyst.”

While there’s still a state review process before any of those projects actually receive funding, Villa said he’s thrilled. By his own account, “I haven’t slept in two nights.”

“Our vision is not to recreate the historic downtown, but to create a new, diverse, sustainable downtown model,” he said at the announcement.

This was the third year in which Amsterdam had applied for the Mohawk Valley’s share of funding, which in previous years went to the cities of Rome and Oneonta. Montgomery County officials, who have worked closely with Amsterdam on the application, said they’ve learned from their past failures and what has worked in other places.

“This isn’t about us, it’s about what we leave for are children and grandchildren,” said Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort.

Having people move to Amsterdam would reverse a trend of more than half a century, as residents have left as the city’s textile mill-based economy has declined. The population, which topped 33,000 in 1920 thanks to immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, is currently new 19,000, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

A mall project that ended up struggling gutted a large part of the downtown in the 1970s, but in the 1990s the city established Riverlink Park on 25 acres of riverfront land next to the mall, and in 2016 opened the $17.5 million Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Bridge, a pedestrian walkway across the river than links Riverlink Park to the city’s south side. It has drawn visitors to the city.

Hochul said she’s seen the transformation in a way that city residents perhaps haven’t. “When you only visit on occasion … I can tell you you have something spectacular here,” she said.

Amsterdam’s 44-page application’s highlights included:

• The Multi-Modal Center project, which would cost an estimated $29 million, would relocate the Amtrak station, now on the city’s far west side, to the western edge of the downtown area. It would provide space for rail, bus, car-share services, taxis and bicycle facilities, as well as potential for mixed-use retail and office space. 

• The Amsterdam Free Library on Market Street would be expanded to include a “Makerspace,” with a 3D printer, a laser cutter and a screen print machine to be utilized as a business incubator and teaching classroom. The estimated cost is $4.3 million.

• The $30 million Chalmers Mill Lofts project features a mixed-use housing development, expected to draw new residents to the city. That money would be invested privately — with some tax breaks — but the city would spend around $900,000 on street upgrades.

• The Community and Recreation Center in the East End would be a joint effort between the city, county, and Centro Civico, a community organization that provides cultural resources and services. It would be a complex with multiple buildings and outdoor space for arts, education and recreation. The estimated cost is more than $3 million.

“We’re seeing an historic announcement,” said state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam. “We’ve seen when you revitalize a historic downtown area, how much it brings. Today, all I can say is it’s a big win for Amsterdam.”

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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