City receives funding for bridge historical markers and artwork

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara announced Sunday at a press conference held on Bridge Street in Amsterdam, that by working with local officials and state agencies, he has secured $1 million in funding to complete the installation of historical markers and artwork on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge. Since it’s initial approval by a state-wide referendum in 2005, the items had been cut due to increases in construction costs over the years which would have put the project over budget.

The city received a $325,000 grant from NY State in December 2014 for the additional items, however the grant required matching funds from the city to use. Recently, the Amsterdam Common Council voted to table a resolution sponsored by Mayor Ann Thane which would have approved borrowing to match the grant. The next scheduled council meeting in June 16, which would be one day past the deadline to make engineering decisions on the engraved decking for the bridge.

According to a press release from Santabarbara’s office, the funding comes from “a pool of available state funds allocated specifically for waterfront projects, like the pedestrian bridge.”

Thane said later that it may be possible to re-purpose the $325,000 grant. However, matching funds from the city would still be required.

Santabarbara was joined by Thane and several other public figures, including Congressman Paul Tonko, Fulton Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President Mark Kilmer, Montgomery County Legislator John Duchessi, and business owner and former Amsterdam mayor Paul Parillo.

Below are excerpts from some of the speakers at the event.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara

We’re here today to talk about the bright future for the City of Amsterdam, and actually for the entire region. In recent years we’ve witnessed the recovery of this community, with the developments to the harbor, upgrades to the South Side, and investment we’ve seen in downtown Amsterdam. But most importantly, we’re here to talk about the vision for the future of Amsterdam, and a major part of that vision is right behind us, the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook project that’s under construction. Not only is this symbolic of our rich and vibrant history, but also our exciting future. It is a once in a lifetime endeavor that will help drive this city forward.

As your Assemblyman, I am committed to our Amsterdam community and this region and I want to insure the success of this project. To make sure it’s not just a bridge but rather a park over the river, a park in the sky; something that is going to be a regional destination that thousands will come to visit; part of a long-term plan to develop Amsterdam’s waterfront. I am proud to join with our partners here today to deliver that much-needed funding we’ve heard about, to see this project to completion as initially intended. It took all of us together to fight for it and we won a grant which will allow this bridge to be completed as it was initially envisioned for the City of Amsterdam. This vision has the potential to transform not only this city but this region, by attracting thousands of people, by generating millions through local spending, and creating new jobs. It is scary how close we came to missing this mark, in fact tomorrow was the deadline to secure the funds to complete this project. It couldn’t have come one moment sooner.

Congressman Paul Tonko

This is a great celebration for a great sense of spirit that exists in this community. This is a tribute to the people of this great valley, this great county and this great community of Amsterdam. Nearly twenty years ago, in fact greater than that, the community came together through various envisioning sessions. We talked about the strength of this community. We are united by a historic water channel, which makes this a very proud and historic community. So, in those envisioning sessions, not surprisingly, the residents who love this town, this region and valley so much said “let’s pursue a better connection of neighborhoods. Let’s pursue advanced use of our water channel. Let’s be able to traverse that wonderful channel of history. Let’s celebrate our growing diversity by expressing our growing mosaic that is part of our history and heritage; the journey’s that brought our ancestors to this place we call home.”

And it was there those ancestors, immigrants many times, created and tethered their American dream. They ascended that economic ladder to success and they prepared that pathway for their children and grandchildren. That’s what we will honor with this wonderful sense of destination. It will be an expression of history and heritage. And it was how it was intended, because the community designed this concept and the leaders moved forward to make it happen. Various administrations of this city, representatives at the state any federal level did what they could to make it possible…So, this community, prepared and ready and envisioning this concept, had it all ready to go and were rewarded with that sixteen-plus million dollars. With time, with the delay in getting the structure done, and the inflationary spiral, we were short a bit.

So, today I want to thank Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara for picking up on the assembly’s efforts, where they planted the seeds for this structure and now the soulfulness, the mission of this concept is brought to funding completion. It will have the ability to be this destination, to be this park on the river, be this classroom space, be this museum space…It will tell generations from now, that we, in this moment in time, revered, respected and saluted our ancestors…That we say thank you to our ancestors for tethering their American dream; for working their fingers to the bone so that we, in this generation, could have a better quality of life. That is the expression that is honored here today.

