City looks to design guidelines to improve downtown image

Owners of downtown Amsterdam properties looking to add or improve their exterior signage or renovate their building’s facades may soon be required to follow design guidelines that the city hopes will lead to a more coordinated downtown image. The Amsterdam Common Council passed a resolution at today’s meeting which authorizes the mayor to enter into a contract with Bergmann, an architectural, engineering, and planning consulting firm with an office in Albany, NY, to create the guidelines for the city.

The project is part of the city’s Strategic Investment Plan which is funded in part by a $10 million New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant awarded to the city in 2018. The resolution puts a cap on the contract at $50,000, which is the amount allocated for the project by the plan, and which will be reimbursed fully from the DRI grant.

The investment plan was written in 2019 by state-contracted consultants in cooperation with a local committee of community leaders and feedback from residents. According to the plan:

Currently there is little cohesion to the buildings or site development in downtown Amsterdam. Design guidelines would work to establish a set of high-quality and aesthetic standards to create a cohesive and attractive downtown…The guidelines will address facade improvements, signage regulations, lighting, landscaping, and beautification efforts to create a special coordinated character to the downtown.

Before the meeting, Community and Economic Development Director Amanda Bearcroft said the design guidelines will work hand-in-hand with the city’s proposed Downtown Improvement Fund, another project which will be funded in part by the DRI grant. The fund will provide matching grants to downtown small businesses looking to make exterior improvements.

“If you want to apply to the Downtown Improvement Fund, that’s great, we’ll help you do facade improvements, but you have to adhere to the design guidelines,” said Bearcroft.

According to Bearcroft, public input and feedback will be part of the process the consultant uses to create the guidelines. She added it will be up to the consultant to strike the right balance between preserving the historic character of downtown buildings, allowing a certain degree of variety, and keeping signage and exterior designs from clashing with each other.

Bearcroft said she expects the guidelines will be comprised of many visual examples, rather than lengthy text descriptions. In her view, the guidelines will ultimately help businesses because when too many signs compete for attention stylistically, the effectiveness of the signs are decreased.

“Everything stands out so nothing stands out,” she said.

The consultant will also be responsible for training city staff, the planning commission, and zoning board members on the guidelines once they are approved by the council and made part of the city’s code.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.