Look what we found, Mr. Koldin!

At the November 1, 2021 Schenectady City Council Commettees Meeting, City Corporation Counsel Andrew Koldin told Council members that he had looked, and did a search within the  Comprehensive Plan for Gateway Plaza, and could find no place where there is any mention of the Liberty Statue Replica being returned to Gateway Plaza after being stored during re-construction. He added that he found nothing saying to return or not return, relocate or not relocate the replica.

Well, we have been correctly saying at this website, in Letters to the Editor, and statements at Council meetings, that the Plan approved by the Council and signed by the Mayor in 2013 provided that the Liberty Statue was to be returned to Gateway-Liberty Plaza after construction, and therefore we wanted Her returned “as promised”.

Below are screen shots from the Final Gateway Plaza Plan, each of which indicates that the Statue of Liberty would be relocated within the Plaza after construction. See our posting “Respecting Lady Liberty”, tinyurl.com/RespectLL, for discussion, links, images, etc., that help explain this very unnecessary controversy with Mayor McCarthy.

MASTER PLAN of the GATEWAY PLAZA PROJECT: Shown on the COVER of the Final Comprehensive Plan for Gateway Plaza, and within the Plan Document: Item #6 in the Legend says “Relocation of Liberty Replica” and shows its designated relocation spot in the Plaza along State Street.

DETAIL FROM MASTER PLAN

Explanation Given to Advisory Committee in “Kick Off” Session – Statue of Liberty should be incorporated into the project

EXPLANATION GIVEN IN PUBLIC SESSION re LADY LIBERTY 

REFINED OPTIONS A  & B, GIVEN TO STEERING/ADVISORY COMMITTEE, EACH SHOWING “RELOCATED STATUE OF LIBERTY” on the Master Plan plat

LINE ITEM IN PLAN BUDGET SHOWING $20,000 to RELOCATE THE STATUE OF LIBERTY in the PLAZA

Why did Andrew Koldin feel he needed to deny any directive in the Final Gateway Plaza Plan to return Lady Liberty? My best guess is so he and the Mayor could argue that not returning the Lady to Her Home did not violate the Plan the Mayor had approved in 2013.

Respecting Lady Liberty (with updates)

    • LL-jumpforjoyBest Lady Liberty News In Years
      • (November 5, 2021): The Resolution mentioned in the next paragraph, recommending that the Mayor return our Lady Liberty Replica to Liberty-Gateway Plaza has been placed on the Agenda of the Nov. 8, 2021 City Council Meeting. update (Nov. 8. 2021) Today’s Gazette article underscores the obvious: This controversy is not over until Mayor McCarthy decides Gateway-Liberty Park is the appropriate place for Lady Liberty. The Council has given him a graceful solution, let’s hope he takes the opportunity.
      • (November 1, 2021): This evening, all five sitting members of the Schenectady City Council stated support for the return of Lady Liberty to Her Home at Liberty/Gateway Plaza. Their vote at a Council Committees Meeting calls for the drafting of a Resolution supporting the return. If drafted, the item should be on the Council Meeting next week, November 8, 2021. Mayor McCarthy left the room before the item was reached on the Agenda. His cooperation would be much appreciated.

. . Help end this disgrace. Demand respect for Lady Liberty

respectLL-Jan2021

. . BRING LADY LIBERTY HOME FROM EXILE


  • Update (Oct. 30, 2021): THANK YOU to all who attended the demonstration, and attracted so many horn beeps. [photo by Peter R. Barber, for Daily Gazette, A9, Oct. 29, 2021). Our efforts surely helped to get the Statue of Liberty placed on the City Council Committees Agenda for Monday, Nov, 2, 2021; Item #9. You can observe the meeting, at 5:30 PM, City Hall Room 110. Please contact City Council Members to ask that they act to put Lady Liberty back at Her Home, Liberty Park. Contact you favorite Council members, and/or reach the whole Council by emailing City Clerk Samanta Mykoo, at SMykoo@schenectadyny.gov.
  • RALLY on October 28, 2021, at 4 PM, at the statue’s Location in Exile (Union St. at Erie Blvd.). The Demonstration starts at 3 PM, and through the rush hour, allies of Liberty will be demonstrating at that corner, with signs and sighs.
  • Click the thumbnail on the right for the Rally Flyer and please share it.
  • CONTACT Mayor McCarthy and City Council Members to demand that Lady Liberty, our History, and Honest Government be respected.
  • Share this posting with this short URL: tinyurl.com/RespectLL

LadyLibertyParkCollageF. .  Left: scenes of Lady Liberty in Liberty Park (Sept. 2016) .. .

For 67 years, our Schenectady community honored and respected the Lady Liberty replica that graced the Park named for the statue, Liberty Park. In August 2017, the Statue was removed from Liberty Park for its protection while the Park was being expanded into a new Gateway Plaza. We all thought the Lady would be kept safe and returned to Her Home (fully refurbished) when Plaza construction was complete. That is what the public wanted and the Mayor and City Council promised when they approved the Comprehensive Plan for Gateway Plaza in April 2013.

RespectSignE
Instead, backroom decisions were made, by Mayor Gary R. McCarthy, with no input from the Council or public, to exile Lady Liberty from Her Park. When the public clamored for the return of Lady Liberty from storage in a City warehouse, City Council did nothing and the Mayor stalled for more than a year, before dumping the Replica unrepaired at a most inappropriate location: The northeast corner of Union Street and Erie Boulevard, amidst eyesores, and with no signage, landscaping, foot-traffic, or lighting.

LLexile-garagesale . . WE MUST FINALLY END THIS SHAMEFUL DISRESPECT FOR LADY LIBERTY, PUBLIC OPINION, and OUR PLANNING PROCESS .

This goal should be easy to accomplish. The best location for Lady Liberty is available right now, almost exactly where She stood for 67 years, at the new and unfilled central sculpture base at Liberty/Gateway Plaza (image to right). It has visibility, seating, space for visitors, lighting, and more. The choice fulfills the promise made by City Council and the Mayor in 2013. And, it overlooks a modern symbol of the civil liberties Lady Liberty has inspired, the Rainbow Pride monumnent. Images below are from January 2021:

respectBetterSpot4LL . . respectLL-BetterSpot1

This website has a lot of information about this very avoidable controversy (see the Gateway-Liberty Park category), but the important issues can be grasped by checking out the links provided below this paragraph . This photo-editorial was presented to Council and Mayor in March 2018 (click on it for a larger version):

gplady3

BTW: Mary Wallinger, the chief designer of Gateway Plaza and drafter of the Plan, changed her public position about returning Lady Liberty to Liberty Park, and placed the Rainbow Pride public art project at the location designated in the Plaza Plan for the Liberty replica. Happily, as stated above, there is an even better location still available close to the original installation. It more closely reflects public comment during the Plaza planning process.

Here are links to various topics of interest. Each posting contains more links to relevant material.

  • A full history of this controversy/travesty, with photos, documents, important links: tinyurl.com/TimelessLiberty
  • the Stepchild treatment of Lady Liberty for two years now at the Location in Exile: tinyurl.com/StepchildLiberty
  • CIVIC PRIDE should compel City Hall to give Lady Liberty the respect due Her as a symbol of liberty, welcome and opportunity, and an important part of Schenectady’s history. See the posting “Will Civic Pride save Schenectady’s Liberty Replica” for several important points, including how much better the other New York State BSA replicas are being treated — with, for example, Utica and and tiny Leroy totally refurbishing their Replicas the same year Schenectady’s Mayor put ours in storage with no intention to treat Her with respect. [click on image at the right to see the Upstate Sisters of our Lady Liberty.}

See “Letters for the Lady” for a compilation of letters to the editor and editorial pieces about the City’s treatment of Lady Liberty.

Come back for updates related to the Rally and our Lady Liberty Respect campaign.

LL-Gaz-JaniceLance24Oct2021(October 24, 2021): The Sunday Gazette has an article about our campaign to return Lady Liberty to Her Home. See “Schenectady group wants Lady Liberty off Erie. Blvd., back to former park location” (Brian Lee, A1; photo at right).

(October 25, 2021): Our thanks go to NewsChannel10 reporter Collan Smith (on left) for highlighting our campaign in their Sunday night news program. See “Schenectady group wants lady liberty statue moved ‘out of exile‘ (October 24, 2021).

(October 26, 2021): Today’s Gazette mentions our Bring Her Home campaign at the end of an article that focused on City Council passing the Annual Budget at its meeting last night.

In another matter, a procession of residents asked McCarthy to return a replica of the Statue of Liberty to its former long-time location in Liberty Park, now known as Gateway Plaza.
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The statue, which arrived in Schenectady in 1950 by way of a Boy Scouts fundraising effort, was moved to the corner of Erie Boulevard and Union Street in 2019 after a redesign of the park began in 2017.
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Chris Morris, director of the advocacy group Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, likened Lady Liberty to a “special tenant” and McCarthy to  “landlord” who had uprooted her to just below train tracks on “one of the busiest and inappropriate street corners” in the city.
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“What an absolute disservice and disrespect to such a well-loved member of our community seeking peace and tranquility,” Morris said.
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Unfortunately, the report ended with this sentence:

McCarthy has said that the statue had been neglected and was often urinated on at its former location.

By repeating the Urination Excuse (twice in three days), the Gazette enables the Mayor’s habit of giving nonsense replies to questions about his actions. One reason Liberty Park was reconstructed was because its overgrowth of vegetation allowed homeless people to spend time there sleeping and drinking and doing drugs. Opening up the Park makes it much harder for such activity to continue. The Mayor did not violate the Comprehensive Plan he signed in 2013 because of prior urination. And, he certainly did not choose the disrespectful Location in Exile because of prior urination.
David Giacalone’s presentation from the floor at the Oct. 25 Council Meeting was titled “Civic Pride and Lady Liberty” (click for the pdf file).

GALLERY for THE LADY: This space will present a growing collection of images of Lady Liberty advocates from our Schenectady Community:

 . .

. . above: Vince Riggi [L} and James Wilson [R] . .

 . .   

. . above: [L] Delanne Stageman; [R] Keith Dayer on left and Susannah Hand

. .  also at the Sunday Green Market on Jay Street:

 . .  

PLEASE, BRING LADY LIBERTY HOME, to wit, HERE:

troubling Pedestrian Safety Action Plan was finalized in July

Agenda-PedSafety I was surprised to see this item on the September 13, 2021 City Council Agenda. If the Council is approving a bid and contract for the pedestrian safety project, I speculated, the Schenectady Pedestrian Safety Action Plan must have been finalized. I had not heard anything about it since City Engineer Chris Wallin held an online Public Informational Meeting on January 19, 2021, seeking public input and soliciting written comments. [video of the Meeting] I submitted Comments on February 1st (Part 1; Part 2).

PedSafetyActionPlanCoverI asked Chris Wallin for a copy of the final plan, and he sent it to me on September 24th. Click on the image to the right to see the cover of the Contract Plan (Drawings & Notes), which has the date of July 2021, and a map of the eight affected intersections. I have not gone through every page of the Final Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, but concentrated on recommendations that I had made or that involve the Stockade. My impression, nonetheless, as with virtually every City proposal made to the public for many years, is that no significant change has been made to the original proposal. 

  • BumpOutNotes For myself, the most urgent problem with the Final Plan is that it continues to have so-called “bump-outs” at four intersections that will be flush to the roadway (curbless), and thus offer virtually NO added safety for pedestrians, while perhaps giving them a false sense of security, and incurring a large expense. The thumbnail image to the right shows the Notes to be used by the contractor when constructing the “bump-outs”.See the final section below, and see “our curb-less curb extensions” (July 24, 2020) for a full discussion.

Here are other, selective problems that I see with the Final Pedestrian Safety Action Plan:

Erie-UnionCrosswalk Erie & Union Intersection NOT Included. During the Jan. 19 presentation, both Suzy Unger, Stockade Association President, and Daniel Carlson noted their surprise that the intersection of Erie Boulevard and Union Street is not included in the $1.1 million project. I agreed with Unger and Carlson in my Comments (Part 1), as did Stockade resident Gloria Kishton, that Erie-Union is far too dangerous for pedestrians to be omitted from the Plan, and the fact that it was improved several years ago is no excuse to ignore it now. I wrote:

In my experience, it is deemed the scariest intersection downtown by most people living, working, shopping, or visiting in the Stockade.

The biggest problem is that turning vehicles do not yield to pedestrians in the crosswalks, even when they are crossing with the pedestrian walk signal. I concluded:

SUGGESTIONS: For the lengthy crosswalks at this intersection to be safely navigated on foot (or in wheelchairs and similar devices) there must be a leading pedestrian interval (LPI) to give pedestrians an advance walk signal before the motorists get a green light [and wrongly insist they are entitled to turn despite pedestrians]. Or, as at State and Erie, all lights should remain red and no turns allowed during the walk signal cycle. Signs declaring “Yield to Pedestrians in the Crosswalk” would also help.

Those recommendations were not taken, and no changes have been made since January at the intersection outside the framework of the state-funded Action Plan. 

Union-Ferry Ferry St. at Union Street will continue to have signal lights, not stop signs. The final configuration at this Stockade intersection appears to be the same as in the proposal. The Engineer’s office did not take Suzy Unger’s recommendation that there be stop signs rather than traffic lights at the intersection. Suzy, who lives on that block of Union Street, believes that drivers speed up on that lengthy segment of Union Street in order to make the green light. Stop signs would require all vehicles to stop, every time, reducing speed and increasing safety. [Click here for a larger version of the notes at the bottom of the above Plan page.]

Broadway-UnionCorner

Union Street at N. Broadway was not added to the project. In Part 1 of my Comments, I also suggested that N. Broadway at Union Street (images above and below this paragraph), next to the Centre Street Pub, be included in the Action Plan. My frequent attempts to safely use the crosswalk at this corner have made me aware of the hazards. Because they are turning onto a one-way street, and expecting no oncoming traffic, and may be trying to beat a red light, the traffic turning south from Union Street onto N. Broadway is often speeding. Moreover, due to poles and a large utility box, drivers coming east from Erie Blvd. and the train underpass can have a very difficult time seeing pedestrians, while the pedestrians have their back to that traffic and have the same obstacles blocking their view if the do check behind them. In addition, just past the crosswalk on N. Broadway, there are often persons crossing the narrow street going to or coming from the Centre Street Pub or another pub on that block.

Union-NBroadwayA . . Union-NBroadwayb

WatchForPedestriansThis intersection could be made much safer for pedestrians rather easily (and cheaply). The large utility box and trash receptacle could be located better (e.g., raising the utility box seems quite workable). And, signs warning of crossing pedestrians would also help. 

  • Even if not in the Action Plan, such changes at N. Broadway should have been made in the many months since these Comments were submitted. In fact, many of the elements of the Action Plan seem so obviously needed, it is a shame they were not resolved years ago, at intersections so close to City Hall and along busy, highly-visible roadways and busy sidewalks.

