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County-sponsored report identifies seven opportunities in Amsterdam area

A hotel and sports arena complex in the Town of Florida, renovating the old FGI building for apartments and business start-ups, as well as linking local agriculture to area schools and restaurants, are just a few of the ideas envisioned in the Amsterdam Area-Wide Opportunity Analysis. The report was commissioned last year by Montgomery County and completed by Vanderwall and Associates, Inc. Recently, I was able to review the report as well as discuss it, in-person and via email, with several county and city officials.

Vanderwalle and Associates based their recommendations on existing local and regional plans (such as the city’s comprehensive plan, the Mohawk Valley regional plan, and the county’s branding study), as well as their own views on emerging trends in New York State, and their own observations made during a site visit.

Here is a summary of the seven areas outlined in the report with several of the specific action items (referred to in the report as “first steps”) that stood out to me, with some edits for clarity or conciseness. If you are interested in reading all the ideas, please download the full report in .pdf format.

  1. Historic Main Street Culinary and hospitality district – energizing areas and destinations around the pedestrian bridge

    • Redevelop the Chalmer’s site for higher-end apartment housing and restaurants
    • Move Amtrak train station to riverfront location
    • Explore the addition of marina/transient docking access on south side
    • Develop and fund a culinary/hospitality district.
    • Add a commercial kitchen/food hub for local food product developments
  2. Chuctanunda Falls district – repositioning Chuctanunda Falls for tourism and branding
    • Open up Chuctanunda Creek where it goes under historic main street buildings and consider open-air restaurants or cafes in those storefronts.
    • Consider “Chuctanunda Falls” as brand identity
    • Enhance pedestrian alley behind historic main street to provide more access to creek
    • Identify locations for a “river-edge” path along Chuctanunda Creek and support walking tours.
  3. Upper falls historic mill district – catalyzing a creative and urban live/work district

    • Re-purpose FGI building as a catalytic redevelopment project with loft apartments and mixed-use, incubator and makerspace.
    • Establish better connections to FGI building from the historic Main Street district by re-establishing the street grid pattern on Market Street and pedestrian pathway along Chuctanunda Falls.
    • Create plaza and infrastructure to connect Clock Tower and FGI properties
    • Explore NY Prize to create a micro-grid district
  4. East Main Street riverfront district – filling a walk-able employment district with growing businesses
    • Develop opportunities for property ownership for small businesses and start-ups
    • Re-establish more of a street grid to increase access to the riverfront
    • Develop expanded parking opportunities by freight house/Riverfront park
    • Renovate “mall” property to open-air shopping with drive-thru arterial that reconnects the “mall” to East Main Street.
  5. Health/wellness district and uptown commercial center – positioning as a healthy city for top health care workers and seniors.

    • Identify more business/corporate opportunities on cross-streets with Highway 30 for business expansion and development
    • Consider infill housing apartments or senior living along Highway 30
    • Develop additional branding initiatives around the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course by reclaiming its premeir heritage as a “Robert Trent Jones” golf course
    • Bolster housing and entertainment opportunities in the region to attract top talent in health care, medical, and associated information technology
  6. I-90 corridor tournament sports center site – showcasing the region with a high visibility regional tournament sports center

    • Recruit developer for a tournament sports center in Town of Florida (on property previously consider for casino development)
    • Develop project concept to include retail, hotels, sports focus areas, operating plan, theming, and experience programming
    • Identify opportunities for new housing development
  7. Regional Agricultural and food economy – growing a robust regional food economy

    • Encourage agriculture specialty crop production
    • Support a producer initiative tied into the culinary district, including elements such as farm markets and community gardens
    • Integrate “farm to fork” system into local schools and institutions (ie school and hospital cafeteria offerings centered on local food)
    • Develop more agricultural/food system initiatives such as a restaurant loan program to help give new restaurants best chance at success
    • Develop incentives program foor the culinary district in downtown Amsterdam to attract new restaurants, bakeries, chocolatiers, butchers.

I asked Montgomery County Business Center CEO Ken Rose to what degree the ideas in the report will influence his department’s actions and priorities.

He replied, “I do strongly feel that there are opportunities identified within the document that are worth consideration and could be focused on now and in which some already are.”

As a first step, Rose said he would be reviewing the report with the City of Amsterdam’s elected officials to get their thoughts and input.

“I would then hope that they would provide this to the steering or ad-hoc committee that will be working on the update to the City of Amsterdam Comprehensive Plan. Obviously, we would respect whatever direction those entities and groups want to take as it relates to the opportunities presented in the analysis,” wrote Rose.

Montgomery County Economic Development Specialist Danielle Whelly said that she has had at least one recent meeting with Mayor Michael Villa in regards to the report.

“We reviewed the items and spoke briefly about strategies, as well as solidifying a concrete plan for economic development and future growth. We would like to have strong documentation that addresses where we are going when it comes to initiatives and progress towards growth, allowing us to pass along a consistent and compelling message to potential investors. We want to show strategies that align with a clear vision and approach to increase credibility and enhance our marketing efforts,” wrote Whelly.

Whelly also said she has a meeting scheduled in April to begin the planning process for a  green-way recreation/exercise trail through the Chuctanunda area.

“[Mayor Villa] and I will be working with the City’s Recreation Department, HAL, the Preservation League of NY, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, Canal Corp., Paul Tonko’s office, and the Chamber of Commerce to begin to move forward with these plans.  It is an exciting initiative and it’s great to have the support from these organizations when helping our community grow,” wrote Whelly.

One of the big ideas that stood out to me in this report was the suggestion of a large sports and hotel complex to be developed on in the Town of Florida, just off the thruway exit, on the land that was being considered by casino developers. I asked Villa if he thought this development could potentially conflict with the efforts to build a recreation center and attract a hotel developer to the city.

