How to spend $10 million? Amsterdam eyes options for revitalization funding

Community and Economic Development Director Amanda Bearcroft: Quick process ahead to March 31 deadline
City officials are considering how to improve downtown Amsterdam's Main Street, shown here on Friday.
City officials are considering how to improve downtown Amsterdam's Main Street, shown here on Friday.

AMSTERDAM — The steering committee tasked with proposing ways to spend a $10 million revitalization grant is mulling construction of a new pedestrian walkway from the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook bridge to Main Street.

The committee met last week to consider input from a public workshop about the downtown revitalization Initiative — and to begin the process of narrowing down a list of about 34 projects considered for possible funding through the state grant.

The Local Planning Committee (LPC) is co-chaired by FMCC President Dustin Swanger and Mayor Michael Villa, and it must submit the final list of project applications to the state by March 31.

More from this week: Our top stories Feb. 2-8, 2019

“It’s a quick process right now,” Swanger said.

“We’re going to recommend more projects than we have money for, because the state makes the final decision on which projects go and which ones don’t,” Swanger said.

About $9.6 million of the grant funds will be left after consultants are paid for their input, he added.

New York state mandates that cities chosen for Downtown Revitalization Initiative grants — awarded to one municipality in each of the state’s 10 economic regions for each of the past three years through a competitive process — must hire consulting firms to help with the planning for projects submitted for funding.  Amsterdam hired the national planning consulting firm AECOM, which is headquartered in California.

“We’re excited about getting the $10 million grant,” said Swanger, describing the committee’s approach to choosing projects, “but that $10 million goes in no time at all. And we want these projects to be funded for a long time with both public and private money.”

Amanda Bearcroft, Amsterdam’s director of community and economic development, said the planning committee has broken the proposed projects into three categories or “buckets”:

  • Those ready to move forward on March 31 with a funding application for grant money;
  • Those that need more information before the committee will consider including it in the application for funding; and
  • Those not well defined for DRI grant funding, but better suited for other funding. 

Bearcroft said the committee decided to set aside the proposed multimodal transportation center project and not include it any of those buckets.

She said the project could either cost $34 million if it includes demolition of portions of the Riverfront Center Mall, or $29 million without that piece.

The project would include relocating the Amtrak station from the city’s west end to the downtown area. She said it remains a long-term priority for the city to pursue the state and federal funding necessary to make the project happen. But the only portion of it that will be considered for DRI grant funding will the pedestrian walkway from the MVOG bridge to Main Street.

Bearcroft said the planning committee decided to keep the pedestrian walkway aspect of the multi-modal project and include it in the first category of projects — those close to ready for submission — because connecting the MVOG bridge is one of the goals of the city’s downtown revitalization strategy.

“This could be how we can create that connection, so you can finally go from Main Street to Bridge Street without having to go the roundabout way … through Riverlink Park and the parking garage and everything else,” Bearcroft said. 

Ready to Move Forward 

Bearcroft said the committee wants AECOM to produce a detailed narrative with more precise cost estimates and possibly renderings, for these projects:

  • The Mohawk Valley Gateway bridge pedestrian walkway to Main Street (final cost estimate not yet determined), sponsored by the city of Amsterdam.
  • A community dog park (estimated cost $150,000, full funding sought), sponsored by the City of Amsterdam. The project would build a 33,000 square foot park with separate sections for big and small dogs. 
  • Chalmers Mill Lofts streetscape and parking (estimated cost $1 million, $500,000 in DRI funding sought), sponsored by KCG Development. Would include construction of a boardwalk and street improvements for Bridge Street.
  • Telephone pole removal on Bridge Street, and burial of utility lines (cost estimate $600,000, $450,000 of DRI funding sought), sponsored by City of Amsterdam. 
  • Amsterdam Free Library demolition of old addition and replacement with new three-story addition (estimated cost $4.3 million, $1.5 million in DRI funds sought), sponsored by Nicole Hemsley. 
  • Amsterdam Community Recreation Center, to be built on the city’s east end (cost estimate $5 million, $2.5 million in DRI funds sought), sponsored by the City of Amsterdam and Centro Civico.
  • Relocating skate board park behind Centro Civico to make room for rec center (full cost sought from $93,000 of DRI funds), sponsored by the City of Amsterdam. 
  • New park built at the trailhead of the Chuctanunda Creek (cost estimate $2.5 million, $500,000 in DRI funds sought), sponsored by the City of Amsterdam.
  • Phase 2 of Chuctanunda Creek Trail, addition of wayfinding and point of interest signage (cost estimate $80,000, $55,000 of DRI funding sought), sponsor City of Amsterdam. 
  • Main Street lighting enhancement, including light posts and strands (cost estimate $50,000, full funding sought)
  • Southside parking project ($500,000 in DRI funding sought). “This is to look at future parking, so we won’t be locked down to [trying to create parking] at any specific site. So this will be to amend existing parking or for the creation of new parking,” Bearcroft said.
  • Removal of Route 5 eastbound spur in downtown (Cost estimate $5 million, undetermined amount of DRI funds sought) “We don’t know what amount we’re going to do yet. We put in an application to the State Department of Transportation to remove the entirety of that section of Route 5, but we don’t know when that’s anticipated to come through yet,” Bearcroft said. 
  • X Squad waterski show team relocation from Scotia to Amsterdam, includes purchase of a dock and boat lifts (full cost of $60,000 sought from DRI) sponsored by the City of Amsterdam.
  • Creation of two funds, a $600,000 Downtown Improvement Fund and a $200,000 design guidelines fund to hire a consultant to help reform the city’s codes to reflect a design aesthetic, sponsored by the City of Amsterdam. 