Misnamed Bump-Outs Won’t Increase Safety . . see Giacalone Comments Part 2

BumpOutDetail&Notes . . . typical design and element requirements for the “bump-outs” in Schenectady Plan.

I’ve been arguing, since expensive brick pavers were installed at four Union Street Stockade Intersections in July 2020, that without having curbs along the outer borders (or at least bollards) these misnamed “bumpouts” can have none of the hoped for traffic calming and pedestrian safety benefits associated with true bumpouts.  True bumpouts extend the sidewalk and curb (bump them out) into the roadway, effectively narrowing the street at that location, shortening the crosswalk distance for pedestrians, forcing wider turns, and preventing parking at and near the corner (to open driver and pedestrians sight lines). See the posting “our curb-less curb extensions” (July 24, 2020), which has many images, discussion and explanation, with text from and links to relevant materials. 

  • Rather than increased safety, pedestrians and those in wheelchairs or strollers, or with bikes, may have an unwarranted increased sense of safety, when in fact they are simply standing in the street when waiting on the on the reddish surface of the non-bump-out (no longer with even the protection of a standard curb between yourself and moving traffic)

protectpedestrians-001

For almost a year and a half, I’ve asked Stockade Association leaders (who had requested true bump-outs with curbs, see image above, but accepted the curbless versions that were installed), and City Engineer Wallin how the flush-with-the-pavement “corner tattoos” [Editor’s phrase], in any way increase safety. No one has suggested to me likely or even potential safety benefits — not even with tongue in cheek. 

Nevertheless, I will offer one tiny potential benefit of the current design: Unlike with the  Stockade version, no genuine bricks are being used for the pavers. Instead, they will be embedded “surface applied thermoplastic.” That surface may be more skid resistant than bricks. I am not sure if they would be better than customary road surface pavement. And, pedestrians should be on the sidewalk or using the actual improved crosswalk, not standing on the new red surface.

Mr. Wallin spoke correctly at the Information Meeting when he said “I wouldn’t say bump-out” when describing the Stockade pavers at Union and Ferry Streets. This collage shows the “improved” Stockade corners with their brick pavers. Consider for yourself whether or how-ever they might increase pedestrian safety.

stockadecurbless-1 

My conclusion in July 2020 was that “No Standing Here to Corner” signs would have been far more effective and far less expensive. The City did eventually put up such signs, and we can attribute pedestrians and drivers being able to better see each other to the signs, not the red bricks. Even with the No Standing signs, delivery vehicles regularly park on the flush pavers when needing an open space.

Moreover, at the Information Meeting, Mr. Wallin offered the rationale that curbless works better for maintenance and operations, but hat does not justify the expense in the name of pedestrian safety. Moreover, as shown in my web posting, there are true bump-outs in many places in the City (e.g., Union at Dean, on the Proctors Block), and plow drivers and other operations staff appear to be able to handle them very well.

Finally, are we supposed use the State safety dollars just to make interesting red pavement at the downtown intersections? Surely the dollars could be better spent for safer streets for pedestrians. The novelty of the red embedded brick pattern will not only quickly fade, but so will its coloration, given our winter weather and the many large vehicles that will drive over the new patterns as they cut tight corners or strain to navigate a corner.

BTW: I have asked Mr. Wallin if I could see bid sections showing what the “bumpouts” will cost, but have not had a reply. Perhaps the media or City Council members could look into this clear waste of State funds granted to help make Downtown Schenectady safer and thus more walkable.

2nd anniversary of the Lady’s exile

StepChildLiberty-2yrs

LLexile-graffiti . . LLexile-garagesale

mayorgarymccarthy2013sep

Sorry , Mister Mayor:

You won’t convince us that Schenectady is a Smart City nor in a Renaissance as long as you keep our Lady Liberty Replica in such shabby surroundings and condition. Why not swallow your pride and announce that the two-year experiment at Erie Boulevard and Union Street has proven the wisdom of the original decision in the Gateway Plaza Comprehensive Plan to return Lady Liberty to Her home of 67 years at Washington Avenue and State Street.

LL-BetterSpotThe main sculpture base at Gateway/Liberty Plaza is at approximately the original location of The Statue and empty. Please, have the Liberty Replica moved back Home, ASAP.

JimWilson See, “Letters for the Lady” for the many letters to the editor and opinion pieces arguing for the return of Lady Liberty to Liberty Park. (Both James Wilson [to the Left] and Lance Jackson have written several times to the Gazette on behalf of Lady Liberty.) And, see “Lady Liberty is Timeless” to understand how Mayor McCarthy and Mary Wallinger created this avoidable civic and aesthetic crisis in Schenectady.

  • Step-Child Treatment: The posting “Our stepchild Lady Liberty” shows how poorly Lady Liberty is being treated compared to nearby, far less significant locations in downtown Schenectady. And, “Will civic pride save Schenectady’s Lady Liberty” detailing how much better the 100+ Boy Scout Liberty replicas existing around the nation are being treated, especially the others located in Upstate New York.

ladyl1stann4 Our lament last year, decrying the 1st Year of Exile, had no effect on Schenectady City Hall, here in the land of bad faith and bad taste along the Mohawk. Maybe this year’s protest will finally succeed. 

SOS Rally to Save Ellis Services

SOSlogoA fortunate change in the weather brought smiles to the faces or the organizers of today’s SOS Save Our Services Rally (Sunday, July25, 2021). The Rally was sponsored by the Schenectady Coalition for Health Care Access (click for the informative Rally Flyer, and see their Facebook site). Veterans’ Park looked great and the crowd was enthusiastic.

IMG_3428This Slideshow features the Co-Hosts of the event and each of the speakers. [For a larger version of a slideshow image, pause on the desired photo, right-click, and choose Show Image in New Tab.) It is followed by candid shots of the event and audience.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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IMG_3459

IMG_3499 . . IMG_3490

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IMG_3447 . . Coalition leaders and County Legislator Michelle Ostrelich briefs a media representative. 

IMG_3454 . . IMG_3455 (1)

 Carl Williams and Jamaica Miles brought family along . . IMG_3438

IMG_3545 . . IMG_3437

Click on an image in this set of mosaic tiles from the Rally for a larger version.

. . share this posting with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SOSEllisRally

Gaz-DAGopEdEllisMergerAlong with the loss of many important services outlined at the Rally, the slow-motion merger will surely harm competition for better quality and more health care choices across the Capital Region. Click on thumbnail to the left. 

our stepchild Statue of Liberty

   Why did Gateway Plaza project administrator, and Planning Commission Chair, Mary Moore Wallinger [image from Gazette at left] decide to treat our Lady Liberty replica like the proverbial redheaded stepchild — disrespected and neglected? And, why did Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy decide to be Wallinger’s stubborn enabler, authorizing the continued shabby treatment of the Statue in exile at Erie Blvd. and Union Street? We’ve been asking such questions since March of 2018 (see, e.g., “Bring Lady Liberty Home“), when it became clear that Wallinger and McCarthy did not plan to fulfill the promise made in the approved Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, that Lady Liberty would be returned to her home of 67 years at Liberty-Gateway Park after its construction was completed.

  • BTW: Ms. Wallinger authored the Implementation Plan and presented it in 2013 in a Resolution unanimously approved by the City Council, noting that the full planning process had included three public sessions. No notice was given to the Council nor the public when the secret decision was made by Wallinger, McCarthy (and, apparently, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen) to send the Statue elsewhere.

. .Lady Liberty replica still seen in exile (Jan. 19, 2021), alongside huge, unsightly utility pole, etc., and with scarred and marred retaining wall in the background.

. . despite a far better spot available at the Gateway Plaza central sculpture base . .

Admirably-persistent letter writer Lance R. Jackson, of Glenville, appeared again yesterday in the Gazette in a Letter to the Editor headlined “Restore statue to rightful location in Gateway Park” (June 11, 2021). Octogenarian Jackson wrote:

The mayor and City Council owe us a clear and concise explanation as to why they are not restoring our Lady to Gateway Park or telling us that they are honoring our request and providing a reasonable restoration timeline.

It seems pretty clear that we are not going to get the requested explanation from Lady Liberty’s City Hall “step-parents”, nor the related question of how much discretion the Mayor or project administrator has to change a fully-planned and approved project when there is no safety or financial emergency that might justify a change in a significant feature of the plan.

A Stepchild Statue?  In August 2019, our Liberty replica was deposited in a most unsuitable location, without being cleaned or repaired while held by the City for safekeeping for two years, and was returned without its original plaque or other marker designating its meaning and its donation by local Boy Scouts in 1950.  The superior treatment given by over one hundred municipalities to the remaining Boy Scouts of America replicas of Lady Liberty is depicted in my posting “Will civic pride save Schenectady’s Liberty replica?” (Feb. 11, 2020). How bad is this location? Here’s what the Gazette Editorial Board said two days after the installation at Union and Erie (“Lady Liberty’s new home: Try again:“):

Mayor Gary McCarthy — without input from the public or the collective City Council — appears to have unilaterally decided to dump it on one of the city’s most cluttered street corners — uncleaned and unimproved — where it’s difficult to see clearly from either side of the five-lane road, against a thick, ugly metal power pole and utility boxes, and in the shadow of an unsightly train bridge at the end of a parking lot.

Here are three additional indications of the continued shabby, “unwanted-stepchild” treatment of Lady Liberty at Her location in exile [click on a photo for a larger image]:

. .

First, The Tardy Repair. A snowplow damaged the mason block retainer wall at the base of Lady Liberty on December 23 or 24, 2020. (images above) To the left is a December 30 photo of the initial “fix” by City workers: An unsafe and unsightly piling of the loose masonry alongside the sidewalk of what Mayor McCarthy called “an extremely high-visibility intersection”. It then took the City another eighteen weeks to finish what was in reality a very minor masonry project. See images immediately below. (In the meantime, the safety cones were frequently scattered and the author of this posting occasionally brought them back to the spot to give the public at least a little warning of the hazard.)

. .

  • NOTE: The tardy “quickie” repair apparently only happened when it did because a City crew was just across Union Street, tidying up after a period-style light pole was taken down by a vehicle out of control. Given the speed and recklessness of many drivers at this intersection, the wipe out could have just as easily happened to Lady Liberty, who is situated merely a few yards from the roadway.

 

Second, the Big Ugly Utility Pole. Lady Liberty does not deserve to stand cheek-to-jowl next to a  “thick, ugly metal power pole” (complete with a “smart” surveillance camera) — especially, when the pole makes the statue virtually invisible to vehicles coming weston Union Street. That opinion was strengthened significantly eleven months ago, when I noticed that similar ugly power poles at State St. and Erie, just two blocks away, had been replaced with far more stately black, decorative poles:

Moreover, in case you think State and Erie got special treatment as Downtown’s prime intersection, take a look at what is standing at Liberty Street and Erie Boulevard, one short block from, and within sight of, Lady Liberty:

 . . SE corner . .

And, royally adorning Burger King on the NW corner of Liberty and State Streets:

 . .

  • You might have noticed the pretty flowers at the base of the Burger King lamppost. That notion brings me to my third stepchild issue.

Third, Weeds not Flowers. While crossing Erie Boulevard this week, going from Lady Liberty to the SE corner, with a parking lot and Stockade Welcome Column, I brightened up to see a lovely flower bed:

. . even nicer two days later . . 

flowerbed-UnioniAtErie12Jun2021

The sight of the lovely flower bed, made me turn around to see if I had missed a similar display at Lady Liberty. From across the street, I could not see any blooms. So, I crossed back to check out the flora around the Statue. This is what I found:

 . .

Yep, weeds on the Erie Blvd. side (R) and weeds on the Union Street side of the Lady. 

On this lovely June Saturday afternoon, I’m going to close this posting, feeling confident that my “step-child statue” argument will make at least a few people at City Hall embarrassed, maybe even enough to finally do something about the integrity of our planning process, and the importance of public sentiment, in the cause of the enlightened spirit of Lady Liberty. Her Schenectady replica belongs in the corner where it stood for 67 years, where it would now overlook the Pride Memorial, another symbol of equality and welcome for all. 

update: The Lady’s daylilies (June 25, 2021). This past week, I saw that Lady Liberty’s perennial visitors (which were actually on the site in greater abundance prior to the arrival of the Statue; e.g., 2017 Google Street View), orange daylilies, have started to brighten Her location in exile, and I twice took photos. Orange daylilies have always been a favorite of mine, but the array at Erie Boulevard and Union Street could not distract me from all the other ugly elements at the site. 

. . LLdaylilies

LadyStepchild-daylilies

Daylilies are, of course, not lilies, and some call them “outhouse lilies” and “roadside lilies.” Given the City’s treatment of our Liberty Replica, it is probably a good thing that a flower that takes minimal (some say virtually no) maintenance or additional expense has established itself on the site. Much of the site is still without a flowerbed like the one across the street. The only excuse that I can think of for this shabby situation is that the Mayor is finally going to send Lady Liberty home  [as again advocated by “Mr. Schenectady Vets” Jim Wilson, in a Gazette LTE, 27Jun2021], and so did not want to expend additional funds at the ugly corner. However, I’m not holding my breath.

preLLexile2017followup (une 30, 2021): My suspicious mind got me wondering whether the daylilies (along with the hydrangeas along the RR wall) were on the site before Lady Liberty ended up at the corner of Erie Blvd. and Union St.  Thanks to the Google Street-view timeline, I was able to answer the question. Yes, there were effusive stands of dayliliies at the site, with hydrangeas, too, before the arrival of Lady Liberty. Some of the Google street views seem to show more daylilies than have survived there. The image at the right is from 2017. (There were also four, not two, healthy evergreen trees between Lady Liberty’s location and the parking lot.) So, we can thank Mother Nature, and not the Mayor or his co-conspirators for the bit of beauty growing naturally near our Lady Liberty replica. 

UNLIGHTED LADY

As we pointed out in a posting in March 2020, Lady Liberty in Exile has no lighting of any sort to illuminate Her, while the empty sculpture base at Gateway-Liberty Park is well-lighted from dusk to dawn everyday:

Similarly, Edison and Steinmetz get the treatment of a respected monument, well-lit at its corner of S. Liberty St. and Erie Boulevard, four blocks south of the Lady Liberty in Exile (and, with benches for visitors):

EdisonSteinmetzLighted28Sep2021

This disparate treatment is ironic, given that the sculptor of the original Statue of Liberty called it “Liberty Enlightens the World.”

update (August 24, 2021): Two years after being dumped at its new location, the Replica of Lady LIberty sits in an overgrowth of weeds that symbolize neglect and disrespect of City Hall and especially Mayor McCarthy.

StepChildLiberty-2yrs

new pump station is a scene stealer

 

. .

