State and local officials gathered in Riverlink Park on Wednesday morning to sweat in formalwear and talk about Amsterdam’s evolving riverfront.
“We’re here today to celebrate a lot of work,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam.
Riverlink Park has come a long way. He and other dignitaries talked about what the place looked like many years ago — a disused grungy waterfront doing nothing for local tourism or quality of life. Much work and millions in grant funding later, it’s a nicely kept recreational spot.
The small crowd was gathered Wednesday to celebrate the completion of the second, western half of the park.
Two acres of walking paths, a faux-rock monument painted in replica Mohawk Indian designs and a number of light poles were actually finished late last year.
“But it’s hard to get everyone together,” said Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane. “So many schedules.”
Secretary of State Cesar Perales may have been a particularly hard one to schedule. He’s busy man, lining up a total of 12 grants and $2 million through the Environmental Protection Fund’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program just for Riverlink Park.
“This is the fun part of my job,” he said, standing in the shade of a tent while journalists and local residents squinted in the sun.
The celebration may have been a bit late, but there were some new projects to talk about. Thane said the $16 million pedestrian bridge project, which has been in the development stage for years, is nearing physical construction.
“All the specs and engineering will be going to bid in September,” she said. “We’re hoping to have the project done by October 2015.”
It’s been lengthy process, but Tonko pointed out that this sort of thing takes a long time.
“This work goes back 30 years,” he said, recounting his early Riverlink funding struggles — back when he was a freshman assemblyman and Perales was state commissioner of social services.
“We were all children back then,” Perales said.
The whole project is meant to create a symbolic as well as physical connection between Amsterdam’s various eras.
Eventually there will be a walking path from Mohawk Indian history in Riverlink Park to the Colonial legacy of the Guy Park Manor, then over a walking bridge to Erie Street on the south side, site of the original Erie Canal.
Ideally, the beautifully crafted historical space will draw tourists and jump-start Amsterdam’s sluggish economy. That dream is still far away, but the assembled officials felt like celebrating progress Wednesday.
Away from the political gathering, the Riverlink summer maintenance crew lounged under cafe shade trees.
They couldn’t really hear the goings-on over the roar of passing trains, but they approved of the park.
“I’m not sure if it’s the key to Amsterdam’s revitalization,” said Phill Peugh, “but people like the park.”
As grounds crew leader, he has a different measure of success.
“There aren’t many cigarette butts,” he said, “even after the concerts. People must care about the place to treat it so well.”