SCHENECTADY — The transformation of Liberty Park is nearly done, as city officials envision a more attractive entrance to the city.
Renovations to the park, located at the corner of State Street and Washington Avenue, are aimed at making it larger and more modern. The new park, which will be renamed Gateway Plaza, is about 90 percent complete, Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority Chairman Ray Gillen said.
A joint effort between Metroplex and the city, the park will cost around $1.7 million once finished.
The parcel has been fenced off for the past year, as flood-damaged buildings were demolished to allow it to nearly double in size. It is about a third of an acre now.
This week, decorative lighting was being installed, as work continued toward a planned May 1 debut.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration is paying most of the cost, with a $960,000 flood hazard mitigation grant awarded in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. That storm's heavy rains led to flooding of properties south of lower State Street, including structures just south of the park. The state, through its Regional Economic Development Council program, has awarded another $400,000 in funding.
Planning discussions about expanding and improving the park were underway before Irene's flooding, but the damage done around the park spurred the federal funding.
"The goal was to replace the uneven and unsafe berms that were part of the much-smaller Liberty Park, which also made the park expensive and difficult to maintain," Gillen said.
The new park will also provide green space in an area of the city undergoing transformation. The former YMCA is being converted into senior citizen housing, and the Mill Artisan District will see new buildings where aged, vacant commercial structures previously stood. Other development is taking place at or around Schenectady County Community College.
"We also think it will be something positive for the Stockade neighbors," Gillen said, referring to Schenectady's oldest neighborhood, the border of which is within a block on the north side of State Street.
The FEMA grant allowed the city to acquire and demolish buildings at 18 State St., 10 State St., 108 Railroad St., all of which had been damaged during the flooding, and to acquire another low-lying lot adjoining the park — and for the park to expand into those lots.
The park is being renamed Gateway Plaza due to its location and the expectation that it will offer a more attractive entrance to the city, with walkways and a small performance stage. The work also includes expanding the Capital District Transportation Authority BusPlus bus shelter in the park.