“I think it would, I do, even though it’s separate and distinct,” said Villa. “My interests are in the city. I want a hotel on the Chalmer’s site. I think if we don’t get that accomplished, I’d consider it a failure on my part. I really think that we have to have it.”

He added, “In all actuality, any development around us is going to be good. But we need some for ourselves.”

In regards to whether the sports complex idea would conflict with the proposed city rec center, Villa said, “It depends on how you distinguish what you’re going to do with a rec center.”

Villa suggested that if the Town of Florida facility concentrated on indoor soccer or baseball, for example, the city’s could concentrate on another area such as indoor basketball. Villa added that given both the Chalmers property and the Town of Florida property are near the Thruway exit, there will always be some competition for developers between the two areas.

In regards to the tournament/hotel complex, Rose wrote, “This is what would I would call the big bold idea found within the analysis. This potential opportunity would be several years in the making, if it is even deemed feasible. There would be many first steps, the most important of which would be to have discussions with the Town of Florida and them being acceptable to this type of development. Currently, most of the site is located in the Town of Florida is zoned agricultural and these types of uses are not even allowed. Secondly, there would need to be further detailed market analysis done in relation to the idea. These market studies would need to be funded by some entity.”

Rose added, “While I personally like the idea, because it would provide the county and city with a very strong ‘destination attraction’, before anyone could fully support the concept, the two previously mentioned steps would need to be followed through on.”

After reading through the report just recently, Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency Director Jody Zakrevsky wrote, “It is nice to first see that the report recognizes the importance of what we have been and are currently working on here in the city.”

Zakrevsky mentioned the inclusion of ideas such as focusing on downtown as a historic district, redeveloping the Chalmer’s site, moving the Amtrak station to the downtown area, and adding more docking access on the South Side, as ones that the city has and will continue to work on.

Zakrevsky also wrote, “The report, however, doesn’t go into any detail with respect to either the market potential for some of the things they are proposing, nor funding opportunities. How they could be accomplished, and who should take the lead in their implementation. Given that Amsterdam is fiscally constrained, this is rather important.”

Similarly, Rose also wrote, “There are many ideas identified and due to limited financial and human capital it will be important to identify priorities through an objective process and then concentrate on those priorities. Implementing what has been articulated in the document will take community stakeholders (agencies, constituents, community groups, etc) working in concert with each other for the betterment of the Amsterdam area.”

Both Rose and Zakrevsky agreed that targeting specific blighted areas should be another priority, especially in and around sites that have the potential to attract developers.

In my view the report is useful in that it suggests several new ideas we haven’t heard before, while at the same time it pulls together specific projects and broad ideas already expressed in other documents and groups them into “areas”. It paints a “mid-level” picture that helps us imagine what the future of Amsterdam could be like in somewhat finer detail than we’ve seen before. However, there are still many details to be filled in. Any one of the report’s recommended “first steps” need to be broken down into several more steps in order to see any progress. Some of the ideas presented in the report are already in progress. However, for some of the new ideas put forth, it remains to be seen who will take the lead and move forward with tangible steps.

About Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of AnthemWebsites.com LLC which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.

8 Responses to County-sponsored report identifies seven opportunities in Amsterdam area

  1. Is this the same report that we worked on a year or so ago?

    As far as the Chalmers site, a hotel is an option. I think elected officials should analyze how the city would be best served: hotel or multi-use development (commercial, professional, residential). What will garner the most benefits to the physical environment and financially? More input is needed from the public.

    • Tim Becker says:

      The report is dated May 2015. I knew last year it was going to be released at some point, but I did not learn that it had been completed until recently.

  2. Pingback: County Report Highlights Opportunities Lost in the City of Amsterdam – Flippin' Amsterdam

  3. Steven says:

    C&D landfill, tucked away in that back waste land area, good opportunity for some extra capital to push into streetscape improvements. Build a little village in the center of that willow st. area with the Rao Center as a hub.

  4. Steven says:

    The sports complex seems like a hail mary though. Just like casino. Better to concentrate development in the urban core. If you want to start a campfire, you concentrate on the center, build a nucleaus, a bit sheltered from the wind, not try to light up bits of leaves way far off. so to speak

  5. Rogo says:

    Another fantasy. Until we, as in the county get rid of section 8 tenants we are dead. They have a card that is only taken by walmarts price chopper and conveniot stores. not local business and restaurants. The county has to stop this by what ever means necessary!! Are you listening Matt?? Oh county found lotts of money for raises!!!!!!

    • Tim Becker says:

      So can you explain exactly how getting rid of “section 8 tenants” (aka “those people”) is going to magically improve our economy? Especially given the fact that section 8 is funded by the Federal government, not the county government? Of course, you are also mixing terms confusingly, as many others often do. Section 8 is for housing, the cards you are talking about are a completely different program.

      According to this report you are essentially calling on primarily the elderly, the disabled, and working-poor, to leave the county. Did you know that?

      Now I would say that 1) being that medicaid (which people receiving housing assistance are probably more likely to receive) is funded by the county, less people on medicaid in the county could help relieve some of the tax burden and 2) chronic dependency on government programs is not good for anyone. I want to see people get off public assistance just as much as anyone else.

      But scapegoating poor people, many of whom are actually working minimum wage jobs and still qualify for benefits, or others, such as the elderly and those who are legitimately disabled, is not the solution. If simply removing poor people from an area created economic growth, NY City and other major cities where economic development flourishes, wouldn’t exist, all of which have significant poverty rates as well.

      The solution is to work to improve the economy so that people have jobs so they can get off public assistance. Yes, there are those who cheat the system and will refuse to work no matter what, but I do not believe that accurately characterizes all “section 8” recipients. I think the statistics bear that out.