The start of work on the pedestrian bridge is key to getting potential developers for the old Chalmer’s site to take Amsterdam seriously, according to an account by Director of Community and Economic Development Robert von Hasseln. He talked about this and other areas where he was working to promote economic development in the city with the common council at last Wednesday’s budget review meeting.
Von Hasseln said that last year when he put out a request for proposals for development on the land where the old Chalmers building once stood, he only got one credible proposal and it was for low-income housing.
“I told the former common council, you can’t have low-income housing on the riverfront at the end of Bridge St. with the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook,” said van Hasseln. He then went back to some of the other developers to ask them why they didn’t submit proposals for market value housing.
Van Hasseln said their reply was, “Because we don’t think you’re ready for prime time yet. We don’t believe you. You say [the pedestrian bridge] will get built, but we hear the chatter – people don’t want it, people want [the money] used for something else.”
“We saw Chalmers yes, Chalmers no. We saw C&D landfill yes, C&D landfill – you’re lucky you don’t get a bullet in the head.”
“They said to me – when the pilings go into the river for the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, then come back and see us and we’ll talk. So that’s another thing we’re working on.”
Von Hasseln also pointed out his success at finding new owners to take over the building that was being abandoned by America’s Best Value Inn. He said while the closing of the building was a couple of weeks behind schedule, that everything was still moving forward.
“The people at the hotel – the former owners – they literally wrote us a letter that said ‘we’re out of here’… the lawyers said they were going to throw the keys on the table, you can have the place for back taxes. And nobody…did anything except for me. I’m the guy who went out there and said to the brokers – give us some time, let me write 27 reasons why you should have a hotel in Amsterdam, let me get that out in national circulation. Then when the new owner came in, the first thing they did was they cut [a check for] a half a million dollars in back taxes for us.”
He went on to say that he did not believe rumors he had heard that the new owners were having difficulty securing the Hampton Inn brand were true.
He also addressed rumors that he had heard that the pedestrian bridge was over budget.
“Can’t be, it’s impossible, it’s a bond act,” he said, “Sixteen five [million dollars] is sixteen five. So if we want to get some of the things we thought we were going to have the money to do, we’ll have to raise it. We can’t go to you all for it. So we’re going to have to raise it privately or we’ll have to do without it.”
He said that there are two ornamental sculptures that are being planned for the bridge landings which would have to be funded via grants or other sources. He said that another project for the bridge was a “wheel of life mosaic” that would cost $225,000. He said that he was talking to a couple of different arts foundations that have supported similar projects for possible funding.
Finally, von Hasseln addressed a question about the plan to move the train station from its current location on the outskirts of the city on Route 5 to the downtown area.
“Moving this train station is going to have to go in several jumps…we’ll never be able to move the train station on our own,” said von Hasseln.
He said he was pursuing a “TIGER grant” (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) which is a very selective grant give out once a year by the US State Dept. of Transportation to communities in NY State.