By CASEY CROUCHER
Amsterdam officials will receive a detailed outline within the next few months from the Brownfield Opportunity Areas Program of what a new downtown train station will look like.
Community and Economic Development Director Robert von Hasseln said his department has taken the first few steps in the process of relocating the West End Amtrak station on Route 5 to a location in the city's downtown area.
"The train station was originally located downtown years ago," he said. "It was a beautiful, old station located on Railroad Street that really represented Amster-dam, but because of the arterials, the street got cut off."
He said once the street was cut off the station was moved to a "smaller, drabber" building in the west end that was "never really convenient" for residents.
However, the biggest issue with the current train station is that it's located in a flood plain, he said.
"The interior of the station is all mold -- it's got to go," he said. "There have been some improvements there because they were mandated by law, but it's not a good situation. Everyone agrees it can't stay there."
He said the station not only needs to relocate but also become "multi-mobile," meaning people would be able to park their cars there, catch a bus, get a taxi cab, and rent a car all at the same location.
"It's got to be an easy hub for all kinds of transportation so that you can easily get from one place to the next," he said. "A change in station location could have an important impact on redeveloping our downtown core."
Von Hasseln said the perfect position for the new train station would be where a connection could be built over the train tracks to the landing of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook.
"That would allow people to walk from Bridge Street on the South Side across the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, come down through the train station and come out on Main Street, so everything would be conveniently connected," he said.
The connector would be a little shorter than the pedestrian walkway from Riverfront Center to Riverlink Park, he said.
The overlook was never intended for this plan; however, if it can be designed to connect to the station it will help connect two of the city's neighborhoods.
"It's a park over the river, a tourist destination, it's public art," he said. "It's primary purpose wasn't and never will be to be a pedestrian walkway, but this will allow for much freer foot traffic to connect two of our stellar neighborhoods -- the South Side and our downtown."
The first step in the transition process was having the state's Department of Transportation and Amtrak conduct feasibility studies for the new location. During the studies the DOT identified five places close to the downtown area where the new station could possibly go. One of the locations was exactly where the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook will land.
Von Hasseln said the DOT thought the idea was good and encouraged him to make bigger plans for the new station, like build it up two stories and design a connection from the overlook to the station.
"The problem is, how do you get from being encouraged to do it, to getting it all done?" he said. "Especially when Amtrak is not going to want to spend any more than they need to. It's like the old joke, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. This is a step-by-step process, and you have to create, what you would call, the building consensus for it."
So, the next step in the process involved von Hasseln contacting the Amsterdam Waterfront Heritage Brownfield Opportunity Areas study, which is a program through the Department of State that provides financial and technical assistance to municipalities to help complete plans of revitalization and implementation strategies for areas affected by the presence of brownfield sites and site assessments for strategic ideas.
He said he wrote specifications to the BOA that his department wanted to address the information from the feasibility study and develop some preliminary drawings and site plans for the location at the overlook landing.
"We met with members of the BOA last week to go over possibilities for available properties this train station could move to," he said. "At the end of the BOA process, we'll have a pretty detailed chapter on what preliminary design the train station will be; and that should be out in a few more months."
He also said Amsterdam was identified in the New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program as an important area for flood recovery because the city is an economic driver for the surrounding community. The program, created by the governor's office, awarded the city and town of Amsterdam and the town of Florida $9 million under the Community Development Block Grant to build each municipality back better than before tropical storms ripped through the area.
He said that because the city was recognized, next year his department will file a Consolidated Funding Application for the project.
"After the waterfront BOA is done and we've got the preliminary drawings of the station, we'll request money to do the details in the drawings," he said.
He said once the preliminary work is done and the detail work is completed and the city has the support of the New York Rising program and the BOA, saying the project is important, then the city will go after the U.S. Department of Transportation's Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant.
"Building a station like this would cost millions of dollars and we don't have millions to spend," he said. "However, that's exactly what the TIGER grant is designed for. Generally upstate New York gets one TIGER grant per year, so we need to get in line and wait for this grant and hopefully get it."