  Above, at the construction site of the New N. Ferry St. Pump Station (March 28, 2021): [L] viewed from the west; [R] viewed from the east. Below, the last renderings shown the public of the Pump Station site, October 2017, with the front of the new Station far enough back from the River to allow a good view of the Old Pump House from the west and of the West Lawn from east of the Old Pump House; and with the century-old silver maple tree preserved: 

 . . . . 

 The footprint being constructed now of the New Pump Station purports to be based on an engineering plat from May 2019, which was never presented to the public nor City Council at that time; it was “explained” at an online City Council committees meeting in June 2020, which was prompted when the Grand Old Tree was cutdown on Earth Day 2020 (see my summary and comments). Here is my comparison of the May 2019 and June 2017 plans:

 

City officials and their contractor never precisely said just how much farther north and west the footprint of the new pump station would be. In my opinion, the new location clearly violates the City Council’s June 2017 Special Clarifying Resolution calling for the preservation of as much of the Parkland as possible, and requiring Council permission for any intrusion the Park of more than 30 ft. from the old station fence.. 

When the City Council approved the construction of a new pump station at the N. Ferry/Riverside Park location in May of 2014, the Council and the public thought the new pump station would be situated completely on the lot of the Old Pump House, with no obstruction of current views of and from the West Lawn nor of the historically significant (and beloved) Old Pump House. Thus, we thought, views such as these would be maintained:

. . from the west (with the Old Pump House, Grand Old Tree, full West Lawn, expansive rear yards of Stockade homes):

.. (June 2017)

. . from east of the Old Pump House (with the West Lawn in view):

It was a shock to learn, in April 2017, that responsible City officials and contractors instead were going to place a giant new pump station that would take over the West Lawn. After a loud battle, we were assured, by word and rendering, that very little of West Lawn would be appropriated, and that the new pump station would be set back farther from the River than the façade if the Old Pump House, preserving much of the view of that structure from the West. The rendering also seemed to indicate that the century-old grand tree near the northwest corner of the current lot would be preserved. Thus, this rendering, that last shown to the public and Council, was presented in June 2017:

   

 

. . IMG_3007 (1)

. . [L] Last rendering shown public (in 2017) with front façade of New Pump Station set back, allowing significant view of Old Pump House from the west; [R] Construction site, March 28, 2021, front of New Pump Station placed closer to the River than Old Pump House, greatly blocking view.

 

 April 11, 2020 . . 

 . . IMG_3018 (2)

. . [L] 2017 rendering with the attractive West Lawn visible from the end of North Ferry Street & the historic cannon (the East Lawn, too); [R] Construction site, March 28, 2021, showing the view of the West Lawn blocked by the New Pump Station.

All of the above led me to ask last May whether the Pump Station was simply another “rendering ruse.” It was surely a process lacking in transparency and good faith action, with both City Hall and our neighborhood “leaders” left looking like Snowmen at the Gates. We will soon see just how much of the West Lawn has been stolen by the new pump station

Will civic pride save schenectady’s Liberty replica?

. . Her Sisters are All Treated Better

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respectLL-Jan2021

The photo at the top of this post was taken on January 19, 2021. The scene remains the same three weeks later, as I prepare this posting. It’s been about a year and a half since Mayor Gary McCarthy, prompted by  Planning Commission Chair Mary Moore Wallinger, exiled Schenectady’s BSA Liberty replica from Her home of 67 years to this dismal site, rather than returning The Lady to Gateway-Liberty Plaza, as promised. The site still has no marker nor plaque identifying the statue or its source. I walk or drive by almost daily, and have never seen another human being visiting the Statue, except for a man sleeping on the retainer wall once. It took nagging by me to get the City to do something about the damage done to that wall by a snow plow just before Christmas. As you can see, the “something” was to gather and pile up the blocks that had been knocked onto the sidewalk, and place three safety cones. 

Rather than merely assume that no other city or town treats its BSA Statue of Liberty replica so shabbily 70 years after they were erected, I searched online for images of the 100+ extant statues. I discovered two compilations of BSA Liberty Replica images, and found (1) photos of 117 of the replicas at http://passbagger.org/statue-of-liberty.htm [many thanks to all the participants who visited on their motorcycles and gathered the images]; and (2) an archived page of Replica thumbnail shots compiled by BSA Troop 101 of Cheyenne, Wyoming. The original post by Troop 101 linked each thumbnail to a full photo, but only the thumbnails remain in the archive. The top of that webpage can be seen in the image to the right of this paragraph; and immediately below is a screen-shot of the bottom of that page, from web.archive.org. 

In my opinion as a citizen and prolific photographer of public places, every single BSA Liberty Replica in the nation stands on a far more appropriate and attractive spot. You can draw your own conclusions by browsing through the PassBagger collection., which offers fuller images of each site. Rather than being accused of cherry-picking the best examples from around the country, I have decided to present here images of every one of the Liberty Replica statues in New York State that were placed as part of the 1950 Boy Scouts of America 40th Anniversary project, “Strengthen the Arm of Liberty”. 

BSA Liberty Replicas stand in six Upstate communities. In alphabetical order: LeRoy, Niagara Falls, Olean, Oleonta, Schenectady, and Utica. Schenectady’s Lady Liberty was placed in storage in 2017, to be left for two years without being cleaned or repaired prior to being unceremoniously exiled to its current location. In contrast, at about that time, two of the communities, LeRoy and Utica, raised the funds and donated services to have their Liberty Statues and bases totally refurbished.

  • Click on a mosaic square below to see a full version of the image; scroll over the image to see its location.

It’s difficult to read what the Village of LeRoy (pop. under 8,000) did to honor and save its replica of Lady Liberty without being embarrassed for Schenectady and its Mayor. Click on the thumbnail at the head of this paragraph, or the following link, to read “Leroy to be Recognized” (LeRoy Pennysaver, October 22, 2017, by Lynne Belluscio, Director of The LeRoy Historical Society.) Led by their Historical Society, the people, companies and organizations of LeRoy contributed over $15,000 and many services to “save” their Lady Liberty. See also, The Batavian (March 7, 2016); and Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (July 2, 2016). 

 . .

. . above: [R] LeRoy Liberty replica, pre-rehab; [L] refurbished statue in LeRoy House,, awaiting rededication at its creekside home.

Here are other views of Upstate NY BSA Liberty Replicas:

. . in Oneonta:

  . . in Olean (in front of new wing of Senior Center)

. . Utica’s Replica being refurbished

Schenectady’s Lady in Exile at Union St. & Erie Boulevard:

 . .

 . .

Will Civic Pride (or Shame) Help Lady Liberty? Schenectady’s City Council approved the Comprehensive Gateway Plaza Plan in 2013, which included the return of our Liberty Replica to the newly configured Plaza once construction was complete. Mayor McCarthy signed the resolution adopting that Plan. Mary Wallinger was the primary author of The Plan, with its call for the return of Lady Liberty, which was designated an Official Document of the City of Schenectady. Neither McCarthy nor Wallinger ever explained to Council or the public why the Liberty Replica was sent away. To date, despite the popularity of the Liberty Park location, City Council has not had the courage to demand that Mayor McCarthy obey the resolution they passed and the Mayor signed in 2013, and return Lady Liberty to Gateway Plaza, which incorporates the statue’s original home, Liberty Park.

. . still available 

Not only did the Comprehensive Plan include a $20,000 line item to pay for the return of Lady Liberty. It also placed a still-empty central sculpture base at virtually the same spot where Lady Liberty stood until August 2017. Last year, Mayor McCarthy did not even respond to two messages from a neighborhood leader offering to move the Replica to this sculpture base at no cost to the City. The photo immediately above and the one below this paragraph depict that ready-for-the-Lady sculpture base, with its seating and space for visitors.

. . 

Unlike the Lady’s Location in Exile, the Plaza’s sculpture base is fully lighted at night. Here’s what they looked like just after sunset on March 20, 2020 (Liberty on the left, the Plaza on the right):

Over the past few years, arguments based on honest government and transparency, respect for public opinion, local history, and the values Lady Liberty embodies, and even basic aesthetics in our so-called Renaissance (and Smart) City, have all failed to move Mayor Gary McCarthy to return Schenectady’s Lady Liberty replica to its Home Park. I’m hoping that this presentation comparing the fate of Schenectady’s Lady Liberty with the respect Her Sister receive in other upstate communities, will hit the mark and let Civic Pride inspire a change of heart on the part of Mayor McCarthy, and change of location for Lady Liberty.

let’s not give Rivers Casino a tax break

. . there are lots of reasons to say NO .

Jim-Angelo-PhilCasinoGroundbreaking

The issue of reducing the gaming tax rate Rivers Casino must pay on slots revenue is back in the news and again threatening to harm Schenectady’s finances. See “Rivers Casino in Schenectady could benefit significantly from Cuomo proposalsDaily Gazette, John Cropley, Jan. 23, 2021). Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new executive budget summary includes a provision that would allow Rivers to petition the state to cut its tax on slot machine revenue to as little as 25 percent, from its current 45% level. As the  Gazette article pointed out:

 In the last normal fiscal year, before COVID, Rivers generated $57.9 million in tax revenue, 91 percent of it from slots; the city and county of Schenectady each got 5 percent of this, or $2.9 million.

If approximately 90 percent of tax revenue to the State, City and County is from slots, reducing the slots tax rate from 45% to 25% (which amounts to a forty-four percent reduction in the tax on slots), would mean about a 40% reduction in overall gaming tax payments to the State by Rivers Casino, with the same reduction to the City and County (and neighboring non-host counties). Similarly, reducing the slot tax rate to 35% from 45% would mean about a 20% reduction in the gaming taxes paid by Rivers Casino.

  • My arguments for refusing such tax cuts are set forth at length, with links to relevant materials, in “Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid” (March 29, 2019) and “Not again, Mr. Steck!“ (June 19, 2019). My main point: The 45% rate is not keeping Rivers Casino from competing against MGM Springfield, which is located 104 miles away. The Springfield casino pays a gaming tax rate of 25%, but also pays $25 million annually to the City of Springfield, under the Host Community Agreement between the City and the Casino. Massachusetts has structured its casino revenue tax differently, putting far more money in the hands of the host community.

A quick summary of the major points is found in a Letter to the Editor in the Daily Gazette, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021, at C7:

GazLTE-SlotsTax-30Jan2021

UncleRiversChicago

NO PANDEMIC EXCUSE. At a time of pandemic-induced fiscal crisis for the State and its municipalities, it does seem strange to give Rivers Casino a large tax break. Are there nonetheless any pandemic-related equities that would make such a tax break reasonable, despite the harm to the treasuries of NYS and Schenectady? Lots of businesses had to close down or reduce their level of operation, due to COVID-19 restrictions. Rivers Casino, which imposed major furloughs on its employees, had 55% lower gaming revenues in 2020. While, MGM Springfield revenue declined by 52% (see Gazette article). However, River Casino’s owner, Chicago-based Rush Street Gaming, with its billionaire CEO Neil Bluhm, has not suggested their Schenectady Casino will have to fold, unless it gets the very indirect and delayed benefits of a permanent gaming tax reduction.

If tax breaks or direct payments are going to be used to help local businesses hurt by COVID-19, we should be starting with assistance to those who need it to survive, not those with deep pockets, whose profits are sent mostly out of state. If Schenectady wanted to help such small businesses it could be hampered by the fear of losing gaming tax revenue from Rivers Casino.

Assemblymen Angelo Santabarbara and Phil Steck (seen with shovels, State Senator Jim Tedisco, in the first image above at the Casino groundbreaking) should make sure the public and legislative colleagues know that Rivers Casino is not losing business to MGM Springfield because of their different tax rates on slots. The transfer of slots gaming tax revenue from the City and County of Schenectady and their taxpayers to Rivers Casino can only be a net loss for our community.

new signs prove curbless bump-outs are just a pretty face

IMG_1878

IMG_1881

New signs were installed last week at Union Street intersections in the Stockade (two examples above) to keep vehicles from parking on the fancy brick “bump-outs” constructed more than two months ago. The “No Standing Here To Corner” signs confirm arguments made in our prior posting “our curb-less curb extensions” (July 7, 2020). The post explains why “bump-outs” without curbs fail to achieve the safety goals attributed to the traffic mitigation device called curb-extensions.

Instead, the so-called “bump-outs” of inlaid brick, which were created at the behest of Stockade Association leaders, are at best expensive and ineffective, and at worse likely to cause a false sense of security for pedestrians and others expecting safety improvements on our streets. In a nutshell: Without curbs setting them off from the street, brick bump-outs are not extensions of the sidewalk, they are part of the roadway, where vehicles are likely to park, blocking sight-lines, and over which vehicles are likely to travel, especially when making a tight turn. [see examples in collage below taken Aug. 20, 2020] Moreover, because without bricks they do not reduce the size of the roadway at the intersections, they are unlikely to achieve the other major goal of such traffic mitigation devices: reduction of the speed of vehicles.

    CurbsNeeded2  . . 

The “No Standing Here To Corner” signs installed last week by the City at each of the Stockade bump-outs (click on collage below this paragraph) are a tacit admission that drivers have been, and are likely to continue, parking on the curbless brick bump-outs. Our prior post pointed out that such signs were a lot less expensive and a lot more effective than the fancy brick pavement now adorning the Stockade’s Union Street corners. As installed, the bump-outs do little or nothing to assure the goal of more “daylight” and better visibility at the intersections, as they cannot ensure that vehicles are parked sufficiently far back from the intersection.

HereToCornerSigns

A New York State guideline on traffic calming and safety points out that vehicles can be expected to drive around, and not to park on, actual curb-extensions. When necessary, however, emergency vehicles are capable of driving over a curb to make a turn — far more easily than driving over a parked car that is in the way.

Despite the signs, many persons waiting on those bricks to cross the street, whether on foot, in a wheelchair, or on a bicycle, may not realize that they are waiting in the road, with less protection than if they were back on a sidewalk and behind a curb.

BO-Union-Churchfollow-up (Jan. 14, 2021): (1) No Longer a Pretty Face. Only six months after their installation, I’m afraid that dirt and grime (from tires and snowbanks) have eliminated the “pretty face” aspect of the bump-outs, which had at least pleased neighbors unworried about safety factors. [Photo to right taken Jan. 14, 2021, at Union and S. Church St.] (2) Pandemic Package Delivery: The great increase in vehicles bringing packages to Stockade buildings due to “pandemic” online shopping (including groceries), or fulfilling “take-out orders” from food vendors, has meant that far too often the curbless corner fancy bricks have a delivery vehicle of some sort parked on them while one or more deliveries is being made. With the cars of at-home workers taking up parking spaces normally empty during the day, the “bump-outs” are often the only “available” place to leave a delivery vehicle.

