City building restoration stalled because of mural

By ALISSA SCOTT

Recorder News Staff

Because Amsterdam has lost its original downtown, the former Chalmers knitting mills and now the Esquire Novelty building, Mayor Ann Thane said destroying a mural on Main Street would continue to "divest the city of its history."

The mural is painted on the third floor of 46 Main St., a property now owned by the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency. According to AIDA Chairman Ron Barone, crews have been stuck on phase three of restoring the building because no one knows what to do with the mural.

"I just cannot sanction destruction of another vital piece of our history," Thane said. "It's ridiculous, because it can be preserved."

Thane said she received a quote to preserve the mural, which cannot be easily viewed because there are no stairs reaching from the second to third floor during the construction project, for $19,000. That will cover costs to spray paint an overspray on the wall, preserving it while the room is utilized.

Corporation Counsel Gerry DeCusatis questioned how far $19,000 could go in such a project.

"How good will it look after you spend the 19?" DeCusatis, who called the overspray preservation "a bit traumatic," said. "Will it be perfectly restored? Every aspect will be restored for 19? And is it going to be stable at that point?"

Thane said it will be stable, but DeCusatis said he doubts the piece, if restored, will withstand the weathering of tenants.

"Ultimately, you've got to look at if you turn it into rental space, it's just going to deteriorate," DeCusatis said. "I'm sure that it's possible to preserve it, but you've got to look at the cost benefit analysis as well."

Thane said if the space were converted into residential quarters, there would be special rules for the mural, but that it would be the "funkiest space for a young professional."

"You'll have to have some covenant in there that you can't hang on it, you can't put anything on it," Thane said.

Still, Thane said, the building doesn't have to be residential and could become anything at this point.

During the last AIDA meeting, Jody Zakrevsky, executive director of the agency, said they had shown the mural to the state Historic Preservation Office and its mural specialist.

Zakrevsky said the office did not think it had any statewide significance, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have local significance.

Its history, which Thane said is an irreplaceable resource, is unknown, as is the artist.

"I don't want to spend [$150,000 to $200,000] on something that, to me, is silly," Barone said. "I'm sorry. A mural that has an unknown artist -- I'm sure it's an artifact of some sort, I think, but who benefits from it? I don't know."

Barone had earlier predicted it could cost as much as $250,000 to fully restore it, one of three options Jody Zakrevsky, executive director of the agency, said the SHPO said they had.

Zakrevsky said they could fully restore it while still on the wall, cover it and leave someone else to figure it out, or take it down and store it in tubes for someone that may be able to restore it in the future.

DeCusatis and Barone were both surprised at how low the mayor's quote was. Barone said if City Hall has money for it in the budget, for $19,000 he wouldn't mind restoring it, but "still [doesn't] see the worth in it."

Barone said, personally, he wouldn't have even spent money on the building if the state hadn't awarded AIDA grants to fix it up.

"We weren't going to take it out of our pockets, that's for sure," Barone said. "We just don't have that kind of money."

AIDA was given more than $500,000 in grants to restore the property, a structure it acquired from the United Way.

Barone said he just hopes the city figures out what it wants to do with the mural so crews can finish the project.

"If $19,000 is going to make everybody happy and we can go forward, let it be," Barone said. "Let the walls of Jericho come down."