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Amsterdam to create downtown guidelines for the first time

Amsterdam to create downtown guidelines for the first time

City applies for $9.8 million worth of grants
Amsterdam to create downtown guidelines for the first time
Looking east on Main Street in downtown Amsterdam on Tuesday.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

AMSTERDAM -- City officials said a $50,000 project to establish design guidelines for downtown Amsterdam will likely be one of the first of the 15 projects funded through the state's Downtown Revitalization Initiative. 

Amanda Bearcroft, Amsterdam's director of community and economic development, said the state sets the timetable for when the contracts will be given out for each of the projects being funded through the $9.7 million remaining in the DRI grant. She said three state agencies — the Department of State, Department of Homes and Renewal and the Empire State Development Corp. — will be awarding each of the component project grants. 

"Each project is being treated like its own separate grant," Bearcroft said. "The design guidelines seem like they'll be an easy leap. Probably the [$600,000] Downtown Improvement Fund or the [$500,000] Wayfinding, marketing, artwork project, those seem like they could be an easy leap as well. I feel like they will be the fastest, but it will really depend on which state agency is giving out which grant, and how long the paperwork will take."

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on July 25 which projects would be funded among the 20 proposals Amsterdam submitted to the state in March, the culmination of rapid process that began when Amsterdam was chosen as the third Mohawk Valley region city to receive the DRI grant in September 2018. 

Some of the major DRI projects include $2.5 million toward a $6 million project to build an east end recreation center, $1.8 million toward a $4.3 million project for a business incubator and STEM education center at the Amsterdam Free Library, and $1 million toward a $2 million project to rehabilitate the Key Bank building into a mixed-use building.

Bearcroft said she's hopeful the Downtown Improvement Fund will be established by the fall. She said it will fund building improvements, including facade projects and deferred maintenance that can't be funded through other state programs. She said the fund will operate on a 50/50 matching grant system, and will spend down the grant on a first-come, first-serve basis until the money's gone. 

"There will be a committee where people will have to put in applications and they'll decide it. I'll be on that committee, likely the chair," she said. "This money will go fast, so we're thinking it will be more smaller projects, like a $50,000 roof repair, with $25,000 coming from the applicant in a match." 

Bearcroft said she is hopeful the downtown design guidelines will be completed before the Downtown Improvement Fund starts paying out grants. 

"Then we'll be going off those design guidelines, and we can say 'Great, you want to get your roof done? Now you're going to go off the design guidelines we just came up with.' Now, everyone will have the same kind of cohesive signage, bring back the brick, bring back the right color scheme. Not one person with a really great inlaid wooden sign, then a person with a metal sign, or a plastic sign," she said. 

Mayor Michael Villa said he's hopeful the state will start issuing the contracts for the DRI projects soon, because the state wants the projects finished within approximately two years. He said Amsterdam is in desperate need of design guidelines for its downtown. 

"You don't want new businesses coming in continually with different sets of rules, so we need to change them now," Villa said. "We'll work with our Zoning Board, our Planning Board, everyone has to be on board with this. [Bearcroft] will have an advisory board that will make recommendations, and make sure we adhere to whatever the changes are that we outline and establish, and that we don't stray from it. ... You just don't want something that doesn't fit the neighborhood." 

Bearcroft said she's hopeful the new design guidelines will include rules for signage, awnings and lightings. "Things that are easy to do, but bring up the appeal of a sidewalk way more. A think a better color scheme for buildings that are downtown, because they are historic, would be good. Nothing crazy, or too strict like Saratoga or Ballston Spa, but at least to have something in place, especially for people renovating," she said. "I don't think we have any rules today. If you wanted to paint a building turquoise, you could paint the building turquoise."

Bearcroft said she recently completed proposals for $4.5 million in additional state funding through the New York state Consolidated Funding Application grant process. She said the state is more likely to issue economic development grants that will in essence "double down" on the money the state is spending for Amsterdam's DRI grant projects.

These are the new state grant proposals submitted by Bearcroft: 
• $200,000 for a Micro Enterprise Fund to assist small businesses and startup businesses within Amsterdam. 
• $250,000 for the Chuctanunda Creek Trail and Powerhouse Stabilization Project aimed at reusing the existing abandoned Mohasco Powerhouse as part of the city's existing Chuctanunda Creek Trail. Total project cost is $338,000. 
• $1.86 million for the Amsterdam Free Library Renovation & Expansion project to create a new business incubator and STEM education facility. Total project cost $4.3 million. 
• $500,000 for an East Main Street Community Center Anchor Project, including rehabilitation of 149 East Main St. for use as a community center. The Boys and Girls Club of the Capital Area will run and maintain the community center in partnership with Centro Civico. Total project cost $1 million. 
• $1.2 million for the Community Center and Recreation Center Project. $6 million total project cost.  
• $50,000 for Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, includes updating the city's 26-old-plan to address the needs and objectives of the city.
• $100,000  for an Amsterdam Sustainable Comprehensive Plan, which includes the creation of a comprehensive plan for the city that incorporates sustainability and climate change concerns within the municipality. Total project cost $200,000. 
• $413,120 for Sweet Canal Store Restoration Project, includes renovation of this historic building to accommodate a tavern and retail space. The project would complete the conversion of the building’s second floor into a tavern space, add public sewer and water hookups, install a new roof, and construct a parking lot. Additionally, the first floor will be converted into a retail space. Total project cost $688,120. 
Bearcroft said Amsterdam has also applied for a $5.3 million federal U.S. Department of Transportation grant to fund building a Pedestrian Connector to connect the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge to downtown Main Street.

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