IMG_1902ADDITIONAL COST. In addition to the original high cost of installing the “pink street tattoos” at 12 Stockade corners, the City has now paid to install one or two of the new signs at each “bump-out”.  The signs, of course, only help solve the parking on the bricks issue. They do not narrow the street to calm traffic, nor shorten the crosswalks for pedestrians or prevent tight turns, which properly constructed curb-extensions are meant to do.

Clearly, the signs by themselves will not stop drivers parking too close to the intersections. 

IMG_1905

WHY NO CURBS. The only “explanation” I have received for the lack of curbs came on August 19 from Stockade Association president Susanne Unger. Suzy wrote:

I was given to understand [from City Engineer Chris Wallin] that they had to be flush because the handicapped ramps had already been installed.
 
There are many replies to that faulty reasoning.
  • First, of course, is that those corners and intersections were under construction (and re-construction) all year and part of the planning should have been an efficient incorporation of the access ramps into the bump-outs.
  • Next, our City engineers surely know how to design and install curb-extension access ramps, having done so all over town, including locations where prior access ramps were already in place but were re-designed.
  • In the name of handicap access and safety — and surely reducing expenses — the City left in place ramps that deposit those in a wheelchair or similar device on bricks that offer no buffer from traffic, as they are fully part of the roadway, and are not edged with curbs. 
  • And, of course, we need to ask what the Stockade Association leaders did when told the bump-outs would not have the curbs needed to perform adequately. Shouldn’t they have asked for the project to be postponed in order to find a better solution?

I’m still hoping that someone on City Council and/or in the media will take enough interest in these issues to find out the cost of the useless bump-outs, and the added No-Standing to Corner signs, and discover how the decision was made to leave out curbs, and later not to fix the bump-outs to bring them up to the definition of a curb-extension. 

The Stockade Streetscape Plan, which was the source and instigation for installing bump-outs on Union Street, told us that “bump-outs, if designed properly, will be one of the most effective means of providing pedestrian safety.” (emphasis added). Furthermore, the Streetscape Plan asserts often that “The City will not approve a bump-out that cannot be designed for both safety and function.” That promise was not kept. 

one year too many for exiled Lady Liberty

LadyL1stAnn3Silhouette Lady visited Lady Liberty on the first Anniversary of its Exile by Mayor McCarthy to Erie Boulevard and Union Street. Silhouette Lady symbolizes the absence of Lady Liberty from Liberty Park, and demands the return to that Park, as promised in the Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan. [See the Map at bottom of this posting for the two locations (Exile & Home).]

LadyL1stAnn1 . . 

HONEST GOVERNMENT and HONORING OUR HISTORY REQUIRE the RETURN of LADY LIBERTY to LIBERTY-GATEWAY PARK

IMG_1845-001On Friday, August 28, 2019, only a few passersby noticed that Schenectady’s Lady Liberty Replica was perched on a small pedestal at the southeast corner of Erie Boulevard and Union Street. It is a homely spot, with several poles and utility boxes blocking the view of the statue, no foot traffic, and a daunting intersection for pedestrians to cross. Over this past year, there has been no placement of a plaque or educational signage, no significant site improvement, and no lighting installed for safety or illumination at the statue. It has frequently been the site of debris and litter, pranks and other annoyances, with a backdrop of tagging and graffiti. As expected, there have been virtually no visitors. [Photos to right and immediately below taken near sunset on August 24, 2020; see below for photo of our preferred spot taken that same evening.]

We must demand better treatment of Lady Liberty’s statue and better governmental processes at City Hall. The location issue can be remedied by the Mayor with no interruption of the important work being done on Black Lives Matter, the Pandemic, and related fiscal issues. However, after all the machinations of Gary McCarthy and Mary Wallinger, the Honesty and Trust issue will take significantly more time to fix.

LLexiled24AugL

Why bother protesting? The location in Exile:

  • LLPlacqueBSADisrespects a national symbol and beloved local icon, as well as the Boy Scouts who donated the statue in 1950, and who for many decades joined annually with veterans and the public at Liberty Park, re-dedicating themselves to the spirit of Lady Liberty. [At right, photo of the absent, original plaque that went into storage in August 2017.]
  • Demonstrates (continually) the refusal of Mayor Gary McCarthy to follow the 2013 Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, adopted after full public participation, and approved by City Council and the Mayor himself. The Plan, as shown on its cover and repeated within, called for removing the Statue during construction for its protection, and then implementation of the only conceivable result after reconstruction: Return of the Statue to Liberty-Gateway Park, to truly complete the project.
  • Destroys and undermines notions of transparency and integrity in our governmental process — with a vital element of an approved Plan abandoned without notice and without giving any substantive reasons, despite public opinion, and with the new location selected in secret with no public participation nor consultation with City Council. After drafting and promoting the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, Mary Wallinger (now chair of the Schenectady Planning Commission) changed her position and convinced Mayor McCarthy not to return the replica statue to its home. [For a description and refutation of Wallinger’s “reasons” for exiling Lady Liberty, see our posting on “Wallinger’s excuses“.] 

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Out of respect for good government, public opinion, and Lady Liberty, Schenectady must do better than this:

LLNewSpot2020Jan

A better, and in fact most appropriate, spot is available in Liberty Park at Gateway Plaza: The vacant Central Sculpture base situated in virtually the same location where Lady Liberty stood for 67 years.

IMG_1838-001 . . . . as seen Aug. 24, 2020, near sunset.

DSCF5593-001 . . . . unlike the Mayor’s chosen Exile Location, the sculpture base is already well-lit each evening.

. . click this thumbnail collage for more images: LLBestSpotCollageF

  • Bringing Lady Liberty home, after finally cleaning the statue and making any needed minor repairs, can be done at very little additional cost, especially since there was a $20,000 line item for returning the Replica Statue — relocating it in the new Plaza — in the Final Implementation Plan. Furthermore, Mayor McCarthy has not even responded to a resident who offered (twice) to organize the Return at no cost to the City.

For a full discussion of the issues and history of the dispute over the location of our Lady Liberty Replica, including quotations, links, images, the frustrating FOIL response (purportedly, the decision to ignore the Implementation Plan was never discussed in writing at City Hall), and more, see “Lady Liberty is Timeless (March 26, 2018) and “McCarthy disses Lady Liberty (and all of us) again” (August 28, 2019).

Our prior photo-advocacy helps tell the story through words and images (click on a thumbnail for larger versions):

. . . . 

  • MAP. This Google May shows the “exile location” of Lady Liberty’s replica and the four-block walk (0.4 miles) to Liberty-Gateway Park.

LadyExileWalkToPark

LadyL1stAnn2

BTW: DEDICATION DAY: A DIFFERENT MAYOR SAW THE STATUE DIFFERENTLY: 

  • The procrastination and stubbornness of our current Mayor and his carefree attitude toward Lady Liberty, her proponents, and the Planning and legislative process, is in stark contrast to the importance of the Statue to the City at the time of its Dedication. The front page of the Schenectady Gazette on November 9, 1950 gave great prominence to the story, with an article and photo above the fold. The article states that 2500 scouts and scouters marched in a parade to the Park, with a crowd of 3,500 persons overflowing the small park for the dedication ceremony. Then Mayor Owen M. Begley called it a “beautiful, beautiful gift,” commenting that the replica here will be a great emblem in Schenectady of our great heritage of liberty.

follow-up (excerpted from our posting on the anniversary of the Lady’s 2nd year in exile):

  • Step-Child Treatment: The posting “Our stepchild Lady Liberty” shows how poorly Lady Liberty is being treated compared to nearby, far less significant locations in downtown Schenectady. And, “Will civic pride save Schenectady’s Lady Liberty” detailing how much better the 100+ Boy Scout Liberty replicas existing around the nation are being treated, especially the others located in Upstate New York.

JimWilsonAlso, see, “Letters for the Lady” for the many letters to the editor and opinion pieces arguing for the return of Lady Liberty to Liberty Park. (Both James Wilson [to the Left] and Lance Jackson have written several times to the Gazette on behalf of Lady Liberty, as has the Gazette editorial board.) And, see “Lady Liberty is Timeless” to understand how Mayor McCarthy and Mary Wallinger created this avoidable crisis in civic and aesthetic crisis in Schenectady.

 

our curb-less curb extensions

View Post

John Coluccio & curb

Intro: It’s been a month since I wrote Schenectady Signal Control Superintendent John Coluccio, asking whether the new Stockade “bump-outs” will protect pedestrians despite having no curbs. A week later, I again wrote Mr. Coluccio, cc’ing City Commissioner of Services Paul LaFond and Stockade Association leaders, among others, asking if there are any Rules of the Road concerning whether or when vehicles may drive over or park on such bump-outs. Because I have received no reply from the City, and no substantive response from the Stockade Association, I’ve had to do my own research and draw my own conclusions. Below are my findings.

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follow-up (August 19, 2020): No one at City Hall nor on the Stockade Association Board has yet replied to my questions about the rationale and efficacy of curbless bumpouts. I took the two photos in this collage on August 15, 2020, and added some editorial comments.

CurbsNeeded

IMG_1881 additional follow-up (September 9, 2020): The City has erected “No Standing Here to Corner” signs to compensate in part for the lack of curbs. See See https://tinyurl.com/HereToCorner

With NO CURBS or SIGNS to PREVENT PARKING on the bump-outs, the Stockade versions are significantly less likely to provide the hoped-for improvement in visibility of and by pedestrians, and may give a false sense of safety (especially to children). Although the bricks are prettier than asphalt, without curbs around the bump-outs, they are still part of the roadway for use by vehicles.

WITHOUT CURBS, Union Street is not actually narrowed in the Stockade, and vehicles (including bicycles) are likely to drive over them, especially when a larger vehicle is making a turn into a street where another vehicle is stopped.

  • hazardsignThe safety goal of having a shorter crosswalk to traverse with the bump-out is compromised when a pedestrian or wheelchair occupant is waiting for traffic on a curbless bump-out, as curbs offer an element of safety to those waiting to cross, and also require vehicles to make a wider turn. To the extent that a real curb-extension prevents parking close to the crosswalk or intersection, they allow drivers to see waiting pedestrians. That benefit is lost if vehicles are parked on a curbless bump-out. Curbs let all know that the “bump-out” is part of the sidewalk, not part of the roadway.

.

  • CURB-EXTENSIONS are Traffic Calming Devices that attempt to slow down traffic and increase visibility by narrowing the roadway, shortening the crossing distance for pedestrians, and preventing vehicles from limiting sight-lines by parking too close to the intersection. By definition, Curb-Extensions, and their “bump-out” subset at intersections, extend the curbline, using curbs (or other “vertical elements”, such as bollards, or  planters), to delineate an extension of the sidewalk and corresponding narrowing of the roadway and thus to guide traffic and protect pedestrians.
  • Bump-outs at other Schenectady locations all have curbs — with, of course, handicap access ramps. See, for example at Upper Union St and Dean Street, and along the Proctor’s Block, and the block of S. Church Street between State and Liberty.
  • As shown in the collage immediately below, the only illustration of a bump-out in the Stockade Streetscape Plan shows a prominent curb. Furthermore, the City’s experiment last year, at an intersection near City Hall, with analogous curbless painted pedestrian safety zones (which were a lot less expensive), added temporary bollards to help make the space safer (see Gazette article, Sept. 22, 2019).

    • When a comment was left online complaining about hitting a bump-out with a tire when turning onto Jefferson St. near Morrette’s, the response does not reassure the commenter that there will be no curbs to hit, but instead notes that getting used to the new arrangement will make the intersection safer for pedestrians.
  • The Stockade Streetscape Plan itself has virtually no discussion of bump-outs. There is a Traffic Calming Map showing proposed locations. In the Plan Appendices, however, responses to resident comments concerning bump-outs, are instructive although eerily repetitive. [Screenshots of the three relevant pages can be found at the bottom of this posting.]
    • The Glossary (Appendix A), gives this definition: “Bump-out. A visual and physical narrowing of the roadway where the sidewalk is extended to shorten the crossing width for pedestrians. Also known as curb extension or bulb-out.” Of course, without a vertical element such as curbing, there is no physical narrowing.
    • In addition, Appendix F states that “bump-outs, if designed properly, will be one of the most effective means of providing pedestrian safety.” (emphasis added). Furthermore, the Streetscape Plan asserts often that “The City will not approve a bump-out that cannot be designed for both safety and function.”
    • TEST STUDY? When a resident at a public meeting on the Streetscape suggested that a “test study be done,” the Plan commenter replied (at 86), “This may happen prior to permanent installation of bump-outs, similar to the “test” at the Liberty and Jay Street intersection.” There was no such test study, but merely a complete installation of all proposed bump-outs.
  • New York State and Federal design guidelines for curb extensions make clear that they do not mix well with storm drains, and must be located with them in mind. Nonetheless, most of the Stockade bump-outs incorporate existing storms drains. Since the City and Stockade Association have not revealed their design strategy to us, the most likely conclusion is that there are no curbs because curbs would block water from reaching the storm drains and working around them is just too expensive.
  • The failure to design the Stockade bump-outs around the existing storm drains, or to slightly relocate the existing storm drains to accommodate the bump-outs, is especially surprising, given the fact that the blocks in question underwent so much excavation, refilling, and resurfacing over the past year.
  • At p. 85 of Appendix F, the Stockade Streetscape Plan correctly notes:
“The proposed design concepts and considerations have generally accounted for the needs of all users, but the details must be confirmed through the design and engineering process”
.
  • That statement raises the question: Was SA in the Design Loop? Did the City ever inform the Stockade Association Board about the problem of storm drainage and the use of curbs, or visa-versa? At the very least, the subject should have been addressed earlier this year when City Council approved the Stockade Streetscape Plan and basically incorporated it into the City Zoning Code.
  • When did SA leaders know we were getting curbless bump-outs that were in effect not bump-outs or curb-extensions at all, and were less likely to achieve their safety or traffic calming goals? If SA was surprised when the first one went in without curbs, why did they not ask for the process to immediately stop? The SA president lives on that stretch of Union Street.

CONCLUSIONS

These are Not Curb-Extensions. The Stockade does not have bump-outs/curb-extensions at its Union Street intersections. It has very expensive brick designs installed at those corners, with no comparable expectation of driver compliance with the goal of less speed when going through the intersection or making turns, nor of parking further back from the intersections and crosswalks than has become traditional in the neighborhood, to enhance pedestrian safety through “daylighting“.

COSTS. Even without hand-laid brick, bump-outs are not cheap. The Federal Highway Administration pedestrian safety guide states that: “Curb extensions cost from $2,000 to $20,000 per corner, depending on design and site conditions. Drainage is usually the most significant determinant of costs. If the curb extension area is large and special pavement and street furnishings and planting are included, costs would also be higher.”

Were curbs abandoned by City designers due to the extra cost of working around water drainage problems? If so, were responsible officials and neighborhood representatives told that safety goals were being greatly compromised?

