Homes and factories were built quickly during the heyday of Amsterdam, when it was considered the rug capital of the world.
But the flight of industry and declining population that followed has led to a new form of urban renewal that’s under way now with similar speed: demolition.
State grant funding is being put toward the demolition of the Chalmers Knitting Mill complex that’s slowly disappearing from the city’s South Side, and a $1.2 million loan has paid for demolitions of 11 structures so far — about 17 more are targeted this year.
Though the work will leave empty lots where in some cases proud historic homes stood before deteriorating to the point of danger, city leaders believe these holes will be filled in with promise.
Mayor Ann Thane in an email this week described the demolition projects as one piece of the fight against blight.
“The problem of urban blight is multifaceted and must be addressed from a number of angles. Planning, code enforcement, crime prevention and neighborhood association involvement will all play critical roles in attaining our goals,” Thane said.
The remains of tear-downs may serve as sites for revitalization, but Thane said she intends to ask city residents what they want to see on their streets once crumbling structures give way to empty lots.
“I’m going to be conducting neighborhood meetings to talk with residents about what the changing character of their neighborhood’s future means to them, what may be done with vacant land and properties at risk, and what their vision is for the future,” Thane said.
Amsterdam 4th Ward Alderman William Wills said empty lots could best serve the city if replaced with newer, upscale housing that might attract new employees to the GlobalFoundries plant in Saratoga County.
“What we need is a larger tax base,” Wills said.
The state’s recent move to cap property tax increases at 2 percent will put pressure on local governments; boosting the amount of tax revenue with more expensive housing might help alleviate that pressure, Wills said.
He said it’s not practical to save all the homes with historic architecture that have been left to deteriorate, but that flair could be reproduced in a sense with the type of homes that are rebuilt.
“You can’t rekindle what used to be there, but you could build houses in a similar type of fashion that would complement the neighborhood that once was,” Wills said.
Amsterdam Urban Renewal Director Nick Zabawski said ultimately, what replaces the lots will depend on where they are.
He said he wouldn’t describe the ongoing demolition as urban renewal but more as an outcropping of a declining tax base and reduced demand for housing.
“What you do with a lot afterwards depends on where they are, what the conditions are,” Zabawski said.
Some lots, if located alongside each other, may bear fruit as a larger parcel suitable for industry, he said.
Others might serve as residential sites, still others could be sought by property owners next door for use as a lawn.
“In other places you may be looking to do something new and different and build a newer house,” Zabawski said.
Homes on Orange and Union streets, Mechanic and Vedder streets and Grand and Forbes streets are among another 17 to be targeted in this year’s program, work that will lead to discussion and debate on what will fill the voids.
“There’s no one, simple quick answer, it depends on a whole realm of conditions,” Zabawski said