Mighty Waters Symposium highlights waterfront efforts

The Mighty Waters Symposium, sponsored by the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council, was held last Wednesday, May 14th at the United Presbyterian Church in Amsterdam.

It was a gathering of public officials representing areas in the Mohawk Valley as well as leaders of private sector revitalization groups. The agenda for the day included presentations about the Mighty Waters Initiative, New York Rising and the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook. Here are some selected excerpts of the day’s presentations.

On the subject of Amsterdam’s waterfront, Mayor Ann Thane said to the attendees, “If you can get here, especially those not from our community, it really is one of the prettiest waterfronts in New York.” She then introduced Robert van Hasseln, Amsterdam’s Director of Community Economic Development who spoke about the importance of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Outlook:

I just finished writing a supplement to the Legislative Gazette, it’ll be coming out next week. I did an article pushing tourism, an article on housing, one going over business opportunities. I started off by saying that in 2017, when the city of London opens up it’s Garden Bridge, it will be like nothing the world has ever seen before, unless you have been in Amsterdam in 2016 when the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook opens up. It is a park over the water, with historical and cultural interpretation. It is a curved design…it will look over the river. You’ll be able to see where the Chuctununda Creek comes in. It will connect…to Riverlink Park…where we have that wonderful painted rock sculpture. It is a representation of one of only two Native American pictographs that were discovered in New York. They used to be located right along the banks of the Mohawk here. It is now destroyed, it was submerged by the canal, and we recreated it in sculpture form and that’s in the park.

I used the Mohawk Valley model, which the canalway developed…and I used a couple of national tourism models…[with] day visitors, overnights, incidentals, we’re talking about tens of millions of dollars of economic impact every year from this structure, and it’s not just for Amsterdam, because it’s the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook. Once you get here, we’re going to invite you to keep looking. Go to Fort Plain, go out to Nelliston, go to Fonda, go out to the Adirondacks. In fact, one of the things we try to pitch about Amsterdam is “Take a vacation from your vacation.” We’re at the center of everything. If you’re traveling that long corridor from Buffalo and beyond, New York to Montreal, stay here. It’s cleaner, it’s cheaper, it’s more convenient.

Fantastic project, fantastic economic driver. So come see the bridge and you won’t have to go to London to see theirs.

Hannah Blake of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor talked about the importance of coordinating regional efforts.

What I’m thinking through all this work is that it seems there are a lot of plans and a lot of great work that’s being done and it could be a little complicated to connect the dots…the way you are using the terms is connecting the dots using the resources of the applications, making sure that your work on the waterfront is connected to your Main St. work and those funding resources are connected together, which is all done through the regional economic development process and CFA, which is great. Our role is connecting the dots of the community. Not only encouraging us to talk with one another, but setting up cocktail parties to connect the dots, or little events, so that you’re talking about your projects together, and that they coordinate.

Blake went on to give examples of projects with good organizational structures such as the Historic Hudson-Hoosick Rivers Partnership and Western Erie Canal Alliance.

Congressman Paul Tonko talked about his early involvement in the Mighty Waters Initiative.

I want to thank everybody here for coming together…it’s so helpful for all the community action we require, in order to best tell the story and market our region to folks around the country. I’m convinced that in this very competitive sweepstakes for job creation, for landing jobs, as business and corporate types look at communities for investment, oftentimes there’s a tie-breaker situation. And we know what it takes. We know the tools in the kit, and it’s sound schools, good hospitals, quality of life programs, tax incentives, training programs for workers, community college activity, you name it. The tie breaker, oftentimes, can be quality of life.

I was sitting on a gem of a Hudson and Mohawk basin community, recognized around the world for being one of the most historic in the nation…and that hotbed of heritage and history needs to be incorporated into everything that we do. That’s why we set up the Mighty Waters Initiative, for what was the 21st Congressional District at the time. I now represent the 20th, which is a different construct, it starts moving heavily into Saratoga County. We unfortunately lost half of Montgomery, all of Fulton that we had and Schoharie. But both districts could speak to, not only what empowerment comes from having a natural resource (that being our waterways), but coupled with that, a historic resource that is powerful. And, to me, all of the work that we do should be interlaced. We should connect really well. The connectivity we have here is powerful. We are all chapters and when bound into a book we make the best statement…I am, through the auspices of the Mighty Waters Task Force, continuing to reach out to Federal agencies, a great number of them, because they all complement one another. And our visits are not like, here we are, we’ll let you know we exist. No, we’re coming back, time and time again, and we’re going to be that squeaky wheel. This has been an under served region of the state…We shouldn’t be abandoned. I’m not denouncing anything anybody got, but, it’s our turn to really build the sweepstakes.

After the program, Paul Beyer, Director of Smart Growth, NYS Department of State said that he was in charge of coordinating the Mighty Waters campaign and that he does the planning portion of the Regional Economic Council. He talked about the Mighty Waters Initiative.

Paul Tonko saw that there were all these projects – individual downtown projects – along the water in the Mohawk Valley, and he went to the state and asked if there was a way to link them up. So, it started with just the Mohawk, then the Capitol region wanted in too, because of the Hudson Basin. So we combined the two and what we have now is almost like a regional sustainability approach focused on redevelopment. So, it brings in all these different departments, not just the Department of State…we pull in the agricultural markets, energy, NYCERDA, Economic Development. Basically, it’s like you’ve got a “one stop shop.”

After the meeting, Thane said she was pleased with the turnout of the meeting, stating that it was greater than she anticipated.

Jay Towne

Jay Towne is a resident of Amsterdam, has published six books and is the writer and director of a radio drama, Any Good Thing, that currently airs on WOPG.