AMSTERDAM -- The city of Amsterdam is getting millions of dollars in state funding to build an east-end recreation center, a gateway to downtown sign, and a renovated and expanded public library, all part of 15 economic development projects worth $9.7 million announced Thursday by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
Amsterdam was named the winner of the 3rd annual state $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative [DRI] grant contest for the Mohawk Valley Region in September, based in part on the strength of the city's 44-page plan of projects it might fund with the money. Earlier this year, through a community outreach process assisted by a state-mandated consulting firm (AECOM), the city narrowed the list of projects to 20 and submitted them to the state in March.
After months of discussion and speculation, Hochul, the chairwoman of the state's Regional Economic Councils, made her presentation of the funded projects at Riverlink Park Thursday in front of a crowd of community leaders.
She said she remembers coming to Amsterdam for the 2016 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge.
"I really wanted to come back here," she said. "The bridge has really been the link from the past to the future, and when I saw the creative efforts that went into every element of that bridge, I was awestruck."
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149 East Main St. in Amsterdam will receive $2.5 million from the Downtown Revitalization Project Funding for renovations.
Hochul said Amsterdam had a glorious past as an industrial center, and should now look forward to a glorious future stimulated by state investment in projects aimed toward expanding the city's economy.
Mayor Michael Villa introduced Hochul and praised Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration for investing economic development dollars in upstate cities.
"I thank you for taking such an interest in the Mohawk Valley," he said.
Villa thanked many local and state elected officials for helping the city through the DRI contest process, including Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort and state Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.
"What a glorious day for Amsterdam," Villa said.
Villa praised Danielle Whelly, the city's former assistant director for the Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department, Amanda Bearcroft, Amsterdam's director of community and economic development, and Michele Pawlik, city assistant director of recreation, for their roles in helping to craft the city's winning DRI application. Villa called Bearcroft a "brilliant asset to the community."
"I don't think anyone understands her dedication, self motivation, and her ability to get things done," Villa said. "Amanda brought on four talented, young interns, at no cost to the city, and if you think we're sitting here standing on our laurels because we won the DRI, Amanda has applied for 13 [New York State Consolidated Funding Application grants] this year."
Some projects are not fully funded. Other grant funding or private investment will be sought to fund the remaining cost of the project. Listed in descending order, these are the projects approved for state funding from the DRI grant:
• Community Recreation Centers: $2.5 million in DRI funding for a $5 million project to rehabilitate 149 E. Main St. for use as a community center and construct a new adjacent recreation center. The rec complex will include a computer lab, art gallery, shared kitchen, and facilities for reading, music, tutoring, recreation, painting, photography, and cinema. According to the city's application for the money, the project is expected to create 10 full-time equivalent jobs, one employee per 10 children with the center having the capacity for 100 kids. The Boys and Girls Club of the Capital Area will run and maintain the facility in partnership with Centro Civico. Membership dues will go toward operations and maintenance and programming.
• Business Incubator and STEM Education center at the Amsterdam Free Library: $1.8 million in DRI funding for $4.3 million project to renovate and expand the library to create a robust community center in the heart of the downtown district. The expanded library will include a new business incubator, a Science Technology, Engineering and Math education facility, and multi-use community room complete with stage, screen, and sound and light equipment.
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Amsterdam Free Library will receive $1.8 million from the Downtown Revitalization Project Funding for renovations.
• Transform the former Key Bank building into a mixed-use anchor building for downtown: $1 million toward a $2 million project to rehabilitate and convert the historic former Key Bank building into a mixed-use development building with ground-floor commercial use and upper-story residential units overlooking the city's downtown and waterfront. The stated objective of the project is to create "around the clock street activity" on East Main Street. The project is sponsored by the owner of the building, Joseph Tesiero of Cranesville Properties.
• Create a Gateway to the Downtown District: $1 million for "an attractive and defined gateway" at the intersection of Church and East Main streets. The project aims to create a positive first impression of the city as well as rendering the intersection pedestrian-friendly, and attracting visitors to patronize downtown businesses. The project will include public art, new lighting, landscape improvements, sidewalks, and new signage.
