Approximately 28 people attended a public meeting at City Hall on Wednesday to discuss the best use of $635,000 in grant money available for use to enhance the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge in the City of Amsterdam.
Half the funds originate from a grant the city received back in December 2014 from the New York State Department of State which required matching funds in order to utilize. In October 2015, the city was awarded a grant from the New York State Department of Transportation which will serve as matching funds for the original grant. The total amount supplements another $1 million grant from the NY State Assembly, which will be used to add artistic elements and historical markers to the deck of the bridge.
Community and Economic Director Robert von Hasseln facilitated the meeting and distributed a compilation list of nearly 70 different ideas and comments collected from residents since the last meeting in October. According to von Hasseln, the goal of the first several meetings is to collect ideas and comments from residents as well as answer questions. He said the next step was to prioritize the ideas and come up with actual cost estimates, culminating in a recommendation as to what projects to pursue next.
Referring to the pages of ideas, von Hasseln said, “There are so many ideas…you have to have a way to triage it, to prioritize it, to think logically about it.”
Von Hasseln then suggested that residents first think about “what was not in the original design, but should have been, because it will make for a positive visitor experience. Remember, first impressions are priceless.”
He also suggested residents think in terms of ideas that would maximize return visits, as well as ideas that would lower the future costs of maintaining the bridge.
Having a permanent building for tourist information and restrooms was one issue that was already on the list, but was suggested by several people at the meeting to be a first priority.
Alderman Elect Jim Martuscello said, “I think that visitors center and those bathrooms are imperative and they should be there the day that bridge opens up.”
“First day is going to be like Spring Fling, you’re going to have to have porta-potties probably,” said von Hasseln.
Von Hasseln said once the initial surge of visitors die down, that he estimated and average of 8 to 12 visitors would pass through the waterfront area per hour, and therefore restroom facilities wouldn’t need to be large in size.
Some residents asked if the Chalmers property was suitable for either a visitor’s center and bathrooms or for other uses such as an RV park or camping facilities.
“It’s an interesting question. I’m not sure that the Chalmers site is a good location for a permanent visitor’s center because there are many other higher use purposes that it could go for. But there are other locations on both the north or south shore that could be suitable for a visitor’s center.”
Mayor Ann Thane said tax revenue generating projects should be the focus for use of the Chalmers property.
“If we build something there, that we’ve talked about, a mixed use building with commercial and residential, it could generate $2 million a year in tax revenue and fees,” said Thane.
Michael Cinquanti advocated for creating a New York State walk of fame which would feature notable people from NY State.
“I think the bulk of the money should be spent enhancing the tourist attraction of the bridge. We need people to come there first. I think it’s very important that we widen the scope of the theme. A state walk of fame would do that,” said Cinquanti. “The nice thing about a state walk of fame is that you can extend it to where you want the people to walk. So you could start on Bridge Street and you can keep it going until you get to the waterfront.”
Cinquanti also said an induction ceremony would also serve as an attractive event to bring in people from around the state.
Alice Manzi, the artist who created the painted rock sculpture at Riverlink Park, proposed capitalizing on the sculpture and thinking of it as a destination for people visiting the bridge.
Manzi said her studio was eager to work with the city again on future projects. “We’d like to be considered for any of the sculptures or artistic elements here, and we’d like to continue our support for the city,” she added.
Other ideas proposed at the meeting included a live internet webcam for people to see views from the bridge area, an informational website, and free wi-fi for visitors. Residents also discussed the possible need for planning committee for events and future projects related to the bridge, as well as the possibility of additional staff for security and maintenance, or for the visitor’s center. Additional public art pieces, camping facilities, an art gallery, handicap accessible fishing, and a dog park were other ideas mentioned.
Von Hasseln said he hoped that at future meetings, residents could begin to narrow down the list of ideas. He said the next meeting was scheduled tentatively for December 17.