Chalmers: Now What?

I happened to catch Mayor Thane on the local airwaves this AM and as fate would have it, the topic turned to Chalmers. Paraphrasing here but the demolitionist-par-excellence host gushed something to the effect of: “Congratulations Mayor, Chalmers looks great!”

What followed from Mayor Thane was a pitch perfect rebuke of the ideology surrounding Chalmers demolition along with a likeminded rebuke of another demolitionist caller pining for the day Esquire is to be brought down. Paraphrasing again but the gist of the Mayor’s rebuke was that indeed Amsterdam turned away development and investment and in so doing, hurt our prospects for future development and investment.

I just love how a rubbled parking lot can look “great”. It’s the crowning achievement of the demolitionists to look upon rubble as greatness. Most communities look at actually building or constructing something as praiseworthy; not here, a simple pile of rubble will do.

While unfettered demolition and the rejection of residential development in the city — especially with the demise of Chalmers — cause me great angst, I find myself a bit giddy now that the demolitionists now utterly and completely own Chalmers.

You got what you wanted: Now What?

I know it’s impolite to press demolitionists just as they attain their climactic ecstasy of demolitionism at the site of a rubbled parking lot, but the question remains: Now What?

Once again, Mayor Thane provided some brilliant context for this predicament. While cities such as Schenectady and others have hundreds of thousands of dollars for marketing, our city has $7 thousand. While other communities recognize the importance of marketing, we literally reject it as a tactic. And while other communities have clear ownership of marketing and development, the best Mayor Thane can hope for — through no fault of her own — is a “discussion” with AIDA and the county.

Ah yes, AIDA marketing– the spawn of the demolitionists conceived on the sacred ground of every demolished site in the city who any day now, will drive marketing and development in the city. And of course, “the county” — the very agency to which AIDA subconmtracted its marketing only to be rebuffed when the county realized it had no budget to do the very marketing AIDA required. Don’t try to untangle the inhrent logic without consulting your physician.

It’s just wonderous to see the demolitionists succeed once again and crow of their success at achieving , from what I can tell, precisely nothing. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade.

But what the local airwaves teach you is that there is always so much more to tear down all the while wailing of excessive taxes as if the two are wholly compatible outcomes. If you believe you can spend millions of taxpayer dollars on demolition, reject outside development and investment and lower taxes, just keep tuning in — you’re their key demographic.

Me, not so much. I just see demolition and parking lots as symptomatic of a lack of growth symptomatic as a lack of strategy symptomatic of a failure to believe in a viable city.

But all this matters little, as the question on CHalmers remains: Now What?

17 thoughts on “Chalmers: Now What?

  1. My comments during the radio interview referenced the fact that Amsterdam’s Council turned away the $20,000,000 rehabilitation of Chalmers for political reasons. The developer was maligned and driven away. This forced the second developer that had begun planning for the Esquire Building rehab to write two scathing letters to the Council and take his money/expertise to another community. Let’s think what may have happened if the Chalmers Project had proceeded: 180 upscale lofts servicing the businesses of Bridge Street and 100 beautiful loft apartments across the street from Crystal Bar. My whole issue at the time was that there was no other plan set forward to justify turning successful developers away and no resources – marketing funds or staff – to attract new interest in a highly competitive economy. Now, in typical fashion, we have knocked it down, expecting developers to magically want to come here and build for no better reason than a dream.

    I had a constituent contact me with a suggestion to make the plot into a garden. Antoher suggested a volunteer committee be charged with marketing our city.

    The plot of land is too valuable to be converted to green space. We cannot afford the loss in revenues it can produce. It is prime property along the Mohawk River, minutes from rail and thruway. The economic impact of the Chalmers project would have been $890K in property taxes, $102K in water/sewer fees, $180K in sales tax, and $4.5M in spending ANNUALLY. That’s a lot of money to pay for potholes, water & sewer upgrades, fire/crime prevention, marketing and staff. How can we understand turning that project down for merely political reasons without putting forth another plan in its stead?

    Anyway, what is done, is done.

    We cannot compete with surrounding municipalities spending hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to promote themselves by asking volunteers to do the job. We must properly invest in our own growth. I suggest that everyone of you reading this contact your alderperson and let them know how important this is. We need a Community and Economic Development Department, not a dream.

  2. Ok the Chalmers is down, the contractor seems to be doing a great job of reducing the concrete to small enough pieces to use as backfill and base for whatever ends up there. So time to look forward carefully to what the property is used for next. What ever happens next should take productive discussion.

