AMSTERDAM -- Members of the planning committee for the $10 million downtown revitalization grant listened to opinions from the public Wednesday about the 17 projects proposed for the initiative.
Amsterdam was named the winner of the 3rd annual state Downtown Revitalization Initiative [DRI] grant contest in September, based in part on the strength of the city's 44-page plan of projects it might fund with the money. Now comes the process of picking which economic development projects to submit to the state for money from the $10 million grant.
Comments ranged from the semantic to the philosophical.
Joseph Emanuele, an Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency board member and former mayor of Amsterdam, participated in one of the discussion groups at the community workshop Wednesday evening held at the Amsterdam Housing Authority.
Emanuele questioned the phrase "true community facilities," the creation of which is listed as one of the goals of the DRI, along with building an enhanced city center with improved transportation, housing, recreation, education and employment.
"Well what do you mean by true? Should it maybe be socio-economic community facilities, some other word?" Emanuele said. "True could be subjective, what does true really mean? We should try to make it more clear to the public so they know what that means. I like all of the projects, unfortunately they can't all be funded."
The 17 proposed projects and their projected price tags are broken into four main categories:
• Waterfront redevelopment: Route 5 removal ($5 million); Chalmers Mill Lofts streetscape and parking ($898,000); creation of a marina/ferry service ($16 million); and Chuctanunda Creek Trail ($80,000).
• Vibrant placemaking: "Bringing back the grid," a project to re-establish the city's original design by demolishing all or portions of the Riverfront Center mall ($40 million); removal of telephone and power line poles on Bridge Street ($600,000); community dog park ($75,000); creating vibrant signage to highlight the city's character and features while helping pedestrians and vehicles navigate the city ($200,000).
• Year-round critical mass: Culinary incubator ($3.265 million); multimodal center ($29 million); Community Center & City Recreation Center Complex ($5 million); Amsterdam Free Library renovation ($4.3 million).
• Diverse mixed use core: 2 River St. project to build a waterfront restaurant facility adjacent to the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Bridge ($250,000); 6 Market St. renovation of former bank building ($1 million); former Key Bank building rehabilitation, including high-end apartments and microbrewery ($1 million); 20-22 Main St. renovation into mixed use building ($700,000); creation of a two- to three-story, 100- to 200-car parking garage on East Main Street to replace the existing parking to be torn down at the Riverfront Center ($2 million).
James Glorioso Jr., who has run for office in Amsterdam and at the county level, attended the workshop. He said he hopes the grant money will focus on projects with social impact more than to complete "personal projects for the rich." He said he likes the Route 5 project and the parking garage, but is skeptical of the culinary incubator.
"We need to think realistically and strategically. A ferry is not sustainable. We couldn't even keep a bus service," he said.
The meeting was attended by community and business leaders as well as government leaders, including state Canal Corporation President Brian Stratton.
Some residents questioned the "Bringing back the grid" project title because it sounds like it relates to electricity. They suggested it focus on the city's Main Street.
Alex Nieuwkerk, owner of the Iron Throne Fitness Adventure at 26 Elk St., attended the meeting because he wants to know whether he should move his business into the DRI zone, which focuses on downtown. After participating in the discussion groups he said he remains unsure.
"I'm flexible, I could do it," he said of moving his business.
Amsterdam resident Cheryl Marzullo questioned whether there was anything in the DRI process for small businesses.
Amanda Bearcroft, Amsterdam's director of community and economic development, said the DRI grant process is now conducting an "open call" for project proposals for the grant, which could include small business ideas, with a deadline set for 4 p.m. Dec. 21.
Bearcroft said the consulting firm hired by New York state to help administer the grant is called AECOM, which has hired subcontractor the Paige Group from Utica to handle all of the DRI public outreach.
"There is also going to be an online survey going up shortly," she said. "There will be other public workshops before the March 31 deadline [for the local planning committee to submit projects to New York state], and we have an email set up for any comment cards people want to submit, [email protected]"
Bearcroft said the planning committee will meet on Jan. 9 from 8-10 a.m. at the Amsterdam Housing Authority. She said the committee will review a report of all of the comments made during the public workshops and then begin rating the proposed projects to determine which ones to submit.