Mayor Ann Thane

On behalf of the city of Amsterdam and Mohawk Valley region, I’d like to thank Assemblyman Angelo Santa Barbara, and the State Assembly, for this tremendously generous investment in our community. This is truly one of the most exciting developments in our recent past. This project crowns over two decades of hard work to revitalize our waterfront, and this allocation will ensure that this important economic development project is completely successful. Everyone here knows how personally invested I am in seeing that this project is fully dressed out, with all its bells and whistles, so that it serves as a destination for tourists as well as the center of a new, urban downtown in Amsterdam, that spans both sides of the river.

I am just one of many who have worked toward this act. Virginia Whelley wrote to me about this fifteen years ago, with her single-minded purpose and her apple pie. Doug Nadler, Paul Parrillo and John Duchessi showed me how to hang with something through tough times and little funding, because of their amazing vision for this waterfront, and because that propelled them to do so. Rob Spagnola has hammered out beautiful Riverlink Park back into shape after devastating destruction by flood, more than once. And Paul Gavry pushes on as President of the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation with exceptional patience and grit. He and his board have provided our community the beauty of music, under summer nights, for eight years. Of course, Historian and CEDD Robert von Hasseln has fought ceaselessly for preservation… and for restoration.

These are only a few of the folks, and I am looking out and there are so many of you and I always get lost in that, those deserving of recognition…To all of these agencies and volunteers, past and present, who have given of their time and talent to reenergize our little city, thank you all… We’re proud of our city and positive about our future. We’re here to let naysayers know that we’re moving forward despite negativity. There are many of us who are putting in sweat equity to make our dreams a reality, and it’s working. Today is great, but extraordinary triumph awaits us next spring when we unveil this beautiful, fully realized jewel on the Mohawk River. Thank you again for all who helped make this a reality. It’s your faith in our future that makes this work.

Fulton Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President Mark Kilmer

In this particular instance there is no end to the great things you can say. This isn’t a bridge, it’s a pedestrian walkway, it’s a museum, it’s a park on the river, and that is what is important. This is not a cost to the City of Amsterdam, this is an investment in the future of the City of Amsterdam. This is a legacy that will go on for generation to generation that will make this community proud and all the young people, who grow up in future generations in this community, proud to be living here. Those motorcycles driving by [on Rt. 30] next year, won’t be just driving by they will be pulling in and visiting us, and when they are done they will be visiting those restaurants and shops on [both sides] of the river.

This is an economic boost for everybody. And many of you may or may not know, the Chamber’s mission is economic development…and we believe that any type of driving force that can bring in enhanced economic vitality to a region is going to be a good thing…This isn’t just going to affect the citizens of Amsterdam, this is going to affect the entire region…This is going to draw from the tens of thousands of people who visit the shrine. How many of those people are not going to take the extra day and visit this waterfront park? It’s going to be immense. Those tens of thousands of people who drive by a half a mile away. Half a mile away is the exit to the Thruway, and the entrance to this city. How many people are now going to be inspired to come off and visit this city?

People now are going to be inspired to come off and visit this park. It is going to be a miracle; you will see those people. How many people will be traveling up the river on their boats? How many will be inspired to stop and stay here? We have a beautiful waterfront park, we have the South Side revitalized, we have Guy Park Manor starting to be rebuilt and come back to its former beauty, and I see interest in revitalizing downtown Amsterdam. And now we have a link, a connection; the piece of the puzzle that is going to revitalize Amsterdam. This city is going to feel it economically and they will feel it in their hearts too.

Business owner and former mayor Paul Parillo

As most of you know I have advocated for waterfront development for quite some time. I believe the Mohawk River is a tangible asset that has been underutilized as an economic tool for way too long…Most people don’t know, or in some cases refuse to believe, that there are thousands of boaters who pass through this community, and every other community along this river, every summer. By the way, Montgomery County hosts the longest stretch along the Mohawk River in our state.

Today’s announcement is good news for Amsterdam. The completion of this bridge and park over the river will attract visitors, and locals as well, to one of the most beautiful places in the city. It goes without saying that things like this don’t just happen by themselves. Congressman Tonko has worked hard for our city for decades, securing millions of dollars to help us clean up and beautify our waterfront.

Today Assemblyman Santabarbara joins forces and demonstrates his commitment to our community as well. If it were not for the congressman and the assemblyman our efforts to enhance our waterfront would be futile.

Mayor Thane has devoted an extraordinary amount of time to see this project through. When others said “it can’t be done, we’re out of money, it’s not practical, give it up,” the mayor said, we can do this, and we should do this.”

She has been called a dreamer and criticized for her all-too-positive, can-do attitude. But author Robin Sharmal says this: “Dreamers are mocked as impractical. The truth is they are the most practical, as their innovations lead to progress and a better way of life for all of us.” Thanks for being a dreamer, Mayor.

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.