City tackles development on all fronts


Recorder News Staff

Agencies and departments in the city of Amsterdam are working on all fronts to promote and support economic development.

And at the forefront right now is the redevelopment of the former Chalmers site on the South Side.

After a more than month-long extension of the original deadline for the Chalmers redevelopment Request for Proposals, Amsterdam Director of Community and Economic Development Robert von Hasseln said the city received one complete proposal, one incomplete proposal, and was expecting a third but never received it.

The number of proposals received isn't quite as high as what the director had been anticipating.

In October, von Hasseln told the Recorder that he anticipated getting at least five to 10 proposals, based on the amount of time that developers spent with city officials.

Von Hasseln said Wednesday, however, that he was happy to receive the ones he did.

The one completed proposal came from a "highly credible" developer, von Hasseln said, who submitted a plan to create 60 units of affordable housing along with a medical office building.

Though the package was well put together, von Hasseln said he believes it might not fit the city's needs.

"I don't believe this is going to be a match; this is what seems to be the consensus," he said. "It's not the highest and best use of the land."

The other incomplete proposal included a plan to create a restaurant and theme park, but aside from it also not being the "highest and best use" of the land, von Hasseln said it couldn't even be considered as it was missing pertinent information.

"We'll need to take a look at where we will go next," he said, "but I'm not discouraged."

As of this point, the highest and best use of the Chalmers land for the city is either market-rate housing to attract younger people to the city, mixed-use high-end apartment and commercial space, or hotel and banquet space overlooking the Mohawk River, he said.

"This process is only beginning," von Hasseln said. "There are others (developers) out there. And we can recast this net as many times as we need."

He added that the key to the success of the Chalmers project is to not rush.

"We have a superb opportunity to not repeat the worst mistakes of the past," he said. "The one package was a sign of the fact that professionals are beginning to turn around on how they look at Amsterdam."

And the Chalmers site isn't the only location that the city is working with developers on to boost and develop.

Though he couldn't give specific details, von Hasseln said he has been having chats with other well-respected developers about the old Mohasco Mills site, the Five Corners area, the Esquire Novelty building site, and even with regard to a potential "well-built affordable housing" building on the East End.

And weekly meetings with Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency Director Jody Zakrevsky, Amsterdam Urban Renewal Agency consultant Nick Zabawsky, Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane, and often Montgomery County Economic Development and Planning Director Ken Rose, are keeping the city's economic development conversation going.

The URA, which Zabawsky said acts as an administrative agency for a lot of the city grants, is currently managing about $21 million worth of grants for the city, including ones from the Chalmers demolition, Bridge Street reconstruction, waterfront development, Brownfield Opportunity Areas, and redoing the water lines on Market Street hill.

This last one Zabawsky said is incredibly important for the future large-scale development of the city, because if the 100-year-old sewer system isn't upgraded, businesses and developers who wish to develop in the city won't be able to tap into those sewer lines.

Like the sewer system project, the affect of certain AIDA projects aren't always seen, Zabawsky said, but the projects are pivotal to development.

"We make economic development possible," he said of the agency. "We wouldn't be talking about the Chalmers site ... if that (grant) foundation hadn't been laid."

Over the next 10 to 15 years, Zabawsky said the agency will be managing a great deal of grant money for city improvements.

On AIDA's end, Zakrevsky said they are traditionally the financial help for businesses, whether they are locals looking to keep or open businesses, or outside individuals looking to locate here.

AIDA has been a conduit or a resource for financial information, Zakrevsky said.

"Up until a few years ago we were prohibited from working with anyone other than manufacturers," he explained, but that has since changed and the agency has worked to provide financial mechanisms for businesses of all sizes.

On average, six to eight businesses contact AIDA each year with questions on relocating to the city, and overall they get about 12 to 15 inquires.

That larger number includes inquiries from the state looking for sites for certain businesses.

For example, recently AIDA was contacted by the state who inquired about space for a call center that would employ anywhere from 100 to 250 people.

"They were looking for bilingual speakers," Zakrevsky said, and knowing that it was a strength of the community, he responded.

Zakrevsky said they will soon be working to market the city, as well.

"In the future, we will be exploring marketing to secondary support companies for semiconductor agencies," he said. "They are smaller companies and may employ 10 to 15 people."

These secondary support companies will likely be searching for space here as the state's Tech Valley continues to develop, Zakrevsky said, and Amsterdam is a central point between Utica and Albany.

This central location piece is something von Hasseln said is often missing from the marketing strategy for the city, but he is hoping will be instated.

A central location and easy to get to, von Hasseln said the city has urban amenities, is cheaper, safer, and less confusing than other areas in the Capital Region.

He is hoping that using the "We are at the center" piece will encourage development and movement to Amsterdam.

In the end, von Hasseln said it's all about recognizing the highest and best use options for the city's land and properties.

"This stuff does not happen overnight," he said. "We're committed to the highest and best use of the land, and we're not going to sell ourselves short."