AMSTERDAM -- The American Planning Association has named the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge one of six public spaces to be added to its list of "Great Places in America," an award that raises the tourism profile of the bridge to national level.
Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa and Rob Spagnola, director of the city's Tourism, Marketing, and Recreation Department, attended the American Planning Association's awards ceremony Wednesday along with U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and state Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.
"This is a prestigious award," Villa said. "It's a nationwide award. Going back in history, there's been four previous [public] sites in New York state that have gotten this, so we're now categorized with Grand Central Station, Central Park, the Queens Botanical Gardens, and (Delaware Park) in Buffalo, so it's truly an honor to be here to represent the city."
APA’s Great Places in America program has been recognizing locations throughout the U.S. since 2007. The complete great places list now includes 303 neighborhoods, streets and public spaces and can be found on the organization's website www.planning.org. Each location on the Great Places list has a photo and a summary of the history of the site, including the planning that went into it and how the location fits into its community's plan for growth.
These were the other locations chosen for the list in 2019:
● Pioneer Park – Mesa, Arizona
● Neponset River Greenway – Milton and Boston, Massachusetts
● Governors Island – New York, New York
● Gathering Place – Tulsa, Oklahoma
● Discovery Green – Houston, Texas
"The public spaces recognized this year demonstrate the importance of planning in creating welcoming, multi-use spaces for the entire community to enjoy and to come together,” said APA President Kurt Christiansen. “The Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook is a national example of how planning connects residents with each other and with the shared history of their community.”
Amanda Bearcroft, Amsterdam's director of Community and Economic Development, said the bridge has helped to reconnect Amsterdam's southside with the rest of the city, and has proven itself to be a symbol of revitalization and Amsterdam’s rebirth.
“It is a prime example of how a gathering spot can completely transform an area towards great and positive change,” she said.
The overlook bridge was built using $16.5 million from the Renew New York Transportation Bond Act of 2005, secured largely though the effort of Tonko while he was serving in the state Assembly. The bridge has also received $1.65 million for artistic elements, culminating recently in the teal-painted 32-foot-high stainless steel sculpture "Dream River," the last of a trilogy of sculptures created for the bridge by artist Dimitar Lukanov.
The bridge officially opened on Aug. 31, 2016, during a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Tonko, Villa and many other local officials and dignitaries.
Prior to the bridge opening, however, the project was often maligned by critics as a "bridge to nowhere." Former Democratic Mayor Ann Thane, who Villa defeated in 2015, referenced the political fighting that led up to the creation of the bridge in a Facebook post Wednesday.
"All of the slings and arrows were worth it," Thane said. "Special thanks to Congressman Paul Tonko. Without his unrelenting determination, this bridge to the future never would have been built."
Villa's administration has embraced the use of the bridge as a central part of its tourism strategy, incorporating it into Amsterdam's #FestCityUSA events, including ItaliaFest, and the upcoming Oct. 5 Oktoberfest sponsored by MCT Federal Credit Union on Bridge Street. A walking tour of the southside entrance to the MVGO bridge will also occur at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 5.
The MVGO bridge also served as a gathering place for thousands of people who attended the Oct. 8, 2018, vigil held in honor of the 20 victims of the Schoharie limousine crash, many of whom were from Amsterdam.
Villa said he intends to continue working with Tonko and other elected officials to help secure $5.3 million federal U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD grant to fund building a pedestrian walkway to connect the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge to downtown Main Street. He said he believes the APA designation will help those efforts.
"Anytime you get something that gains you national attention it's going to garner interest from our state representatives to continue to see us grow and to continue to grow around this great pedestrian structure and to continue to do the things that we have been doing, which is having great events, opening up this public space and marketing it," he said.
The American Planning Association is encouraging people to suggest their favorite public space, neighborhood, or street to earn a "People’s Choice" designation. Throughout October, individuals can offer suggestions via APA’s social media channels using the hashtag #APAgreatplaces. APA will select five finalists that the public can vote on via APA’s website. The APA “People’s Choice” winner will be announced on Oct. 30, to culminate National Community Planning Month.