Brownfield redevelopment targeted at summit held at FMCC

Amanda Bearcroft, Director of Community & Economic Development for the City of Amsterdam, left, is a member of a panel discussion leading redevelopment in the Mohawk Valley at FMCC Tuesday, April 12, 2022. To her left is Sarah A. Lokker of Rome, Jack Spaeth of Utica, and John Pisek of Herkimer.

Amanda Bearcroft, Director of Community & Economic Development for the City of Amsterdam, left, is a member of a panel discussion leading redevelopment in the Mohawk Valley at FMCC Tuesday, April 12, 2022. To her left is Sarah A. Lokker of Rome, Jack Spaeth of Utica, and John Pisek of Herkimer.

The city of Amsterdam has a combined 902 acres of land, including 122 “strategic sites”, set to be included in New York state’s Brownfield Opportunity Area zone program, which unlocks access to federal tax credits as well as other state and federal money aimed at helping to clean-up polluted soil and redevelop long neglected former industrial sites.

“Basically all of Amsterdam is a Brownfield (Opportunity Area) right now,” quipped Amanda Bearcroft, Amsterdam’s City Community and Economic Development Director, “which is great for investment opportunities.”

Bearcroft was one of the speakers at a panel discussion titled “Leading Redevelopment in the Mohawk Valley” on Monday during the first day of the two-day Mohawk Valley Brownfields Developer Summit held at Fulton Montgomery Community College, a first-of-its-kind event that gathers together economic development officials from the six counties of the Mohawk Valley Economic Development District — Otsego, Oneida, Schoharie, Montgomery, Fulton and Herkimer.

Fulton County Center for Regional Growth President Ron Peters is one of the organizers of the brownfields summit. He said the summit has been in the works for more than 12 months, and was originally scheduled for October 2021, to be held at the Johnstown-Gloversville Holiday, but had to be postponed due to high rates of COVID-19 transfer in Fulton County at that time.

One of the stated goals of the summitt is helping Mohawk Valley communities like the city of Amsterdam, Gloversville, the city of Rome and the Village of Dolgeville to showcase brownfield sites ready for redevelopment to private sector development companies attending the summit seeking to take advantage of new state and federal funding aimed at helping to develop former industrial properties in New York state and throughout the U.S.

During her presentation, Bearcroft showed slides of several Amsterdam brownfield sites:

• The Chalmers Site: 3.2 acre lot, currently owned by the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency and set to receive a public boardwalk later this year, funded from Amsterdam’s 2018 3rd Round $10 million New York state Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant.

• The Five Corners Site: 3 acre lot, formerly a gas station/convenience store property, privately owned but eligible for property tax foreclosure by the city, located at the eastern entrance to the city at the corners of Church Street, Forest Avenue, Jay Street and Kellogg Street. The property includes a 1-story, 17,000 square-foot-building.

• Old Paper Mill Site: 5 acre county-owned property located at 58-62 Forest Ave., which includes a 2-story, 30,000 square-foot building that directly abuts the Chuctanunda Creek.

“We, like all of the panelists and most of the presenters in this room, had to deal with a very hard industrial past,” Bearcroft told the summit attendees.

Bearcroft explained how the city of Amsterdam’s industrial boom, spurred by New York state’s creation of the Erie Canal system, helped the city thrive in the 19th and 20th centuries, but left the community with economic scars when many of the former industrial sites shut down, leaving behind brownfields with costly soil pollution that, historically, have made them unattractive for private sector redevelopment.

“We were left with a lot of vacant industrial buildings, as well as a loss in population, so we are trying to still figure out what we can do with them,” she said of the old buildings and brownfields. “We didn’t, in the past, have a lot of assistance, a lot of resources, and have recently been actively been looking at how do we engage in partnerships and taking a hard look at a lot of these industrial buildings and seeing if they are (best suited) for re-use or demolition.”

