Foss: Chalmers deal a good thing


So it’s going to happen after all. 

After the Amsterdam Common Council voted 3-1 against granting another purchase option to the developers looking to build apartments on the site of the former Chalmers Knitting Factory, I assumed the project was dead
I also assumed that the 3.3-acre parcel would sit empty for a long, long time. 
Wouldn’t the Council’s eleventh-hour aversion to the project signal that the city couldn’t be trusted, and scare off other developers? 
We might never know the answer to this question, because this week KCG Development bought the Chalmers property for $300,000. 
The Council’s refusal last month to grant KCG another purchase option sent a less than welcoming message to a developer that has invested  nearly $600,000 in a project that calls for a mix of affordable and market rate apartments and a banquet hall. 
Now KCG has sent a message of its own. 
This developer is committed to its project, and willing to stick with it despite the unfriendly chill emanating from community leaders. 
From where I sit, this is a positive development. 
The project, known as Chalmers Mill Lofts, is a good one for Amsterdam. 
It’s big — the largest project in the city since the construction of the Amsterdam Mall in the 1970s — but it’s also suitable. 
Much of the opposition to the project appears rooted in an animus toward renters, particularly those who live in affordable housing. 
But Census data indicate that Amsterdam is a city where a majority of residents rent, the median household income is $36,000 and nearly 30 percent of people live in poverty. (Nationally, the poverty rate is 11.8 percent.) 
The apartments KCG plans to build will meet a real need in the community, by providing quality housing at below market rate rents: $650 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and $750 a month for a two-bedroom. The market rate apartments would rent for a minimum of $1,100 a month, which is pretty pricey, if you ask me. 
Incoming mayor Michael Cinquanti has said he’d like to see owner-occupied housing built on the property, but it seems unlikely, given KCG’s purchase of the land, that he’ll get his wish. 
This doesn’t mean that owner-occupied housing won’t ever get built in Amsterdam. 
The hope is that Chalmers Mill Lofts will serve as a catalyst for future development — a broad category that includes owner-occupied housing.
The project is a big part of Amsterdam’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative award from the state, which includes $312,785 for new infrastructure, such as a boardwalk, designed to increase pedestrian activity along the riverfront. 
If all of these different projects come to fruition, downtown Amsterdam might one day be a very different place — busier and more dynamic, a city on the upswing. 
Opponents of the Chalmers Mill Lofts project aren’t wrong to view the riverfront as one of Amsterdam’s best assets, or to wonder whether there are better uses for the property. 
But their yearning for a different kind of development has blinded them to what the proposed apartment complex/banquet hall can do for the city.
It doesn’t represent the end of new development in Amsterdam so much as the beginning. 
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.  

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