the Large Vessel Dock at Mohawk Harbor

LargeDockView2

. . NOTE (Jan. 16, 2020): This issue is on our front-burner again, because Metroplex, Schenectady City Hall, and the Schenectady Downtown Revitalization Program are discussing the installation at public expense of a large vessel dock for Mohawk Harbor, and selling it as a “public access dock.” See the Follow-up discussion at the bottom of this posting, and the Update immediately below this paragraph..

UPDATE (January 26, 2022): According to the Daily Gazette, Metroplex has reported that “Mohawk Harbor dock moving forward in Schenectady following delay” (Chad Arnold, January 26, 2022, C1). Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen told the Gazette that “the goal is to design the dock this year and begin construction sometime in 2023 following a series of public hearings to gain additional input.” See the Gazette article for more details and Gillen statements.

Follow-up (March 5, 2022): The Large Vessel Dock is on the City Council Committees Agenda for March 7, 2022, at 27-43) in a resolution allowing the Mayor to enter a contract with Metroplex for $75,000 toward design and engineering expenses. The above rendering appears on p. 41 of the Agenda. It gives a taste of how closed-in one might feel on the dock with several large vessels docked close to eachother.

original posting:

 A Gazette article today reports that the City Council of Schenectady unanimously approved a Resolution authorizing the Mayor to seek State funding for a Large Vessel Dock along Mohawk Harbor. “City to apply for funding for new dock at Mohawk Harbor: The dock would be used for larger boats to dock at the harbor” (by Andrew Beame, July 24, 2018) The article tells us that:

The resolution allows the city to work with Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority to submit the application [to the state Regional Economic Development Council].  Ray Gillen, chairman of the authority, said the grant would cover 80 percent of the cost to construct the $2 million dock.

The Galesi Group, the developer of the harbor, would be donating the rest, Gillen said.

Gillen said the dock would be 680 feet long and 12 feet wide. He also said it would be able to be removed during the winter months.

In addition, “The project would allow for larger boats that pass by the harbor to dock there, visit the casino, tour the city and a host of other activities.” Mr. Gillen noted that the facility would also allow the city to host regattas and other rowing events.

“This will be a public amenity,” Gillen said. “If we get the grant, it assures total public access to the riverfront.” (emphasis added)

As a longtime advocate for true public access to the riverfront, I hope this project will help achieve that goal. I may be adding more information in the very near future, but especially wanted to get online for public review of the two renderings (one above and one immediately below) of the Large dock presented by Ray Gillen to the City Council Committee meeting on July 16, 2018.

LargeDockView1

As the Council Resolution mentions a Matching Grant, I asked for more detail, and Mr. Gillen wrote me that:

“The match is 15%.  The state proves 85% if we win the grant. The match is being donated by the developer.  The developer built the amphitheater and major sections of the trail and the marina at their cost with no public support.  These are all very nice and well used public amenities.”

  • My thanks to Ray Gillen for providing me with the two renderings above. Our “Smart City’s” City Hall should have provided them in the Agenda appendix, making use of its website’s Agenda page. Council member Vince Riggi was good enough to send me a link to the video of Gillen’s presentation made to the Council Committee on July 16. It is very difficult to see details from the picture at the Committee Meeting. See my best screen shot of it (at about 2:30 into the video) here: https://tinyurl.com/MHLargeDock.


The funding process, and any resultant construction, will take quite awhile, and I hope that lots of thought will be given to how such a dock can in fact be used by the public, including families with children and dogs, or the elderly, handicapped, and less mobile, in a safe manner. For example:

    1. If the dock is successful — that is, busy — how welcome will non-boating members of the public be? How visible will the River be behind large vessels?
      1. Also, will those with boats that are smaller than 40-ft. be allowed to use the large vessl dock?
      2. Will there be fees for using the dock? If so, how will they be structured?
    2. How will the dock be supervised? The proposed dock at Riverside Park several years back was to have no supervision.
      1. Will folks with bikes, skateboards or rollerblades take them from the Trail to the dock, and use them on the dock? Would visitors in normal leisure or business footwear be able to navigate a wet dock? What effect would “horseplaying” adolescents or rowdy drunks have on others on the dock?
      2. Would you feel comfortable bringing small children or elderly relatives (especially if handicapped), a dog you are walking, or a school class, to a 12′-wide dock, with water on both sides, and no railings? How long would a couple or group stay on the dock if there are no chairs or benches? How easy will it be to get these folks safely back up that long sloping ramp?
      3. How stable will the dock feel underfoot? How will strong winds affect safety?
      4. Don’t safety issues at marinasviz., dock users unintentionally falling into the water and drowning — suggest that a Large Vessel Dock could safely accommodate no more than a small number of non-boating, casual “users” at a time? Required safety ladders and life rings seem unlikely to provide adequate assurance of appropriate use. 
    3. Will there be pedestrian access after dark? What lessons can we take from the drunken beer parties that took place for years at the Gateway Landing dock late at night?  Would a large vessel dock be a magnet for inebriated customers at the various Mohawk Harbor establishments, or those attending Amphitheater events in the thousands?
    4. Not Available in Winter Months: The large dock will be removed during “winter months”, the portion of the year when ice build-up is possible, which is at a minimum January through March.
    5. casino-attg-landscapeDetWhat happened to the Site Plan approved by the Planning Commission, in which a pedestrian bridge from the Trail went to a quiet Overlook that would allow safe viewing of the River, close-up, but with a railing for safety? Wouldn’t the 680-foot dock preclude such an amenity for public use.

It is disconcerting that another Resolution impacting Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino was brought before the Council in what has now become a customary rush. The State proposal requests and development decisions are made annually, with submission deadlines this time of year. The fact that this was “merely” permission to submit a proposal should not have justified a lack of fuller discussion, with public viewing of the images prior to the Council vote.

As happened with the proposal for a dock at Riverside Park in 2010 (see the discussion of issues and concerns in our comprehensive posting), we need to ensure that the availability of State funding — Getting Something For Free, with no local dollars spent — does not preempt thoughtful consideration of the impact of the Large Vessel Dock on waterfront use at Mohawk Harbor. And, especially on its ability to achieve, as Mr. Gillen promises, “total public access to the riverfront.”

. . . .

redflag-circlefollow-up (January 16, 2020): Should taxpayers or the developer of Mohawk Harbor and the Rivers Casino pay for a large-vessel dock at Mohawk Harbor? Please consider:

The image below was submitted to the Gaming Commission Location Board with Rush Street and Galesi Group’s application for a gaming license at Mohawk Harbor. As was required in the then-existing Schenectady Waterfront zoning provisions, it shows a riverbank that would allow the public convenient and safe access to the waterfront, with space for safe strolling, sitting, picnicking, etc.

CasinoRiverbankRendering

The Casino Applicants demanded that the permanent public right to access and enjoyment of the waterfront be removed from our zoning Code, and our subservient leaders readily acquiesced. [The then-director of Planning noted “they’ll have access to the retail.”] As a result, a steep, inaccessible, riprap riverbank was constructed by Mohawk Harbor along the last remaining portion of Schenectady riverbank available for potential increase in public access to the river:

MHriverbank

mhtrail29octd

  • See our posting “Restore riverfront public access at the casino” (August 10, 2015) for the story of how the people of Schenectady lost their right to use and enjoy the Mohawk Harbor waterfront, and the importance of true public access when a city’s scarce riverbank properties are re-developed.
    • Also, due to the great deference given to the desires of the Casino and Galesi Group by Schenectady’s Planning office and Metroplex, the public has also been deprived of recommended safety elements along the ALCO bike-ped path, with taxpayer moneys (apparently 85%-90%) used for construction that would more appropriately have been provided by the Developer. See, e.g., “Poorly planned safety-fence going up along Mohawk Harbor trail.”
  •  Having taken away our public access to the waterfront, Mohawk Harbor, Metroplex and City Hall apparently want us to believe that building a giant large-vessel dock with public moneys will somehow provide the public with the waterfront access they were denied. See the renderings at the top of this posting and decide whether such a structure could provide meaningful, safe, convenient access to the waterfront for the many sorts of people who comprise our public (local and visitors), and the many activities usually enjoyed along a lovely riverbank.
    • At the January 16, 2020 Schenectady DRI public workshop, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen asked me to contact him to talk about my concerns over the Dock, and I will do so. I was surprised to hear Ray say they have not yet designed the dock and that the renderings submitted to City Council in 2018 were simply conceptual examples. When considering who should pay for it, the question is whether any huge Dock, open on both sides, could accommodate meaningful public access, and whether installing such a structure will prevent other attempts at meaningful public access.