• Downtown Improvement Fund: $600,000 to establish a matching grant fund for interior and exterior building improvements within the DRI area to stimulate property upgrades and investments. The grant program will promote projects that include mixed uses and that will create jobs and advance community revitalization goals.
• Route 5 redesign into a public open space: $547,087 in DRI funding toward a $5 million project to remove and re-purpose the eastbound portion of Route 5 as public open space, providing residents with recreation opportunities and laying the groundwork for the development of the proposed recreation center. DRI funding will be used for temporary barriers, signage, striping, and the removal of asphalt and paving.
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The Key Bank building on Division St. in Amsterdam will receive monies from the Downtown Revitalization Project Funding for renovations.
• Unified Marketing and Wayfinding Campaign: $500,000 in DRI funding to craft a compelling and site-specific narrative about Amsterdam that draws and directs visitors to downtown destinations. This project includes the development and installation of a vehicular and pedestrian wayfinding system, installation of public art reflective of community identity, and consistent and comprehensive marketing of downtown amenities through a unified branding strategy.
• Install Streetscape Improvements on Bridge and Main streets: $350,000 to transform the city's two primary commercial streets, Bridge Street and East Main Street, into the signature components of a walkable, downtown environment, drawing residents and tourists to local businesses around the clock. Streetscape improvements include decorative lighting, sidewalk upgrades, landscaping, and street furniture.
• Create a Community Dog Park: $323,400 to construct a fenced-in community dog park at 198-100 Erie St. to serve as a mid-block connector from the waterfront to the Empire State Trail, furthering the Southside's transformation into a connected neighborhood. As the first dog park in the city or county, this project is expected to be a local and regional recreation destination." Hochul remarked during her presentation that "hot" real estate communities often have dog parks.
• Transform the Southside into a walkable community: $312,785 in DRI funding toward a $1 million project for public realm improvements to encourage pedestrian activity along Bridge Street and for the creation of a boardwalk, and improvements to the sidewalks, streetscape, and civic spaces adjacent to the proposed Chalmers Mills Lofts apartment project.
• Strengthen the Chuctanunda Creek Trail's Downtown Presence: $288,728 to install enhanced signage, lighting, and safety measures along the downtown stretch of the Chuctanunda Creek Trail to enable the district to serve as a tourist and recreation destination, and to link access to broader trail systems and amenities.
• Renovate the Samuel Sweet Canal Store: $275,000 toward a $688,120 project to transform the historic Samuel Sweet Canal Store into a tavern and gift shop to draw tourists and out-of-town patrons to the area and "further strengthen the growing food and beverage scene on the Southside." This project will include the conversion of the second floor into a tavern, addition of public sewer and water hookups, installation of a new roof, and construction of a parking lot.
• Relocate and Enhance the Amsterdam Skate Park: $93,000 to relocate the Amsterdam Skate Park through the construction of an improved facility adjacent to the proposed community and recreation center at 143 East Main St.
Hochul said she's the mother of a skateboarder and she believes giving the local skateboard community a place to congregate safely is an important strategy for limiting their use of public sidewalks.
• Construct a Waterfront Entertainment Destination: $60,000 to provide a new dock, boat lifts, and storage to a water ski show business relocating to the Amsterdam waterfront, where it will strengthen the area's tourist attraction in the summer and serve as a catalyst for future investment.
• Establish Design Guidelines to Create a Cohesive Downtown: $50,000 to establish design guidelines to ensure new development and renovation projects preserve and enhance the downtown character, creating an aesthetically coordinated district and encouraging future investment. The guidelines will address facade improvements, signage regulations, lighting, landscaping, and beautification projects.
Ossenfort, an Amsterdam native, spoke at the presentation, showing his emotions when he spoke about the potential impact of the recreation center and the other projects.
"It's about storefronts, and making things look better, but it's also about changing people's lives. Sports, athletics, for me, were a big deal," he said. "I lean on a lot of the lessons I learned being a teammate on the football and basketball teams. To offer [this recreation center] to people who are dealing with generational poverty, who don't have a good example at home, to have [Central Civico] be a partner in this, and to give people a place where they can change their lives — that's what it's all about."