No Rules of the Road. No wonder neither the City nor SA Board has given us Rules of the Road for curbless bump-outs. “Curbless bump-outs” is an oxymoron. They are non-existent creatures unknown to motor vehicle departments and roadway design teams. Therefore, to salvage at least a bit of the original neighborhood safety goals, signage and education are needed explaining that the bump-outs may not be parked on or driven over.

IMHO:

Very Expensive and Hard to Maintain. The inlaid brick designs are: 1] Not historically correct in a neighborhood that had cobblestones, not brick, streets; 2] Too similar to bricks used nearby for crosswalks (i.e., entering the Stockade at Erie Blvd. and at State and So. Ferry St.) that are meant to be driven over, and have been shown to quickly loose their aesthetic appeal; 3] Known to be difficult and expensive to maintain, especially under winter conditions, and thus given up by other cities.

BAD DEAL for the STOCKADE: For the past few years, Stockade Association leaders have been pulling their punches or acting like cheerleaders when dealing with City Hall. Some observers have felt their goal in not rocking the boat was to achieve acceptance and payment for the Streetscape Plan, especially the bump-outs and other traffic calming measures. If that was their goal, too much was given away in Association effectiveness and self-esteem given the bumpy results.

There must be a lot of lessons to be learned here. And, there should be accountability for the poor results.

=======

From Stockade Streetscape Plan, Appendix F, Final Public Workshop – April 22, 2019 Meeting Comments & Online Comments:

Conclusions from the June 1st Pump Station Briefing

 . . Below is the Email message sent by David Giacalone to the Historic Stockade Yahoo Listserv on June 23, 2020. It continues the tale told in our prior posting “was the Pump Station another Rendering Ruse” (May 7, 2020). .

GrandOldTree-img_3835
. . view of Grand Old Tree and Old Pump Station (June 2017)
Dear Stockade Community:
You may recall that there was a “Briefing” about the new North Ferry Street Pump Station for the members of our City Council, at their June 1, 2020 Committees meeting, which was held by teleconference. CHA chief engineer Mike Miller and City Director of General Services Paul Lafond made the presentation, and Council Member Marion Porterfield led the questioning. 
The Gazette and Time Union have not reported on the event, nor has it been summarized by the Stockade Association.You can see the Meeting for yourselves at the Open Stage Media Video On Demand page, at https://tinyurl.com/NFSPSbriefing. The Briefing lasts about 50 minutes and is the first matter taken up at the Meeting.
CONCLUSIONS and COMMENTS. After watching the Briefing live on June 1st and listening again at a better pace for note-taking last week, I wrote up a set of Conclusions with Comments, which I sent by email Sunday to City Council members and the press. For those who are interested in the full treatment, I am attaching an 11-page pdf file of that email, which includes many relevant quotes and images, along with additional points and comments. Below is an Outline of the Conclusions
.
The Briefing was requested and is best viewed with the following key points in mind
  • The Council’s June 2017 Clarifying Resolution (Res. 2017-179; attached below) clearly statesany overflow into Riverside Park will be minimized to no wider than 30 feet, including needed landscaping and buffering for a new pump station.” And that no construction will be approved “it the design requires taking a portion of parkland extending more than 30 ft. to the west of the current pumping station fence into Riverside Park.”
  • All prior renderings of the Project shown to the public and Council: (1) Depicted the New Station situated so as to allow the façade of the Old Pump House to be seen from the West Lawn of the Park and other locations west of the New Station, and (2) Show the preservation of the healthy century-old silver maple tree after the construction process. For example:
 
The Conclusions, in my opinion, call for further action by City Council, to assert its primacy in setting policy and budgets. The Council and members of the Stockade community (with or without Stockade Association support) should continue to press this matter. For example, by insisting
 
(1) CHA provide a new full rendering depicting the current proposed location of the new station, new fence, and nearby trees
(2) Any Construction be paused that would prevent “bumping” back the New Pump Station, farther from the River, so that we and future generations will be able to view the picturesque historic façade of the Old Pump House from west of the new pump station.
(3) A new site plan be presented to the Council and Stockade community that allows the Old Pump House, as in the October 2017 Plan, to be seen from west of the New Pump Station
 
Another issue that needs consideration is whether 25 years of working with the City has made CHA’s relationship too cozy with City officials. Ignoring Council resolutions and offering less-than-useful-and-frank “briefings” should not be tolerated in a contractor making millions of dollars.
 
OUTLINE of CONCLUSIONS (with comments)
.
1] MILLER & LAFOND CLEARLY SHOW THAT EVEN THE ABOVE GROUND PORTION of the MAY 2019 PLAN VIOLATES COUNCIL Res. 2017-179 and continues to be inconsistent with it —viz., in words and images, it is clear that part of the New Pump Station Lot encroaches 34 feet into the Park.
  • ABOVE GROUND. At 30:30 to 31:40] Miller admits the encroachment of the design made after consulting with the contractors is “roughly 34 feet on the north side, 21 ft on the back side”.
    • Miller explains [at about 38:00] that “The only specific guidance we had was not moving the fence line more than 30 ft. into the park”. That raises the question as to why he, Lafond and Mayor McCarthy (and later the Stockade Association Board) nonetheless endorsed a plan with a section of the fencing 34 ft to the west of the old fencing.
  • Also, BELOW GROUND: [31:50] there is encroachment of “roughly 50 feet” past the original fence.
    • Although Miller told Karen Z-W that the dimensions of the underground portion have not changed, he did not clarify that the underground portion is at least 15’ farther into the Park than with the October 2017 Plan, in which the underground portion already butted right up to the 30’ mark.
2] NO NOTICE OF THE SIGNIFICANT CHANGES WAS GIVEN TO THE COUNCIL OR NEIGHBORHOOD, although the changes in the October 2017 plan were made as early as 2018, and despite constant communication with City Hall and with Stockade Association leaders. Mr. Miller notes that he spoke with the Mayor and Mr. Lafond about the changes. (The City officials apparently did not insist thereafter on Notice to the Council under the June 2017 Clarifying Resolution.)
 
3] THEIR ARGUMENT that the MAY 2019 PLAN IS CONSISTENT with the RESOLUTION DOES NOT HOLD WATERThey Say:
 
  • We did not move the new building farther than the 30 ft agreement
    • But: The Clarifying Resolution does not contain the word “building” and explicitly states that the overflow shall be minimized to no wider than 30 feet, including needed landscaping and buffering for a new pump station.” 
  • The overflow was roughly 28 foot average on that structure.
    • But: Average Encroachment is not a concept found in or suggested by Res. 2017-179, and adopting that standard suggests Miller & Lafond knew they could not meet the “no wider than 30 feet” requirement.
  • The Agreement and Guidance only concerned above-ground, green space
    • ButThere is no distinction in the Resolution between above and below ground encroachment, nor mention of green space, or use by the public. 
 
NOTE BENE: There may be valid reasons why the facility needed to be moved to the west and north. But, the failure of the Pump Station managers to notify the Council and public of the changes prior to implementing the May 2019 Plan, deprived us all of the chance to test those reasons and seek alternatives that would preserve the elements of the October 2017 Plan that protected Park aesthetics, while fulfilling the CIty’s engineering goals. There was plenty of time to achieve that balance before our current spring construction season.
 
4] NO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT IS GIVEN THAT THE VIEW OF THE OLD PUMP STATION IS BLOCKED FROM THE WEST UNDER THE NEW PLAN, a significant change from the 2017 Plan. 
 
  • An Obstructed View of an Historic Resource is considered an adverse impact which must be removed or mitigated under our Environmental Review law.
  • Miller makes the (flippant) observation that you can see more of the Old Pump House than when the two Stations were closer together (yes, if you stand, or float by, directly in front of the increased space between the Old and New Stations).
  • The New Rendering is Irrelevant to the issues raised. 
    • Miller was asked for a new rendering analogous to the set of Oct. 2017 renderings (example above), which showed the positioning of the two pump stations, and location of the new fence, along with preservation of the Grand Old Maple Tree. 
The unhelpful New Rendering, seen below, only shows the New Pump Station in its latest form, giving us the presumed answer to the unasked question of whether the outer design (appearance) had changed. No one said it had changed in any significant way.

5] THE FATE of the CENTURY-OLD SILVER MAPLE TREE WAS KNOWN in EARLY 2018 and NEVER REVEALED to the public in the two years before it was chopped down.

 
6] THE STOCKADE ASSOCIATION BOARD’s EXONERATION of CHA & CITY SHOULD BE GIVEN LITTLE WEIGHT. As we expected, Mr. Miller points to the Board’s May 8th Letter as supporting his claim of consistency with the Clarifying Resolution. [34:56] The Letter, which was sent without consulting the Members or the wider community, repeats Miller’s argument that the Clarifying Resolution only refers to overflow into the Park by a building. But, the Board’s claim that the Resolution contains the phrase “building overflow” is simply wrong (and Ms. Unger has never responded to my May 8th email giving many additional reasons why the new plan is inconsistent).
 
7] OUR “VERY ENGAGED COMMUNITY” & COUNCIL APPEAR TO BE THE REASON FOR SILENCE ABOUT THE SECRET MAY 2019 PLAN, which was proposed by subcontractors two years ago. 
 
  • It surely was very important to the project managers that the Clarifying Resolution states:
RESOLVED, without a full public hearing on such design, the City Council shall approve no contract for the construction of a new pump station, and no construction shall be approved if the design requires taking a portion of parkland extending more than 30 ft. to the west of the current pumping station fence into Riverside Park.

============

Thank you, Stockade Community and Riverside Park Protectors, for taking the time to consider the facts and factors surrounding the New Pump Station, especially the changes made after the October 2017 plan was approved. For a full account of the issues raised by the Secret May 2019 Plan, including images and links to materials, see  https://tinyurl.com/RenderingRuse
David Giacalone
P.S. If you would like more information or have a comment, please let some or all of the following folks know:
 

. . share this posting with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/PSBriefing

.

Summary of Pump Station Briefing. (pdf file; email to City Council from David Giacalone, June 21, 2020)

 
 
 
 

 

was the Pump Station another Rendering Ruse?

above & below: RENDERINGS of new North Ferry St. Pump Station at Schenectady’s Riverside Park,  submitted to the public October 2017.  (The grand, hundred-year-old tree marked with a white asterisk by the editor, is preserved in the renderings. Also, the façade of the Old Pump House is visible from the west.)

ACTUAL

– June 2017

– April 2020

pumpstation11apr2020.jpg  . .

. . above: Grand Old Tree [L] April 11, 2020; [R] April 22, 2020 . .

– July 28, 2020

DSCF9084

. . above: the reinforcement and framing for the underground portion of the New Pump Station make it obvious that the new building will stand significantly north of the Old Pump House, blocking the view of it from the west portion of the Park and when approaching from the west on the Mohawk River . .  

. . and see the followup (June 23, 2020): “Conclusions from the June 1st Pump Station Briefing” . .

. . share this post with this shorter URL: https://tinyurl.com/RenderingRuse

GrandOldTree13June2017

INTRODUCTION: The grand old tree that graced the West Lawn of Riverside Park for over a century was chopped down last week on Earth Day 2020, April 22. (Marked with a white asterisk in the two renderings above; 2017 photo on the right.) It was still healthy, with a diameter of 60 inches. Many Stockade residents and Riverside Park lovers where surprised, shocked, saddened. We were sure that significant tree would be preserved in the multi-million dollar pump station project being staged currently at the Park. We did know that a few “lesser” trees along the pump station’s original fence did need to come down to fit a new pump station on the lot of the old pump house. As would be expected, those lesser trees do not appear in the 2017 renderings, which are meant to show what a site will look like after the proposed construction is completed.

PumpStaMay2019Plan . . “surprise” May 2019 Plan .  We sought explanations. In an email on April 27, 2020, to Stockade Association President Suzanne Unger, we were given “answers” by the CHA Project Engineer for the New North Ferry Street Pump Station project, Mike Miller. Mr Miller answered questions from Stockade resident Emmanuel Maillet, whose backyard borders on that part of the Park. Miller wrote that the conclusion the Grand Old Tree needed to be removed was made at the time the City asked the engineers to put the new pump station on the old lot, rather than their proposal to put it on the Park’s beautiful West Lawn. Miller added that its removal was included in the “final plans” they developed in May 2019 (click on image at head of this paragraph):

[Q] When did it first become clear that the [huge old tree in Riverside Park] had to go?  [A] Removal of the tree was first determined to be necessary when the City was requested to build the new facility adjacent to the existing pump house.  Provisions for removal of the tree were included in final plans that were developed for the Project, dated 5/14/19.

But the City’s request to move the needed pump station was made months before the above renderings showing the Grand Tree were presented in October 2017 to the City and the public. Those renderings did not reflect the actual (and apparently anticipated) fate of the beloved tree, but the public was not told and did not know that.

  • Mike Miller noted in a phone call with Emmanuel Maillet that the project architect put the tree in the renderings. We’ve heard nothing from the architect on this issue.

More to the point, no one in the Stockade community, including the Board of the Stockade Association, had ever heard of a 3rd/Final Pump Station Plan. [As of May 15, 2020, you will still not find it on the Association’s Pump Station Documents Page.] The May 2019 plat shows the Pump Station moved perhaps 20 feet to the north and west of the October 2017 version, thus purportedly necessitating the removal of the Grand Old Tree and completely blocking view of the Old Pump House from the west. The “secret” May 2019 plan, which we never knew about, did indeed indicate the Tree’s removal (as I have noted in red on the image to the right of this paragraph, which compares the May 2019 plan to the last public plan in October 2017; click on the collage for a larger version).

  • CONSTANT COMMUNICATION. When asked recently about the apparent failure of those responsible for the Pump Station Project to notify residents of the Stockade or its Association, both Mayor Gary McCarthy and Director of Operations Paul Lafond have mentioned that there has been constant communication with the Stockade Association officials over the past year. This is a true but misleading statement. It is telling, on the other hand, that Paul Lafond and Gary McCarthy both attended the 2019 Stockade Association Annual Meeting, which took place on May 16, 2019, just two days after the date of the May 2019 “final plan.” Nonetheless, according to Carol DeLaMater, who was SA president at the time, “There was no update from city on changes to site plan presented to HUD by GOSR on city’s behalf for CDBG-DR funding”. Of course, notice of important changes should be made before, not after (and certainly not a year after) promulgating a final plan revising a public Plan approved by the City Council and supported by the public.

PS-TreeRemovalsPlanGOT The Tree Removals Plan submitted by the City for the initial Environmental Assessment in Nov. 2018 (at 62), showed five trees being removed, but did not include the Grand Old Tree as one of them (click on the annotated thumbnail image to the left). In the May 9, 2019 revised Environmental Report (at 31), the removal of five trees was again indicated on the submission (with no blue ink to show a change), but the large tree that had already been removed to the east of the Old Pump House was no longer on the plat. Thus, the “five trees” for removal now included the Grand Old Tree, but the text was not changed to show it was actually a 6th tree that would be removed for this Project. See the annotated screenshot immediately below.