  3. I stumbled upon this blog today while googling Amsterdam during my lunch ….

    I am amazed at those in the council who rejected this offer. Let me explain myself for a moment. I am a graduate of AHS ( a mere 6 years ago ) i graduated in the top 5% of my class, went on to graduate in the top 1% of my college class… I spent my first years of employment with GE in Schenectady NY….. Now here is the great part, one would think with my entire family living in Amsterdam along with the amazing Municipal golf course ( that I come back to play ) I would have just lived in Amsterdam. After all its a quick 20 min drive with 0 traffic from Amsterdam to GE.

    However,,, where could I have possibly lived? I certainly wasn’t going to live in some 2 family home apartment on market street. I also wasn’t going to live in a complex 10 mins from the any major highway ( cedar crest).. Where did I end up living???

    Guess where, An old renovated warehouse turned into apartments in downtown Schenectady. I am the very demographic the council refuses to admit has a place in Amsterdam. I make a lot of money, far more than the average Amsterdam resident… I could have kept that money here. But the councils absolute inability to welcome young professionals to the area threw me out. ( I’m even a ‘native’ )

    Instead my golf membership, $1000+ in restaurant meals, gym membership, and everything else went somewhere else, where I was welcomed.

    No one with a decent job who is under the age of 28 has any desire to stay in Amsterdam, because we can’t. Plain and simple we cannot..

    I was part of a panel my senior year (5 seniors in the top of the class) where we spoke to the council and told them that we could never stay here. It simply did not allow for our demographic. We were basically scorned and laughed at. Arrogant they said. Yet 6 years later not a single one of us lives in Amsterdam. All of us our fully employed with amazing jobs, and will undoubtedly never be returning..

    I have since moved on from GE and now live in MA for an amazing opportunity. Guess where I live?? A 1500 sq foot luxury loft in a renovated mill building…..

    The council just doesn’t have a clue….. The Chalmers building itself isn’t the issue. The real issue at heart is the absolute insanity shown by AIDA and the common council to show any ability for reform and change. Who if any of the members of either board has any record of business success? I can think of no one

    Amsterdam Needs money, it has few leveragable assets. One of the few, its bright young people, have no choice but to leave. I experience nothing but sadness when I drive back to see my family and see nothing by a crumbled city that is no longer dying. It’s dead.

      • Karin,

        No need for tears. It is a time to celebrate!

        As Spring Fling approaches, let me offer you and the planning committee some event ideas to hold at the Chalmers site. Hopefully not too late but here goes:
        — Rubble Side Chat: pull up a lawn chair and share your favorite moments from the Chalmers demolition with the local editors and pundits.
        — LemonAIDA Stand: a sure crowd pleaser– serving the greatest lemonade ever but only after you wait in line for a few decades. But so worth it.
        — Whack-a-Developer: a fun game for the whole family; wack any out-of-town developer who pops up to win great prizes. But careful kids, if it’s a local developer, penalty points and reprimands from local politicians. No prize for you!
        –Demolition Zone: teach your kids valuable life lessons about their hometown in the demolition zone. Once your kids build their buildings and cities, prominent local leaders berate them for building something and immediately demolish it.
        –Dunk-the-Mayor: watch mayoral aspirants and their comrades hurl bricks from Chalmers to try and dunk Mayor Thane in the dunking booth. Before playing, please read the warning sign near the booth: Playing this game does not serve as a metaphor for opposing Chalmers redevelopment solely due to political aspirations and motivations of said players; any resemblance is wholly unintended; for entertainment purposes only.
        –The Chalmers Ball: triple entendre spectacle of Spring Fling. Join the key proponents of demolition as they host a spectacular gala on the Chalmers site. Dance all night under giant swinging balls commemorating the demolition of Chalmers. Truly a night to remember.

        So Karin, please cheer up. There is so much to celebrate. Can I buy you a lemonade?

    • Rug Money,

      On a serious note, compared to my response to Karin, let me offer a few comments:
      1) The modus operandi here is simply to ignore anything outside the borders of the 12010 zip code. So while you may preach on desirability of loft living and even point to trends/surverys bolstering that claim, as the information runs counter to what is here — there are no lofts and there are no youngsters– then that fact set simply does not exist. By their logic, if it is not here already, it cannot be here.

      Couple that with inherent distrust of any outside actors, you have a cultural mindset that festers and rots due to lack of any outside ideas. Sadly this is wholly intentional and self-induced and prized, not as a negative, but as a positive. So if you’re pushing new ideas, young ideas, you will be summarily dismissed. Familiar, no?

      A brilliant example of this comes from the business plan put forward by MBA students from Union College. I can attest that the recommendations were quite solid and deserved serious consideration but as they upset the status quo, the plan was buried — what do a bunch of elitist MBAs, punks, from Union know anyway? We know how to run a golf course. Familiar, no?