In addition to New York state’s Brownfield Opportunity Area (BOA) zone program, public officials and private sector developers are also hoping to tap into funds from the federal bi-partisan $1.2 trillion federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — which includes $1.5 billion for brownfield remediation.

Bearcroft said Amsterdam’s first BOA zone was created as part of the Waterfront Heritage Area study several years ago, which includes the city’s DRI zone, the city’s downtown core plus its South Side, all of which has been eligible for economic development projects from the NYS $10 million DRI grant.

Next came studies in 2020 for Amsterdam’s “East End BOA”, approximately 129 acres located east of downtown along the Mohawk River, encompassing the Riverfront Center and Lower Mill area, which contains at least nine potential brownfield sites, and the “Northern Neighborhoods BOA”, approximately 309 acres located north of downtown, roughly following the North Chuctanunda Creek, which encompasses the Five Corners and the old Sunoco Mills paper mill site.

“We think the (Waterfront Heritage Area BOA) was integral to helping us succeed in being the awardee of the Round 3 Mohawk Valley DRI ($10 milliong) grant, because of the brownfield plan, and us looking actively at how to redevelop those areas of the city,” she said. “After the DRI award we began taking a harder look at some of the other neighborhoods around the downtown, and how do we start spreading out the development activities to those areas, and that is what has led to great partnerships with the (New York state) Dept. of State and National Grid to obtain funding. Right now we are in the process of getting (the East End BOA and Northern Neighborhoods BOA) areas designated, and we were just awarded (grant money for) another Brownfield Opportunity Area study in the 2021 CFA (state grant process).”

Gloversville Mayor Vince DeSantis is set to showcase Gloversville’s brownfield properties at the Mohawk Valley Brownfields Developer Summit today at 10 a.m., as part of a panel discussion titled “Mohawk Valley Resources.”

Gloversville won the 5th Round of the NYS $10 Million DRI contest, also in part due to the city’s efforts to get a BOA zone designation for 197 acres located along the Cayadutta Creek Corridor, which includes 81 potential brownfield and underutilized sites to be evaluated for contamination clean-up and redevelopment.

Gloversville DRI consultant Lisa Nagle, who has also worked on the city’s BOA zone plan, said Gloversville is hoping to get New York state to officially designate the BOA zone by the end of the year.

“(Gloversville’s) BOA plan will go in later this summer,” Nagle said. “(If approved by the state, the BOA zone) opens up funding opportunities for the city. When you fill out a grant application, any grant application from New York state, it will say ‘do you have a vision for this area? Do you have a plan for this area?’, and if you say no, you’re not going to get any money. So we’re putting together a vision for redevelopment for the BOA.”

DeSantis said his city is working to acquire ownership of a number of brownfield properties — including Tradition Leather located near Kingsborough. Elementary School — that were permanently removed from Fulton County’s property tax rolls because the county did not want to foreclose on them due to the potential liability from pollution clean-up costs. He said his administration will apply for federal funding for the pollution clean-up costs for city-owned brownfields and after the soil is remediated, market the properties for redevelopment.

“(Our consultants) are saying the federal grant application process for brownfield money will be in October, but Tradition Leather is first on my list, and we’d like to go out for bids to demolish it next month. The demolition will be for the buildings that have to be removed that have no value, and debris from a fire, but we’ll be leaving two buildings that are really nice and ready for adaptive re-use. We’ve been working on this for a couple of years on our (Local Waterfront Revitalization) steering committee and our BOA steering committee.”

DeSantis said he’s identified the owner of Tradition Leather and the city is “jumping through the hoops” necessary for the owner to give the property to the city. He said the city will not acquire the cost liability for the pollution clean-up.

“We’re making sure we’re doing everything properly,” DeSantis said. “The city is not the in the chain of liability. When we talk about ‘chain of liability’ that means ‘who put the pollution there?’ — those are the people who can be sued.”

Other speakers set for today at the Mohawk Valley Brownfields Developer Summit include U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-NY at 9:10 a.m. and Assemblyman Robert Smullen, R-Johnstown at 11 a.m. 

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