GOSR-5trees1

 

Blocked View of the Old Pump House Façade

OldPumpFromWest

. . the secret May 2019 plan would block views of the Old Pump House façade from the west, by placing the front face of the New Station closer to the River than the Old Pump House . .

  • PS-SetbackVAnother very important change in the May 2019 Plan is the moving of the new station to the north (closer to the River) so that it totally blocks the view of the picturesque and beloved Old Pump House from the west. (The image to the right shows the last public renderings from October 2017, with the new station set back to keep the façade of the Old Pump House and a west-facing arched window in view from the west.) In an environmental impact assessment, obstructing the view of a Historic Resource or District is deemed an adverse impact that must be removed or mitigated. [see NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Visual Impact Assessment Policy (2000)] We were never told about, and so were not able to contest, what would be an irreversible loss if the May 2019 Plan is followed.
  • The State Historic Preservation Office [SHPO] okayed the October 2017 location and footprint of the project, based on the then-existing “site plan”, drawings and renderings for the project. However, it appears that SHPO never considered the new location of the Pump Station for the final GOSR Environmental Assessment (May 9, 2019) of the North Ferry St. Pump Station, which included no new renderings or sketches, but has a cover image that continues to show the new station set back south of the façade of the Old Pump House.

But, who knew such a plan existed?

The following statement from the April 2020 Stockade Spy (at 2) presents comments of Mike Miller to the Stockade Association and does not mention a May 2019 Final Plan:

According to Mike Miller from CHA Inc, the proposed design for the pump station (e.g., building footprint or elevation) has not changed since it was presented for public input in fall of 2017. The layout for the pump station requires that the average encroachment into the park (along the west parcel line) be less than 30 -feet, per the parkland alienation legislative language. Based on the survey for the existing pump station parcel, the current layout results in an average encroachment beyond the pump station lot of just under 28-feet. The north fence line along the river will be relocated closer to the pump station, resulting in more accessible park land which can be utilized by the public. This results in negligible loss of lands for public use within Riverside Park.

After seeing the May 14, 2019 “final” Plan sent by Mr. Miller to SA President Suzanne Unger,  I have to conclude that his statement to the Spy for the April edition seems to be crafted to be reassuring and to deter probing questions, but in doing so was highly misleading. Mr. Miller’s standard that the “average encroachment into the park be less than 30 feet,” misstates the City Council’s clarifying resolution, which clearly states that “any overflow into Riverside Park will be minimized to no wider than 30 feet, including needed landscaping and buffering for a new pump station.” It goes on the resolve that: 

without a full public hearing on such design, the City Council shall approve no contract for the construction of a new pump station, and no construction shall be approved if the design requires taking a portion of parkland extending more than 30 ft. to the west of the current pumping station fence into Riverside Park.
.
Mr. Miller may be correct that the footprint and elevation, and outward design, of the Pump Station had not changed in the 2019 Plan. (Actually, the facility appears to be larger in the 2019 Plan, as the Old Pump House is the same size in each drawing.) But, the location has been shifted north and west, resulting in an encroachment of more than 30’ into the Park and condemning the Grand Old Tree. His assertion that “average encroachment beyond the pump station lot [is] just under 28-feet,” is surely strong evidence that the encroachment is more than the allowed 30 feet in some places.  Yet, we were never given the chance, and apparently neither was the City Council, to question that Plan and suggest alternatives.
.

Riggi: Hold your feet to the fire.

  • Note (May 7, 2020): I’ve been trying to find out whether the May 14, 2019 plat (also shown in the plan-comparison collage above) was ever brought to the attention of City Council, which passed a special Clarifying Resolution in June 2017, Res. 2017-179, requiring a public hearing before approving any plan for the Pump Station protruding into the Park more than 30 feet from the original fence.  See “what the Parkland Alienation Resolutions mean” (June 13, 2017), at our sister website “Suns along the Mohawk”.  update: (May 19, 2020): City Council member Marion Porterfield, after receiving email from Emmanuel Maillet and David Giacalone asking whether the Council had ever seen the May 2019 Plan, put the issue on the Council Agenda for its May 18, 2020 Committees Meeting. The Mayor assured her she would get a reply within a few days from the relevant City officials. We await her findings.
    • update (May 28, 2020): City Council now plans to have a Pump Station Briefing by relevant officials at its June 1, 2020 Committees Meeting, which will be held “remotely” by teleconference. Click for the AgendaJoin by Phone: 1-415-655-0001; WebEx Access Code: 161 708 6723; Meeting Password: E7HjBk9HSu2
  • Former Council Member Vince Riggi wanted no portion of the Park alienated for the Pump Station, and voted No on the Alienation Resolution. Vince did, however, vote Yes on the Clarifying Parkland Preservation Resolution, warning his colleagues that he would “hold their feet to the fire” to assure the Mayor and Council enforced the Clarifying Resolution’s 30′ maximum intrusion into the Park. When I asked Vince Riggi on May 4 if he recalls ever having the May 2019 Plan submitted to City Council, he wrote right back:
“I do not and I’m sure that is something I would not forget.
.
  • In addition, bolstering our expectation that the tree would be preserved, a plat of the project site submitted to the City in July 2017 showed the Grand Old Tree outside of the portion of parkland the City wanted to alienate to accommodate the new pump station. Click on the annotated detail to the right.
  • Moreover, the Old Tree stood well outside the 30-foot distance from the original fence that City Council requested not be exceeded without a public hearing on any further impingement into the Park. Measurements taken by myself and a neighbor in 2017 are seen in the photo immediately below. [At the bottom of our prior posting, you can read City Council’s June 12, 2017 Resolution, Res. 2017-179, with its stated intent to preserve Riverside Park parkland.]

.

YES, ANOTHER RENDERING RUSE. Taking all of the above into consideration, and receiving no contrary claims from proponents of the new pump station, it is very difficult to avoid the conclusion that the City Council, Stockade, and general public are the victims of a Rendering Ruse. “What’s that?”, you ask. This is my definition:

Rendering Ruse: The use of architectural renderings or engineering drawings that are submitted during a planning process, to gain favor for a project, that show important elements (whether treasured, beloved, historic, popular, etc.), and the viewshed or visibility of such elements, being preserved in the finalized project, that are nonetheless gone when the project is completed.

The compromise leading to the June 12, 2017 Clarifying Resolution was praised by the pleasantly surprised Gazette Editorial Board (June 16, 2017). The editorial nonetheless cautions:

“opponents will still need to maintain the pressure to ensure the city keeps its pledges, including speaking out at the promised public hearing on any new design proposal.”

Clearly, we were not sufficiently vigilant, and were too trusting of a City Hall that has in no way earned that trust when it come to preservation in the face of “progress.”

. . click the collage thumbnails below to see more of the Grand Old Tree and its fate . .

. .

smallquestionmark (update: May 15, 2020): WHAT’s the STOCKADE ASSOCIATION DOING about this? The members of the Stockade Association [“SA”] are rarely asked their opinion on any topic. Instead, the SA Board normally acts on its own, without a significant attempt to ascertain what its members and others in the Stockade neighborhood and community would like to see done.*/ My subjective opinion, admittedly seen from the outside, is that the primary objective of the Association’s Board and Officers most often seems to be not upsetting City Hall, which has frequently been referred to as “Our Partner in Progress” by the Spy, SA’s official newsletter.

*/ Thus, e.g., Board members waited months before being embarrassed into notifying the neighborhood and fighting placement of a Pump Station on the West Lawn, which would have greatly harmed the Park; it was almost too late, but the SA and community acted with one, effective voice once finally roused (proving that strong advocacy can indeed work). In prior years, without first canvassing its members,  (1) the then-sitting Board told City Hall that there was no opposition to a 300-foot dock at Riverside Park (although, once allowed to voice their opinion, the neighborhood voted two to one against a dock); (2) Refused to even put the Casino application on the SA meeting agenda (although the Stockade election district had voted less than a year before against having any commercial casinos upstate). Indeed, before there even was a Casino Application from Schenectady, the sitting SA President (an appointee and supporter of Schenectady’s Mayor) told the Gazette a casino would be a very good thing and she could see no negatives for the Stockade; (3) Welcomed giant boulders at the end of each street along the Park; And, (4) were the only neighborhood association to support John Polimeni’s disastrous Sidewalk Assessment District Plan.

Here, the Board did not first engage the community in a conversation when faced with some serious questions from a number of residents about how the Grand Old Tree could be removed despite the renderings displayed in the last public plan, and why the Board failed to know about the May 2019 Plan, despite dozens of communications between the project leaders and SA officers. Instead, it composed and sent a Letter to the Mayor and City Council, dated May 8, 2020, which was sent by email to SA members but not to the far larger Listserve of Stockade residents and supporters, where the questions about the Earth Day tree removal and the secret surprise Plan had been raised. The Letter from the Board to City Hall:

  • BdLetterCovercalled the communications problems “a snag”
  • assured Mayor and Council they did not think there was any “bait-n-switch” despite the claims of some residents
  • pointed out that the public could have viewed the “plan” at City Hall [despite not knowing about it];
  • concluded that the overflow of more than 30 ft. into Riverside Park was consistent with the Council’s Clarifying Resolution, because it was underground, not above ground [rebutted in this email from David Giacalone]; and
  • noted that not telling the Association about the changes until last month was “a missed opportunity”: “If we had been told a year ago, we could have prepared residents for this change, pointed out to them that trees would be lost and given them some time to process the information.”

Of course, significant changes to an approved plan should be made public to give City Council, nearby residents, and other interested persons the opportunity to review them, raise concerns, and offer alternatives, and not so their “representatives” on the Board can prepare them emotionally for the negative effects. The “opportunity missed” by the Pumping Station engineers and proponents was the chance to respond a year ago to questions about the changes, and if facts and reasoning supported the changes, to thereby quell dissent.

  • 125NFerryMay2020update (May 30, 2020): Justifications given by a contractor for a significant change need to be evaluated and tested. For example, earlier this week, CHA engineer Miller told Emmanuel Maillet that the new pump station had to be located further north and west than in the October 2017 Plan, because the contractor could not get permission to stage construction along a strip of land belonging to the first house to the south of the lot., 125 No. Ferry Street. The owner of that house wrote a letter to the Gazette Editor, published on July 6, 2017,  strongly opposed to the new location on the old pump station lot.  Her unwillingness to cooperate should have been known long before May 2019. A number of observers believe that there were other options readily available at the site for staging that portion of the construction. Such options could have been considered, along with any added cost in dollars and time, in an attempt to mitigate the adverse impact of the May 2019 change in location. If the Council acts quickly, and finds insufficient justification for the changes in the May 2019 plan, it may not be too late to revert to the approved October 2017 Plan.

The proprietor of this website wrote an email to Stockade Association President Suzanne Unger on the day their Letter to City Hall was written, May 8th, only having seen it because an SA member immediately forwarded the Letter to the Stockade Yahoo Listserve.  It has been a full week (Friday, evening, May 15, 2020), and SA President Unger has not responded in any way to my email and questions. (update: still no reply as of June 8, 2020) As the person who wrote the first draft of the Clarifying Resolution, and for many other reasons, I believe the May 2019 Plan violated that Resolution. I won’t go through my points again here, but urge you to read my email to Suzy Unger, if interested.

  • Click to see the SA Board’s May 6, 2020 Resolution explaining their conclusions, and authorizing the May 8 Letter to City Hall.  “Whereas” clauses in the Board Resolution twice use the phrase “building overflow”, saying its use in the Council’s Clarifying Resolution, Res. 2017-179, supports the conclusion that the 30-foot restriction on encroachment only applies to above-ground buildings. The word “building” does not appear in that final version of the Council Resolution, and was not in my first draft of that Clarifying Resolution. Of course, the underground part of the new Pump Station will also be a “building.” SA President Suzanne Unger has not replied to my inquiry as to the source of the phrase “building overflow.” At the bottom of our posting “What the Parkland Alienation Resolutions Mean” (June 13, 2017), you will see the official version of Res. 2017-179 from the City Code website, at 46-47; on May 13, 2020, City Clerk Samanta Mykoo confirmed that the version on the City website is correct).

Pulling off a Rendering Ruse is clearly easier to do when the neighborhood association chartered to “preserve, promote and improve” the district and neighborhood (and represent it to local government) treats the City rather than the neighborhood as its Partner.

OTHER RENDERING RUSES?  One factor favoring the Ruse conclusion here is that it seems to be part of a series of “rendering ruses” (misleading renderings) and similar bait-in-switch episodes in the recent history of Schenectady planning, development, and preservation. Were they intentionally deceptive or inadvertently (negligently) misleading? You’ll have to draw your own conclusions.

But, first, what is a rendering and what do I mean by a ruse?

Architectural rendering, architectural illustration, or architectural visualization is the art of creating two-dimensional images or animations showing the attributes of a proposed architectural design. (Wikipedia)

“Architectural rendering allows an architect to create two-dimensional animations or images with the main goal of showcasing all attributes that should be included in the final design.” (EasyRender.com)

A rendering can be used to communicate a project’s design to the end user. “Buy in” from users, whether employees, customers, or members of the general public, is frequently an important component of a successful project. Renderings can be shown to users during the design process to solicit their feedback, or at the end of the design process to educate users on how a new space will look or function. (SOA-Inc.com)

ruse: n. “a wily subterfuge” (Merriam-Webster)

Putting something the public (and City Council) wants preserved into a submitted rendering can avoid controversy that would be expected by the developer or City if the element were depicted as removed or destroyed in the construction of a project. Such a controversy might force project proponents to admit the loss of the treasured object, jeopardizing its approval, or delay the project for negotiations that might result in more expenses or much bitterness.

Here are some of the candidates for the Rendering Ruse category that have been documented at this website.

  . .

Continue reading

my COVID Dreaming

. . a Wegmans, Not a Casino . .

. . share this post with this URL: https://tinyurl.com/DreamingWegmans

MH-Wegmans5e

Spending more time at home during the COVID-19 Pandemic, it’s difficult not to reflect on lost opportunities here in my adopted City. In a better world, a better City, our “leaders” and “planners” could have done so much better for the people of Schenectady. Imagine, a real supermarket near Downtown (with free shuttle buses) — maybe even a Wegmans, an essential business beloved by millions, not a parasite that fleeces grandma to lower property taxes, constantly seeks gaming tax reductions, feeds us half-truths, hides bad news, and bewitches our toady politicians, etc. etc.

And, I bet we’d still have public access to the Riverbank, and more green-space, even if we add an Aquatic Center, which would actually serve local residents and attract outsiders.