 The DRI state grant is designated for projects in the city’s downtown area, or near to it. Bearcroft said over the course of three years of attempting to win the state grant contest Amsterdam was told by state officials to narrow the area considered for funding down to a small enough geographic location that the money would have a strong impact, but some of the proposed projects, like telephone pole removal on Bridge Street, require the boundaries to be extended along the length of that street to be effective.

“LPC approved to expand the boundaries to the east and the south side to incorporate streetscape enhancements, so the boundary increased just to the streets, not the parcels, so its [property] in the public realm.”  

More from this week: Our top stories Feb. 2-8, 2019

More information needed

Bearcroft said any of the projects that the LPC needs more information for could still be included in the final submission to the state March 31. 

“These recommendations are not set in stone. They have the ability to go back through this project and change any one of those projects into any of those categories,” she said. “The funding levels of a lot of these will probably change too, that’s part of the process of asking for more information. The LPC has decided that any project that is privately owned, they would only consider watching at 40 percent.”  

  • Former KeyBank rehabilitation, 29 E. Main Street, for construction of upscale loft apartments, and building a microbrewery on the first floor ($2 million cost, $1 million in DRI funding sought), sponsored by Joseph Tesiero, Cranesville Properties.
  • Three-story mixed use building to be built at 20-22 Main St. (cost estimate $1.2 million, $400,000 in DRI funding sought), sponsored by John Duchessi, Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency. 
  • 32 E. Main St. dental office facade enhancements, and renovation (cost estimate $179,000, $143,200 from DRI sought), sponsored by Dr. Uttam Gurme.
  • Sharpshooters Billiards & Sports Pub, renovations including rooftop bar (full funding sought, $225,000), sponsored by Timothy Berlin. 
  • 2 River St., two-story addition project, with current building converted to a dance studio (cost estimate $125,000, $100,000 of DRI funds sought) sponsored by Robert Zykes of Z Core Drilling.
  • 65 Bridge St., rehabilitation of the former Samuel Sweet Canal Shop into a tavern and retail space (cost estimate $688,120, $275,00 in DRI funding sought), sponsored by David Nelson.
  • 6 Market St. renovation for office space (cost estimate $1.13 million, $875,000 in DRI funds sought), sponsored by Joe Garidino. 

Projects inappropriate for DRI funding

Four projects sponsored by Joeseph Tesiero of Cranesville Properties were taken out of consider for DRI funding:

  • Riverfront Center parking garage demolition, to create a new property for development as a gateway to the city (full funding of $750,000 sought from DRI).
  • Riverfront Center condominium unit project (cost estimate $4 million, $2 million of DRI funding sought). 
  • 129 East Main St. parking garage for 100 to 200 vehicles (full funding sought from DRI, $2 million)

“I believe those were taken off because there wasn’t enough financial information backing what the costs were and the state has told us that they wouldn’t pay for private parking garages. If they were publically owned, it would be a different story, but because they were privately owned they were taken off,” Bearcroft said.

Two projects to install a new roof for Riverside Pizza and enhance the facade of the New Paris Shop were take out of consideration. Bearcroft said those projects might get funded from the $600,000 Downtown Improvement Fund the city is hoping to create with DRI funding.

Bearcroft said she and other LPC members met with officials from the city of Rome, in Oneida County, which was a previous winner of the DRI grant and they suggested creating a Downtown Improvement Fund.

“We didn’t know that was an option before that,” she said.

Swanger said the LPC will host one more public workshop and will accept public comments through the city’s website and in “comment cards” that will be made available at Amsterdam City Hall.

“Our consultants in particular take great care to summarize those comments and share them with us; we absolutely see them and use them in this process,” Swanger said.

Bearcroft said the planning committee will hold its next public meeting from 8 to 10 a.m. on Feb. 13 in the Amsterdam Housing Authority building, with an executive session from 8 to 9 a.m., before the public session. 

“The process is pretty fast right now because we only have two months,” Bearcroft said. 

More from this week: Our top stories Feb. 2-8, 2019

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