The Mohawk Valley Gatewak Overlook pedestrian bridge was officially opened to the public yesterday. A ribbon cutting ceremony by the south entrance to the bridge marked the occasion. The event featured speeches by New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Congressman Paul Tonko, State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort, Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa, and Canal Corporation directors Bill Finch and Brian Stratton.
Also represented at the event were members of the Amsterdam Common Council and the Fulton Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, as well as several former Amsterdam mayors. The Amsterdam Marching Rams led a procession from the north side of the river that include local veterans and other officials. Reverend Robert De Martinis began the ceremony with a prayer.
The 30 foot wide bridge spans 511 feet over the Mohawk River and connects Riverlink Park on the north shore of the river and Bridge Street on the south shore. It features numerous trees and flower plantings, as well as historical and cultural information engraved into the decking and on plaques along the railings.
Saratoga Associates, of Saratoga, NY provided the architectural design for the bridge, which won the 2016 Engineering Project of the Year award from the Capital District Chapter of the New York State Society of Professional Engineers. Ammann & Whitney was the Engineer of Record for the project, MJ Engineering and Land Surveying was the civil engineer and surveyor, and D.A. Collins was a major construction contractor.
The story of the creation of the bridge began back in 2003, when the project was suggested in the City of Amsterdam’s Comprehensive Plan. $16.5 million in funding for the project was included in the 2005 Transportation Bond Act which was endorsed by George Pataki, governor at the time, and approved by New York State voters.
Locally, the project has been a controversial topic. In 2007, both the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency and the Amsterdam Common Council passed resolutions calling on state lawmakers and the Canal Corporation to redirect the funds for the bridge to infrastructure improvement projects, demolition, establishing a railroad quiet zone and other economic development projects.
Joe Emanuele, who was mayor at the time and is a current member of AIDA, said in regards to the grant money, “We’re just asking the legislature to reconsider… we’re not refusing it, but asking if we can redirect funds to more needy projects.”
State Assemblyman George Amedore said at the time, “A pedestrian bridge will not bring economic growth to Amsterdam.”
In 2009, a petition was circulated which called for the funds to be redirected to projects such as a walkway between Guy Park Manor and Riverlink Park, or adding pedestrian access to the existing Lock 11 bridge.
Ann Thane, who was mayor at the time, advocated for the continuation of the project and said “I think that the city has a tremendous gift here and this is going to be a wonderful economic development driver.”
Carmella Mantello, who was director of the Canal Corporation at the time said a redistribution of the funds wasn’t possible.
Construction of the bridge began in June 2014. Due to increased construction costs, several artistic elements originally planned for the bridge were excluded from the project: a circular compass design, a reproduction of the “Wheel of Life” mosaic, lettering on the sides of the bridge, engravings on the deck, historical and cultural markers, and two large statues at both entrances to the bridge.
The city received a $325,000 state grant in December 2014 to add in all the features except the two large statues. However, the common council declined to approve for borrowing matching funds required by the grant. State Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara announced in June 2015 that the city would receive a $1 million grant from the state to cover the artistic elements without any matching funds required. A separate grant was later obtained to meet the matching requirement of the first grant. With the extra funds, the city is planning to work with local artists to add the two large statues as well as bathroom facilities and other amenities.
In his speech at the event, Mayor Michael Villa credited Cogressman Paul Tonko for spearheading project, Santabarbara, and former mayor Ann Thane and Historian Rob von Hasseln, who were both involved with the design of many of the interpretive elements displayed. He also thanked the “unsung heros” of the Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation, as well as the many residents who gave advice on the design of the bridge at public input sessions.
Villa said that the city plans on hosting a grand celebration in Spring 2017, when the additional statues, “Wheel of Life” mosaic, and other amenities are planned to be completed.
Excerpts from the speeches given at the event:
Mayor Michael Villa
Welcome to what the central summarizing display on the overlook calls, “what once was home is home again, my Amsterdam”….This once was home to many different people, who left their mark, now it’s ours. And tomorrow it could be yours also. Although the examples are from Amsterdam, the story is really that of the whole Mohawk Valley…
Today we are not just looking back at our history but to our future. Based on studies of the very few comparable locations, this will become a significant economic driver here and throughout the valley…
But it is also part of a larger idea. A new north-south access to replace the east-west downtown core that was lost to urban renewal. I see a new heart of Amsterdam, which extends from the armory of Via Ponte, across the MVGO and through a re-located train station to an old town district and up a re-connected Market Hill, with radial arms along both waterfronts and into the East End.
No it won’t happen overnight…but each step brings us back to what we were and should always be: the urban center of the lower Mohawk Valley. Once, everyone came here to mill lumber and grain and to work in the mills. Now they will come for specialty shopping, dining, nightlife, attractions, and recreation. This is not just good for the city, but for the region. The region that rejects sprawl and seeks to preserve it’s rural and natural character.
But if we don’t stay the course, if we can’t see the future, if we nitpick every building block in this process out of context, then we will not move forward. Amsterdam’s history was never just straight up and straight down, it’s cyclical. Someday our descendants will see this as an important day in the latest upswing.
Invite your friends to see and share what you experience here today. Show them why you are proud to be an Amsterdamian living in the Mohawk Valley.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul
This downtown can come back. I really feel it, I feel the energy here and you’ve got the potential…
What [Governor Andrew Cuomo] wants us to do is reverse 30-50 years of neglect where all the attention in the state of New York was in New York City because that’s where the votes were, the political clout, in Albany. So you have a governor, who interestingly, is from New York City, who comes up-state and holds a mirror up to us and says look how beautiful you are. Look at the potential of these charming canal side communities. Yes, our history was based in carpets and manufacture, and many people came here because of that – I know it’s gone, I’m from Bethlehem Steel area, we lost 20,000 jobs in one day, my dad’s included. I know what that’s like…
But our governor believes that if we continue to make strategic investments in places [in] Upstate New York, we can come back…
We are on the cusp of great things for your incredible hometown that I know that you are so proud of.
Congressman Paul Tonko
I’m thinking of names like Dan Sitler, from Saratoga Associates who almost adopted this town as his home. Dan is in another world I am sure smiling down on the efforts we’ve achieved. He was part of that vision, sitting down and etching out what we could do by a series of visioning sessions that were conducted in this community – one by the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor, and one by the City of Amsterdam. And…not surprisingly, those sessions said the same thing. You need to connect neighborhoods…you need to celebrate your diversity…and the secret there is to celebrate our diversity, not deal with it, celebrate it, it is our strength, it is our mosaic that labels us so powerfully well.
Create greater access to the waterfront, create some sort of traversing, if you will, of the natural waterway and historic waterway at that. And making certain that you provide for strengthening the community and enabling it to be community space. So from there drove, from the ground up, the spirit of a pedestrian bridge.
And I’ll have you know that this pedestrian bridge stretched itself from it’s conception to today, from being a Mohawk Valley gateway overlook to a park on the river. So it’s got a lot of labels in its short existence as an idea, to this present moment of a ribbon cutting. But it is a powerful statement of what people can engage in as a project to show growth and to show life…this bridge expresses growth, belief, a spirit of can-do and a redefining of the core fabric of us.
All photos by Tim Becker, except for those by Jay Towne as noted.