  1. casinoriverbankrenderingBefore the Casino and Galesi demanded the removal of guaranteed public access to the riverbank (and the Mayor and Gillen said “okay”, with Council sheep going along), they showed the image on the right of the Mohawk Harbor and its riverbank, not the inaccessible rip-rap monstrosity we have been stuck with.
  2. mohawkharbororiginalAlso, without a casino, more people would want to live there and be a base for real retail at the Harbor. Before Casino Frenzy gripped them, the Galesi Group proposed two River-House-sized apartment buildings for the site.

No, I don’t have a fever. But, I do have a dream. And, I want to remind our City and County leaders how much better it could have been, when they brag about “bringing” us a casino. Don’t forget: McCarthy left millions on the table.

follow-up (June 1, 2020): As I wrote today at my Facebook page, Mohamed Hafez again reminds us that Mayor Gary McCarthy’s biggest accomplishment was a losing bet, poorly played.

Gaz-LTE-MAH

brighten the mood in Schenectady, bring Lady Liberty Home

LL20Mar2020 . . DSCF5595

. . above (Friday evening, March 20, 2020): [L] Lady Liberty replica in the dark, in Exile at Erie Blvd. and Union Street; [R] well-lighted and empty central sculpture base at Lady Liberty’s real Home, Liberty-Gateway Park .. 

dscf5019As disrespectful as Lady Liberty’s current location is during the daytime (photo to the right), Her condition at night is even more deplorable. The answer is not to figure out lighting for that dismal spot that somehow plays down the inappropriate utility poles and boxes, and lamp posts of all kinds, and the nearby underpass, embankment-retaining wall, and parking lot. The answer is to move the replica statue to its original and intended location at Liberty Park in Gateway Plaza. The Central Sculpture base at Gateway-Liberty Plaza is a grand spot virtually identical with Her original location, visible from the major roadways and comfortably situated in the Park, with plenty of room for visitors standing or sitting, and with lighting that will illuminate the statue daily from sunset through the night.

. . For the Full Story, with a description, photos and links, of how Lady Liberty was Exiled by Mayor McCarthy, at the request of Mary Moore Wallinger, and contrary to the fully approved Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (2013), go to our posting:  https://tinyurl.com/DissedLady

below: Lady Liberty seen in 2016 at Her real Schenectady Home, Liberty Park, where she was intended to return after the reconfiguration and expansion of the Park into Gateway Plaza. [more images here]

LadyInHerPark2016

red checkOne very cost-effective way for our leaders to raise the spirits of the Schenectady Community as we face all the worries of the COVID-19 crisis, would be to have the Lady Liberty replica returned to Liberty Park, to demonstrate that the City of Schenectady honors its history and its promises, and listens to its people.

Continue reading

Schenectady DRI should fine-tune our Real Downtown [updated]

SUMMARY: As has happened often in the last half dozen years, State, City and County officials in charge of development and planning appear to be putting the interests of the owners and developers of Mohawk Harbor and the Rivers Casino before sound planning principles and strategies and, more important, before the interests of the general public in Schenectady City and County. The ten million dollars available through Schenectady DRI [Downtown Revitalization Initiative] grant should be focused on further improving the handful of blocks that residents traditionally consider to be our Downtown, with more of the things that will enhance living, working, visiting, learning, playing, socializing, shopping and just strolling there. Schenectady DRI should refine our already revived Real Downtown, and not construct a fiction that stretches “Downtown” to Mohawk Harbor and invents a demand to walk to and spend money there.

 . . share this post with this short URL:  https://tinyurl.com/RealSchdyDowntown . . 

After the following updates, you will find the Original Posting, which has images and discussion, including walking tours up Jay St. and Erie Blvd. to the Harbor.

UPDATE (July 29, 2020): As previewed in the Gazette, on Thursday, July 30, 2020, at 6 PM. the Schenectady DRI Local Planning Committee held its first meeting since February. Go to the Schenectady DRI webpage for a link to the meeting. As reporter Pete DeMola wrote:

“But the pandemic immediately evaporated millions in tax revenue for the city and attendees will now have to grapple with an dramatically altered economic landscape and weigh if projects considered high priorities before the pandemic should now be reconsidered.”

See “Decision-makers begin to winnow-down Schenectady’s $10m grant wishlist” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, July 31, 2020). From my perspective, the Leadership Planning Committee seemed to pay very little attention to how the COVID-19 pandemic might impact downtown businesses and visitors. And, the Committee did not appear to be prepared for the July 30 meeting.  For example, a considerable amount of time was spent discussing the Highbridge proposal for an apartment mixed-use building on Lower State Street that would have a ramp and about 300 parking spaces. Despite this focus, no one bothered to find out whether a parking fee would be charged for the 150 public spaces.

Reporter DeMola noted favorable attention to two rather lightweight proposals, that might be meant to appease public voices while saving the big bucks for the favored developers:

“LPC members broadly agreed that lighting concepts along bridges and other visible landmarks, including the First United Methodist Church on State Street, were worth an ongoing look, as well as signage to direct people to attractions downtown and at Mohawk Harbor.  . . .

“Lighting concepts and public art installations, including a statue of George Westinghouse, also appeared to receive a positive reception.

“Creating funky and buzzworthy places with art, said Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation Executive Director Jim Salengo, ‘is a good part of embracing all good things happening downtown’.”

Thank you, Daily Gazette, for publishing my letter to the editor, “City must protect its ‘real downtown'”, August 6, 2020, C6 (click on image for a larger version):

GazLTE-DAG6Aug2020.23 AM

Especially in light of unfolding Pandemic complications, I hope members of the Leadership Committee are thoughtfully considering these issues raised in this posting, and that concerned citizens will voice their opinions.

ORIGINAL POSTING

DowntownSchdToHarbor

. . Above: The map returned when I asked Google Maps for the walking directions from “Downtown Schenectady” to Mohawk Harbor . . 

 . .

. . above: views east (R) and west from State and Jay Streets

Jay Street Pedestrian Mall

When was the last time you were enjoying a visit to Downtown Schenectady, on the Proctors Block, at the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall, or even Mill Lane’s Frog Alley, and suggested, “Let’s walk down to Mohawk Harbor”? Did you add, “We could walk back here to our car, with shopping bags and a full tummy.”? Did your companion enthusiastically reply, “Sure, it’s only a little over a mile, and it’s a charming walk”?

If such a conversation would seem as odd to you as it does to me, you might be surprised to know that the Schenectady Application for a DRI (Downtown Revitalization Initiative) grant begins:

DRI Schenectady links the Proctors Block and Lower State Street via a rejuvenated Erie Boulevard as well as other connections to Mohawk Harbor which will be adding attractions and more visitors.

Moreover, in a section titled New Retail and Entertainment Development at Mohawk Harbor, the Schenectady DRI Application also stresses (at 29; underscoring added):

DRI Schenectady is very focused on increasing visitations to Mohawk Harbor, already the leading tourist destination in the Capital Region. With support of DRI funding, the team behind development of the existing Harbor site – the Galesi Group, Metroplex and Rivers Casino & Resort are planning the next phase of the development project. The concept is a 100,000 square foot development to be located between the existing casino and marina on land that borders the riverfront. The development would feature a mix of retail and entertainment tenants. The project is research and data driven.

over a mile on foot from Proctors

After two decades of actual revitalization of our “real” Downtown, and with fill-in and refinement projects readily apparent and proposed for that part of our City, Metroplex and City Hall seem again to be abandoning sound planning principles and denying human nature to come to the aid of what I call the Galesi-Casino Gang.

Successful downtowns in small and medium-size cities are compact, with much to do and attract the eye within “walking distance”. As a Brookings Institute study states (at 13), “Walkable urbanism starts with urban entertainment venues and retail that are within walking distance of one another.” As a Wisconsin University article puts it: Communities with successful downtowns “have an expansive list of attractions and amenities that serve as pedestrian traffic generators. All are within walking distance of each other, creating tight and effective traffic generating zones.” They are, of course, echoing the advice of the legendary Jane Jacobs in her article “Downtown is for People.”

IMG_1098Despite this common sense approach to a successful Downtown, DRI Schenectady somehow equates “revitalization” of downtown with improved connection to Mohawk Harbor, while ignoring the Stockade neighborhood (and its Riverside Park, which already offers access for pedestrians to the Mohawk River and attractive green space). Instead, DRI Schenectady touts proposals to “Take advantage of existing opportunities to increase connectivity (Jay Connector, ALCO Tunnel)”. However, whether using Jay Street, the ALCO Tunnel, or the upgraded “Erie Corridor”, Mohawk Harbor is more than a mile away, with much of that distance having no shade and few “attractions”. [see the two Slideshows below of the Jay St. and Erie Blvd. routes] Sprinkling in “public art” and adding LED lights along the way won’t significantly change the appeal of such a long walk.

[Note: this posting was written prior to the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic and its many effects on commerce, retail, restaurants, indoor and outdoor entertainment, etc., all of which further threaten the vitality of our core Downtown district.]

Mohawk Harbor is not “walking distance” from our newly revitalized Downtown!

No amount of wishful thinking will make Mohawk Harbor walking distance from our real Downtown for the vast majority of residents or tourists. For urban planning purposes,  “Walkable” does not mean “capable of being walked”. As the expert author of the Brookings study linked above puts it: “Since the rise of cities 8,000 years ago, humans have only wanted to walk about 1500 feet [0.28 mi.]”, unless they are going to or from an alternative form of transportation (or engaging in an actual exercise routine).

  • At his weblog HumanTransit.org (April 24, 2011), public transit consultant Jarrett Walker concludes: “If you have to choose a single walking distance standard for all situations, the most commonly cited standard is 400m or 1/4 mi.  Europe tends to be comfortable with slightly longer distances.”
  • Of course, as a 2012 comprehensive study of walking distances concluded,

    “There is substantial variability in the distance and duration of walking trips by purpose and population subgroups.” . . .  . “The shortest distances and durations were observed for trips for meals. . . Shopping and dog-walking trips were only slightly longer in distance than trips for meals.”

  • For comparison to the 1.2-mile walk to Mohawk Harbor from Proctors, consider that Frog Alley Brewing, at the evolving Mill Lane Artisan District on Lower State Street, is 0.3 miles from Proctors, and Gateway/Liberty Plaza is 0.4 miles from Proctors; Katie O’Byrnes on Erie Blvd (and Wall Street) is 0.2 miles; Yoga Bliss, south of State Street at 140 Erie Blvd. is 0.3 miles away; Great Flats Brewery on Lafayette at Franklin Street is less than 0.3.

Station-KatieO-2018 . . Katie O’Byrnes, just north of State St., seen the day the Train Station got its new golden dome . .

    • SchdyDRI-BoundaryWhat About the Stockade? For some reason, the Stockade Historic District is not part of the “DRI Schenectady DRI Boundary”. [map above] The Van Dyck Lounge with Mad Jack’s Brewery on Union Street near N. College is 0.4 miles from Proctors. Riverside Park, at the other extreme of the Stockade, which does offer a true, up-close riverbank experience and open green space, is 0.7 miles from Proctors, and only 0.2 miles up Washington Avenue from Gateway/Liberty Plaza, and about 3/10th of a mile from Mill Lane.

Do the people of Schenectady really want to send business and foot-traffic from the Downtown core to Mohawk Harbor? By focusing on “increasing visitation to Mohawk Harbor”, the officials leading our local Government’s planning, development and policy efforts won’t simply be wasting dollars that could have genuinely improved our Downtown. They will be helping to generate the feared Substitution Effect: Substituting spending in and near a casino and surrounding development, for the leisure time and money that would have been spent by residents at other local establishments.

Can existing (surviving) downtown businesses — eateries, retail merchandise shops, specialty boutiques, art galleries, etc. — withstand losing any significant amount of business to Mohawk Harbor? [For a smile, see Good for the Plywood Business, a poster from the successful campaign No Casino in Downtown Hamilton]

 . . click on the Schdy DRI Feb. Power Point for many of the finalist proposals . . 

A DEMAND for MORE RETAIL at MOHAWK HARBOR?

Our DRI Leaders state there is a great excess demand for retail that justifies spending taxpayer funds to funnel people to the privately-owned Mohawk Harbor. They also note that Mohawk Harbor is already a “leading destination”, according to DRI leaders, in their Schenectady DRI Application:

The harbor is now home to Rivers Casino & Resort, two new hotels, a marina, over 200 new apartments, new condominiums, tech office buildings as well as greenspace and bike trails. The Harbor has clearly become a leading destination – an entertainment and tech center that is one of the largest and most successful waterfront developments in Upstate New York.

KarenZ-WCasinoPromisesIndeed, we are constantly told of the tens of thousand of people who go to Mohawk Harbor and the Casino and Hotel. At the end of the Jan. 27, 2020 City Council Meeting, Council member Karen Zalewski-Wildzunas told us (at 54:20 of the OSM video linked above) that Rivers hosted over 200 conferences, meetings and special events in 2019, “bringing over 20,000 people to Schenectady County”; that Landing Hotel is ranked 7th in Capital Region for overnight stays; that Rivers was the first upstate casino to host sports wagering (bringing in a new demographic group to the County); plus, the Casino holds its annual summer Harbor Jam series with live performances and large crowds at the Marina.

Yes, all those people are indeed coming to Mohawk Harbor (of course, many of those visitors already live in the City or County of Schenectady). But, the numbers do not appear to be creating a major demand for retail at Mohawk Harbor. Rivers Casino opened three years ago, followed about 2.5 years ago by its Landing Hotel, the Marina and Amphitheater, and River House (which has over 200 apartments). It also has a free trolley service from Downtown (heavily-subsidized by Metroplex and CDTA); a CYCLE! bike-share station; the ALCO Heritage Bike and Pedestrian Trail; and the advantage of the constant promotion of the Casino, its Convention Center and Hotel by the well-and-publicly–funded Discover Schenectady. Nonetheless, the very visible and tangible evidence does not support the claim of a great excess of retail demand at Mohawk Harbor. There is, instead, a great excess of empty retail space.