In deciding whether taxpayers should provide a $2 million large vessel dock for Mohawk Harbor, while requiring a “donation” of only $300,000 from Mohawk Harbor’s owners to pay for an amenity that so directly benefits them, we hope decision-makers will be very skeptical of the claim that the Dock will provide “total public access to the Riverfront”, and ask cogent questions about its safety and convenience for the General public. In addition,  please keep in mind:

  1. sections removed at the Developer’s request

    PUBLIC ACCESS ABORTED INTENTIONALLY. The aborted guarantee of meaningful public access rights at Mohawk Harbor (ALCO site) was the direct result of pressure from the Galesi Group and the Casino to deny those rights to the public. Read the Code sections stricken at Rush Street’s behest in the image to the left, which were created to ensure permanent public access and enjoyment of the riverfront, with an esplanade and pathway anticipated along the riverfront with many amenities to help make the visit worthwhile. Were the developers reluctant to have riverfront access that attracts members of the public who want to stay awhile along the river, rather than just passing through on the bike-ped path? Did they want only Customers to come to the riverside of the casino complex?

  2. STANDARDS IGNORED. Overseen (orchestrated) by Metroplex, the Planning staff and Commission made woefully inadequate efforts to ensure that the Developer satisfy the §264-14(E)(4)(a) standard that the trail “shall endeavor to be located reasonably adjacent to the undeveloped shoreline wherever practicable.” They also failed the goal of §264-14(A)(2)(h), “To preserve, to the maximum extent practicable, the vegetation and natural features along the Mohawk River“.
    1. And, see “Poorly planned safety railing erected along Mohawk Harbor trail” (Oct. 15, 2018). It is too short and too close to the bike-ped path. It fails to follow the C-3 zoning requirement that there be the customary two-foot shoulder PLUS ten additional feet buffer on the riverside of the Mohawk Harbor shared-used path.
    2.  In addition, the sturdy ALCO trail “interpretative” signs installed by the County are closer than the 3′ ft. minimum lateral distance from the bike path stipulated in Schenectady’s Master Bike Plans, when best practices call for 3′-5′ distance, even for signs on flimsy poles, much less these heavy-duty signs. See “Who botched placement of the ALCO trail signs?“, which notes many more safety problems. For example,  “There is no hard surface off the path “tread” for sign-readers in a wheelchair, or with a cane, walker or motorized scooter, to stop; nor for a curious bicyclist; nor for pedestrians who want to avoid unpaved ground around the sign when it is wet, slippery, or muddy.
  3. GREAT POTENTIAL LOST FOREVER. As a consequence of the developer’s demands and willfulness, and the indifference of Metroplex and our Planning Office, the aesthetic, recreational, and safety benefits to the public envisioned in the City’s waterfront zoning regulations for Schenectady’s last developable waterfront property, have been lost forever.
  4. GENEROSITY TO OTHER CITIES. The many millions of dollars that Rush Street Gaming gives or offers to other casino cities, above any taxes due, while passing out relatively small “donations” to Schenectady organizations and government. For examples, see our post “Rush Street’s Giveaways“.
  5. SECOND-CLASS SCHENECTADY. Rush Street’s gracious granting of public access at its Philadelphia and Pittsburgh casinos, while treating the people of Schenectady like second-class citizens. As we asked years ago:

In addition, the Alco Plant shoreline (image below, by Ohlhous, 2011) had great potential for the kind of waterfront strolling, lolling and playing that people everywhere expect when their City undertakes to redevelop its shoreline.

IF ONLY

If the goal is genuine public access to the Mohark River, couldn’t the $2 million be better spent? The current proposal from Mr. Gillen appears primarliy to be helping to bring more (big) spenders to Mr. Galesi’s Mohawk Harbor and Rush Street’s Rivers Casino?

  • Could the ten-foot wide path at the bottom of the steep riprap bank (see detail at left) be converted into a safe, pedestrian pathway, with convenient access points constructed from the upper level?
  • Could we have learned from the South Shore Riverfront Park in Pittsburgh, where  a “former steel mill barge dock has been converted to a public park in an innovative project that straddles a railroad tunnel and overcomes a 40’ drop in elevation to provide access to the Monongahela River. Switchback terraces connect upper and lower plazas to create an exciting outdoor public space for recreation, relaxation and special events.”

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