. . 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.
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.
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.
- Share this posting with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/LargeDock
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:
- 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?
- How will the dock be supervised? The proposed dock at Riverside Park several years back was to have no supervision.
- Will folks with bikes or skateboards take them from the Trail to the dock? Would visitors in normal leisure or business footwear be able to navigate a wet dock?
- Would you feel comfortable bringing small children or elderly relatives, or a school class to a 12′-wide dock, with water on both sides, and no railings. How easy will it be to get these folks safely back up that long sloping ramp?
- Don’t safety issues at marinas — viz., 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.
- 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?
- What 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 600-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.”
follow-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.
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. 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:
- 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 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, rather than requiring Mohawk Harbor’s owners to pay for the amenity, we hope opinion- and decision-makers will reject the claim that the Dock will provide “total public access to the Riverfront”, and keep in mind:
- The history of public access rights at Mohawk Harbor (ALCO site) and the role of the Galesi Group and the Casino in denying those rights to the public.
- The many millions of dollars that Rush Street Gaming gives or offers to other casino cities, above any taxes due, while passing out at best tiny “donations” to Schenectady organizations and government. For examples, see our post “Rush Street’s Giveaways“.
- Rush Street’s made unrealistic projections of its expected gaming revenue on its license application and in persuading local leaders and residents to support their Application and grant concessions in our zoning code. The over-projections have resulted in disappointing payments to the State, City and County for three years, with little chance of ever reaching its projections.
- Rush Street constantly seeking reductions in gaming tax rates, which would further reduce the already disappointing total revenue received by the City and County, despite presenting no valid arguments for tax breaks. See our posting “Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid.”