      2) As your experience demonstrates, the rhetoric surrounding attracting and retaining youth runs counter to protecting the vested interests of the less than youthful. It’s quite clear that no policy, initiative or strategy exists to retain and attract young people here. In fact, I’d argue, as a parent of school aged children and not close to the same demographic as you, that few advocate for my collective family interests around quality of life, education and culture. For you, even fewer as you have many more options and incentives to leave. The point is simply that preservation of status quo and elevating vested interests trumps broader interests .

      3) The local political and economic class focuses on symptoms rather than problems. What virulently consumes Amsterdamians is the high taxes here– the symptom. The problem is lack of growth. In my view, you’re part of the solution as if we could in some sway you to move here, that would encourage growth. With growth, we could then reduce taxes. Instead, we think we can grow by cutting taxes. Bear with me and let me pitch you on how we’re going to draw young people here with the usual ideas from the usual cast:
      –We have lots of municipal water
      –We’re going to build a construction and demolition landfill to lower your taxes
      –We’re going to save money by moving City hall into the MAll
      –We’re going to demolish some stuff

      While I’m being dead serious, what I write reads like satire as a way to pitch you to move here. But it’s not. It’s precisely what we’re dealing with. Indeed, it’s the ascendant goal. It’s simply ridiculous.

      I’ll leave it at that.

      Cheers

      • Here is the struggle, We to often place all the issues and or opportunity in small buckets, for example everybody sees ” Amsterdam” as the small geographic area we call the City, Then we have the Town of Amsterdam, Town of Florida and Hagaman. I would prefer to look at things as Eastern Montgomery County.

        If we could all play together we could overcome such problems and beleive it or not we are making progress, evident by the Rt 30 corridor expansion and growth and in the town of Florida, the largest building on 1 floor in NY State as well as a state of the art food processing facility, Many new homes and a major corridor for employment in a 5 mile stretch.
        What we have to have is an acceptance that we are making progress and although politically we scream and fight we have proven that we can proceed.
        The formula in my mind is simple, The City has the water and sewer infrastructure and waterfront development and the towns have the vast farm lands that are increasingly hard to support on just farming.
        Although I liked the idea that the Chalmers building could have been SOHO style lofts or apartments, the building is down and opens up great opportunity for something to rise from the rubble. If we or anyone else wants to develop lofts we probably have 5-10 other factories we can move on, the best opportunity being the Noteworthy building on Church street and it it is not in decay.
        We have made great progress in the past 10 years in eastern Montgomery county, all we have to do is look at it and accept that we are not a failure, we need to identify ourselves as a different geographic description.

      • Bob,

        I agree to a limited extent with the regional argument. Where I disagree is that the city cannot be viable solely relying upon regional success; it needs to have its own objectives and strategy. The interests of the towns will always be different than the city’s– it is a classic of city versus suburban versus rural. Sure, some commonality exists but differences as well. I think a regional approach has merits but limitations.

        As an example, everyone touts the city for water and sewer , yet as an informed city tax payer, I know that it is aged and modernizing will require 20-30$ million of investment, in hard dollars. What the towns want to do is get water and sewer for perhaps hundreds of thousands per year while city residents finance the capital costs in the tens of millions of dollars. Nice for the towns, for me, a losing proposition. Furthermore, I encourage development outside the city at the expense of the city. I’m open minded to counterarguments here but the financials don’t make sense as a city resident. If someone could show me financially how city residents gain, I’d be more enthusiastic of a regional approach. But so far, it appears the returns favor the towns at the expense of the city. Simple as that.

        I don’t doubt that other SOHO opportunities exist; but I respectfully submit that the location of Chalmers for residential is leaps and bounds more desirable than Noteworthy. I’d rather pay more for river views and walkability than a view of the Route 67 truck route from Noteworthy.

    • Rug,

      You’re preaching to the choir. The gainfully employed, under 30, higher educated, young professionals are a myth to the Common Council and AIDA. And no one eats out 3-5 times a week- that’s preposterous!

      Interestingly enough, I was back in Amsterdam last week and met with a lawyer who, when asked if he was still living in the same house as before, quipped ‘What’re you kidding me?’, having left several years ago because he could see the writing on the wall in an environment that wasn’t very family-friendly, nurturing, or inviting to people my age/his kids’ age, or education-minded. He even mentioned that at his new digs, you could expect ‘serious wait times’ at local elections and even longer at school elections! That’s the emphasis others place on setting a foundation ready for few hundred that show up at Amsterdam’s. Compare that to the mere handful who show up for elections here, although a couple hundred showed up at a meeting protesting the school district. Irony? Perhaps.

      LemonAIDA, love it.

  4. It’s been an intersting experience for me to participate as a member of the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council. Though the process has been somewhat bumpy, the exercise in developing a strategic plan for six counties, working closely with individuals from across the region, has been surprisingly enlightening. We have avoided the territorial infighting many of us had expected and have started meaningful public/private relationships that I hope survive long beyond anyone’s current term of office. No matter what may become of the MVREDC, this initiative should have long-lasting impact on our communities. The more support we give this kind of collaboration, the stronger our local municipalities and state will be.

  5. Good morning Flippin and than you for your response.
    In response I suggest the following:
    Not sure that I said the City was not viable, As you know I have always been a cheerleader for the City, as well as the surrounding
    area. I beleive that the “area” has made great progress in the past 10 years.
    My thoughts are more in line that we need to think beyond geographic boundries, leveraging the atrributes that are inherent to the City/Country struggle.
    I am certainly not one for adding more layers of government, but it appears that someone, maybe a county administrator, can help bring together the small buckets of geographic identities to utilize the opprtunities that exist across geographic boundries.( and keep identities in tact)

    Both the the city’s waste water plant and water treatment plants have been constantly upgraded and underutilized since the days that they were built. Both the city and the towns have benifitted from the water agreements,which have been going on for probably 40 years in the Harrower water district as well as the village of Hagaman sewer district. We can have an extended conversation over the attributes of selling water and sewer services over a cup of coffee if you would like.
    In regards to the Chalmers building goes, I did like the idea and cautiously supported the same, but that ship has passed. Regardless of wether we supported the transformation or the demise, it is no longer productive to discuss the situation unless it is for historical remembrance, not repeating the situation.
    Aside from the lack of a Mohawk river veiw, The Noteworthy buildings have alot going for them, unfortunately manufacturing processes are not one of them. In the event that we cannot find someone to replace Noteworty in these buildings, they are destined to fall in disrepair, representing a very visable failure of another rust belt town, to 20,000 people passing through our city everyday and being reminded that Amsterdam is no Saratoga. The buildings do have great architectural significance and charm, great parking and access,different layers of historical flair, good roofs, new windows and good infrastucture, conveinantly located and has its own version of walkability.
    If I was a developer looking to convert the Esquire building, I would certainly find the Noteworthy building more palitable. By the way if the River view is what you want I also know of another building, that would also work.

    • Bob,

      I agree the physical building of Chalmers is gone; it no longer exists. What I’m trying to illustrate and document is in essence a case study on the city’s attitudes to development, investment , governance and strategy. What I’m about to say is not directed at you– the city literally has hundreds of these case studies and what I’m railing against is the unwillingness to critically examine these case studies to learn from them and hopefully to chart a better course based upon experience. As an example, the same folks who railed against Chalmers would support a strip mall on the same site. How can you ‘move on’ when presented with such arguments?

      Let’s test a hypothesis: if Noteworthy meets the same resistance and disdain as a loft development on the basis that no one wants to live in Amsterdam, no one wants to live in lofts and no one will pay above $1000 per month rent, then , as a case study, Chalmers can be tabled and I’ll harp about Noteworthy. On the other hand, and this is what I predict will happen, the usual players remains less than antithetical to the notion of redevelopment of Noteworthy, then Chalmers will remain a case study.

      I hate to say but I’ve seen the cast and the plot before so I’m pretty sure how the scenes will play out.

      PS I do agree that some agency, in my view a newly chartered public/private entity, needs to own development. I’ve blogged on this before so I’ll leave it at that.

      • I think we are headed in the same direction, So, with that said, the difference is that The Noteworthy building is privately owned property, that can only be encumbered by the planning or zoning boards. What the City can do is be proactive in having conversations with the owners of the building to streamline any questions about what to expect, and be prepared to react expiditously. The course of action that I would suggest is that the city provide contact information of the previous investors, including Uri Kaufman to a real estate broker like myself, to sell the idea, without the typical political posturing and back biting. I have sold many commercial and industrial buildings without any of the ussual political drama.

  6. With the Noteworthy property being looked at by the museum, why not incorporate apts, or condos in the other spaces, after all it is a huge building. It would provide plenty of space for the museum, but also income to offset their expenses. It would be a win win for everybody.

    • Diane,
      What exactly was wrong with doing just that to Chalmers or Esquire?
      After the episodes where two prominent developers were driven out of town, I don’t think we’ll have another opportunity at people looking at our ex-mill sites. At least for a while.

  7. Kaufman has one hit to his name and that was Cohoes. His other properties are all sitting derelict in one fashion or another. Look at Broadalbin. As for the Esquire Bldg, I am sorry the gentlemen left, as he had an excellent reputation and had the bldg been more stable, I think he would have stayed. There were way too many issues with Kaufman’s deal that were not political. Let us not rehash it. I do see many possibilities for the Noteworthy site and hope that something is worked out for the Elwood soon.

    It will also be interesting to see what the future holds for Highland and Holland Gardens. With their location, and if they were rehabbed and enclosed yards added that would be a beautiful property to rent. It needs some serious TLC with the right people handling the project and it could really be a hit for the developers and the city. It has so much potential.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s