The evidence strongly indicates that the folks who are in, or wish to be in, a retail business have not seen the potential for success at Mohawk Harbor, despite the efforts and promises of the Galesi Group, Rush Street Gaming, and Metroplex, and a large quantity of free media that repeats Galesi and Casino promises like scripture. The evidence is not just the empty spots and filler signs on the giant pylon that Galesi Group demanded be placed on Erie Boulevard for Mohawk Harbor to advertise its retail tenants (photo at left, taken Feb. 28, 2020). It is the actual list of arguably “retail” establishments at Mohawk Harbor that belies the claims of Schenectady DRI, despite the site being a “leading destination” in the Capital Region. Outside of the Casino itself, with its eateries, and the Dunkin’ Donuts and Capitol Bank over by the Rotary, this is the full list of “retail” at Mohawk Harbor: as of the first week of March 2020, three years after the Casino opened:

  1. Druther’s restaurant and brew pub
  2. Shaker & Vine restaurant
  3. Ellis Urgent Care and Medicine

Instead of bustling retail outlets in the “125,000 square feet of harborside retail/dining,” promised at the Mohawk Harbor website, and in Planning and Council meetings, we have an unbroken array of empty storefront windows like we have not seen since the worst days of downtown Schenectady. (Actually, the percentage of empty storefronts in downtown Schenectady was never this bad.) Only the dumpster-style bright yellow bollards that are ubiquitous around the Casino [180 of them], present a design scheme as predominant at Mohawk Harbor as its blue and white Retail Space Available signs. Click on the following collage, which shows Harbor retail as of the end of February 2020.

. . east of the Shaker & Vine Restaurant there is no retail, either on the harbor front [above] or along Harbor Way [below], but only those blue signs and the stretches of banner paper hiding the empty storefronts . .

    • Also, I was surprised to learn this week, that the only non-food retail establishment inside the Casino, Splash Spa, closed in December 2018. In addition, not only has no spa or other retail establishment taken its place, the Casino’s Landing Hotel is also without a salon spa. Apparently, neither the Casino’s annual Luck Is a Lady event, nor other events aimed at women, has created a demand for time at the Spa before or after visiting the Casino, its Convention Center, or restaurants.
    • Similarly, a large sign went up quite awhile ago for a Nail Salon on the Erie Boulevard side of Harbor Center, along its parking lot. But, earlier this week there was still no indication of any work being done to prepare the inside for a business.

SuggestionBulb

. . DRI should consider helping to fill the empty storefronts on the 200 Block of State St., truly in the heart of Downtown Schenectady .. 

DSCF5547. . DSCF5548 . . 200 State St. empty

. above: [L & M] 236 State St.; [R] 200 State St. .

SKEPTICAL about DEMAND for PEDESTRIAN CONNECTORS

. . the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall looks and feels like a “downtown block”. . 

A recent photoshoot stroll up both Jay Street and Erie Boulevard north of Liberty Street leaves me very skeptical that there exists any significant demand from the public to walk the mile from our Real Downtown to Mohawk Harbor. More important, perhaps, there appears to be no amount of sprucing up (façade improvement, arrays of LED bulbs, a sprinkling of “public art”), or the other options suggested to and by DRI Schenectady, that would create that demand. There may be places along the non-downtown sections of Jay Street and Erie Boulevard that could be stand-alone destinations for a meal, or a history lesson, for those driving, biking, or coming from a walking distance, but that is a separate issue from (1) how to “revitalize” downtown, and (2) funneling visitors to Mohawk Harbor to help the bottom-line of our largest developer and its casino tenant.

Jay Street to Little Italy to ALCO Tunnel

Is there likely to be a demand to walk from our real downtown, up Jay Street and then through a lighted and refurbished ALCO Tunnel on the way to Mohawk Harbor? A stroll up Jay Street from its Pedestrian Mall to the abandoned ALCO Tunnel did not leave me convinced. What do you think?

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  • The ALCO Tunnel is 0.5 miles up Jay Street from Proctors Theater (a ten or eleven-minute walk). As a “connector”, the ALCO Tunnel would bring you out near the 1400 block of Erie Blvd. (across from Madison Street), at the former location of the Grossman’s Bargain Outlet and the upcoming home of an AllTown Market. They are located an additional 0.5 miles from Mohawk Harbor Way (eleven minutes more). See image of Google Street Maps on the right of this blurb.
  • Pet Peeve, but Relevant to Desirable Walking Conditions: Unless you happen, at the right time of day, to be momentarily in the shade of a building, there is virtually no shade the entire way on Jay Street, nor up Erie Boulevard.

update (March 20, 2020): The larger of the two Italian restaurants in Schenectady’s already-disappointing Little Italy closed for good this week, with the NY Pause declared by Gov. Cuomo due to the COVID-19 crisis the last straw. Per an article in the Gazette, “We just couldn’t afford to keep it open,” said co-owner Connie Hume on Wednesday. [And see, Times Union and WRGB News6 coverage.]

 ERIE BOULEVARD NORTH OF LIBERTY STREET

. . above: elements of the “upgraded” Erie Blvd. touted by DRI: new sidewalks and crosswalks (some with talking-nagging walk signals); (too) many lamp-posts; and scrawny (often dead or dying) trees. .

the walk from Proctors to Mohawk Harbor, using Erie Boulevard

The Schenectady DRI Application gives this description of its vision for the Erie Boulevard connection to Mohawk Harbor [at 26; underscoring added]:

Erie Boulevard Updates

Erie Boulevard features new sidewalks, trees, LED lights, a new roundabout in front of Mohawk Harbor and many other upgrades. A new train station helps define the Erie corridor as a growing commercial area. Schenectady is grateful for the leadership of Governor Cuomo and NYS DOT in making the new train station a reality. As Erie is the main connecting road between Downtown and Mohawk Harbor, further upgrades need to happen as part of DRI Schenectady.

[The AMTRAK RAIL BRIDGE “Trestle”] There is a large Amtrak rail bridge that crosses Erie Boulevard and serves as a visual barrier between Downtown and the Harbor. Within the next few months Amtrak, NYSDOT and the City of Schenectady will be working together to light up this bridge creating a visual linkage where a barrier now exists. In addition, a new $4 million Alltown Market will begin construction on Erie providing healthy food choices to local residents. [Ed. Note: It will be a gas station and an upscale convenience store with tables. Update: see collage of the nearly-completed Alltown project after the next Slideshow.] This new market will be built on the site of a long vacant lumber yard.

Since its inception, Metroplex has successful[ly] administered a façade matching grant program. The program provides a 50/50 match to businesses that invest in improving their buildings with a special focus on the façade. To date, over 100 facades have been improved. If DRI Schenectady is funded Metroplex will place a special focus on completing facades along the Erie Boulevard corridor helping to improve the visual appeal and commercial viability of this corridor. The goal would be to complete 10 facades at a cost of $750,000 in matching funds.

[Editor’s Trestle-Bridge Dissent: It is hard to agree with the DRI notion that the Amtrak Trestle bridge over Erie Blvd., just north of Union Street, “serves as a visual barrier between Downtown and the Harbor“. The bridge itself is, in my opinion, about the only element of visual interest as you walk or drive from Liberty Street up Erie Blvd. The trestle camouflages the blandness of Erie Boulevard heading toward the Harbor. Immediately below is a view of the trestle when coming up Erie Blvd. [R], and the “streetscape” that you see when leaving the underpass — which basically would be the view without the trestle as you pass Union Street. 

             . .

The problem is not that the trestle-bridge is a visual barrier. The trestle’s underpass is an aesthetic and safety barrier that few people would use if it can be avoided. The walls of the underpass are so dirty and ugly, and its sidewalks so narrow and unkempt (with leaves, debris and snow virtually never removed along the walls, and pigeon droppings), as speeding traffic swoops past the pedestrian. The failure to address these issues already, given the millions spent to upgrade the Boulevard, strongly suggests the lack of interest by residents or tourists in walking up Erie Boulevard any serious distance. Even if totally spruced up, of course, it cannot “funnel” people who do not want to walk the distance to Mohawk Harbor from Downtown. It might, however, make it more pleasant to get to Mike’s for a hotdog or bagel, Stewart’s for some ice cream (if it remains after the Alltown Market convenience store opens on the next block), or Morrette’s for a steak sandwich.

follow-up (Sept. 14, 2020): To celebrate the re-opening of Rivers Casino after its COVID-19 closing, the City has “accented blue LED lights” on the Erie Boulevard RR trestle. See screen shot below from the Gazette. This is the kind of lighting we are told will draw people to walk up Erie Boulevard. I bet they did not bother to scrub/scrape the various encrustations off the sidewalk.

bluelighttrestle

Erie Boulevard, north of the busy State State intersection and the Schenectady Train Station at Liberty Street, seems far from a natural connector or bridge for pedestrians to Mohawk Harbor. Check out this Slideshow tour, and see what you think.

. . this Slideshow has photos from a walk north on Erie from Liberty to Rush St. 

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.

update (July 29, 2020): The following collage has photos taken July 24, 2020 of the nearly-completed ALLTOWN FRESH Market, on Erie Blvd. at Jefferson Street. It strains credulity for DRI or Metroplex to suggest that a convenience store (no matter how fresh its offerings) and multi-pump gas station will increase the demand for walking from downtown to Mohawk Harbor, or give tourists an impressive impression of Schenectady. As you can see, its overall effect is more Suburban than classic Revived Downtown. A major opportunity was lost at this site for the development of a true attraction or unique resource for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.

AllTown

RotaryClock. . . IMHO: The new Rotary Centennial Clock (image at the right from Gazette, July 24, 2020)), like its neighbor ALLTOWN Market, lacks much visitor appeal, even if its (potentially annoying) seasonal music is somehow coordinated with choruses from the nearby talking pedestrian crossing devices. I hope the Mayor does a better job of keeping this clock telling the correct time.

This set of square tiles contains photos from my return stroll from the Rotary back to Liberty Street on February 28, 2020. It seems to be a long and uninteresting walk, because it is. Click on a tile for a larger, full version of the photo. Go left to right to follow the route.

.

follow-up (Aug. 6, 2020): A lot of the “buzz’ at the DRI Local Planning Committee meeting on July 30, 2020, seemed to suggest that putting “canopy lighting” over the blocks north of Liberty Street, on Jay St. and Erie Boulevard, would add “excitement” (that was the Mayor’s word for it) along those stretches of sidewalk that would attract people to walk to Mohawk Harbor. That seems like, at best, wishful thinking, and perhaps a lame effort to brainwash the public. The current example of such Canopy Lighting is over the Jay Street Pedestrian Mall, which at least has buildings on each side from which lighting could be attached. See the next photo. It is hard to image how such lighting will make currently homely and uninteresting stretches an attractive lure to walk past non-attractions. The same can surely be said for “public art installations” along the way.

CanopyLights-JayStMall2

. . . . . . . .

GREEN-SPACE at MOHAWK HARBOR

 . . remaining Harbor “green space” (Feb. 2020)

. . above: Google Satellite View of Mohawk Harbor, showing remaining green-space in the northeast section of the project. 

. . below: DRI description of Mohawk Harbor Entertainment Development.

. . see p. 75 of the February DRI Power Point Presentation . .

Because the Casino Applicant demanded so much ground-level parking, Mohawk Harbor has far less green space than one would have expected at Schenectady’s only remaining location for waterfront development. The Casino also got concessions allowing bigger footprints for its buildings in exchange for adding amenities for the public. (The bike-ped trail mandated in our Code is indeed an amenity, but instead of fully providing funding for it, the developer allowed the State and County taxpayer to pay 85 or 90% of the cost.)

The authors of the Schenectady DRI Application seem to be proud of the Harbor’s green-space. Yet, they propose to allow and subsidize a giant Entertainment and Retail complex, 100,000 sq ft., that would take over much, if not most, of the remaining Mohawk Harbor green-space. To permanently remove such a large portion of the open space at Mohawk Harbor for a use that has no water-front value, and no unique contribution to the City, County, or Region, seems unwise. We should also ask whether, like the Harbor Center buildings and River House, Metroplex plans to give a PILOT or other property tax breaks on the new entertainment-retail complex.

Choosing the Galesi-Casino Harbor Entertainment Development proposal is inappropriate, for at least three other reasons of policy and equity:

1] The Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming greatly reduced the amount of green-space at the Harbor, diminishing its attractiveness, and restricting the ability of the public to enjoy a riverbank experience:  They did that damage by insisting that City Council remove from the then-existing Waterfront District Zoning Code, the requirement that any developer at the old ALCO plant location: File a permanent easementfor the purpose of assuring public access to and public enjoyment of the waterfront,” with the owner responsible for upkeep. [see screen image of former code provision on the right].

Did that change matter for the aesthetics and enjoyment of the waterfront? The first image below is the rendering submitted by the Rivers Casino applicants following the Waterfront District C-3 Code at the time of the application:

We did not receive an attractive, gently sloping, landscaped riverbank, suitable for picnics, frolicking and play, strolling, sitting and reclining, romance, etc.. Instead, Galesi Group, the Casino, Metroplex, our Planning Commission and Office, and Mayor McCarthy, removed the public access requirement, and ignored the Zoning Code mandates to preserve as much as possible of the natural features of the riverbank, and to place the Trail as close as reasonably possible to the riverbank. As a result, they allowed this to happen to our only potential spot for additional riverfront public access and enjoyment:

 . .

  • pathdetaildetailIn addition, City Hall and Metroplex allowed the developer to locate the bike-ped path closer to that steep riprap bank than was allowed under even the amended Code the Galesi Group and Casino dictated to City Council. Thus, Sec. 264-14(E)(4)(b) states: “There shall be an additional two feet of graded area on either side of the trail and an additional ten-foot buffer between the trail and the river.” (See our post, “Restore riverfront public access at Mohawk Harbor”  (Aug. 10, 2015). The detail to the right, from documents submitted by the developer and casino in the planning process, clearly shows an added 10-foot-wide and landscaped buffer area on the riverside of the bike-ped trail. The public was deprived of that required “amenity”, allowing an attractive and comfortable viewing area, with no discussion or explanation during the permitting process and construction.
    • Moreover, after pressure from the editor of this website for quick action to remedy the hazard caused by the steep slope, the County installed a fence for the safety of the public (on foot or bikes, or wheelchairs), but violated required standards for structures along a bike path — putting the fence only two feet away from the path (instead of 3 to 5 feet), leaving very little space for a cyclist needing to quickly avoid others users on the path, a pedestrian or wheelchair-user to “jump” off the path, or for the public to view the River safely and comfortably when standing along the fence, especially in a group or family. (See our post, “Poorly-planned safety fence going up along Mohawk Harbor Trail” (Oct. 15, 20,18).
    • ALCOTrail-distance . . . alcotrailfence2 As is also apparent from the results (see, e.g., images to the left), 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”.  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.
  • This collage from 2015 OpEd asked why Rush Street would deny public access to the riverfront to the people of  Schenectady, while doing so much for the public at its Philadelphia and Pittsburgh casinos, spending millions to improve and enlarge already impressive riverbank access.

The answer, from my perspective, is that the Mayor and Metroplex, and City Council, gave in to every demand of Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group, and failed to follow industry practice (and common sense) by demanding extra payments and protections for Schenectady and its citizens, when they approved the casino license Application and major zoning code changes. Despite all that Rush Street gives and offers to other host cities, they let the Casino Gang treat Schenectady like a Second-rate City. (See our posting, “Rush Streets giveaways

    • Here’s a telling (and ironic) bit of the McCarthy Administration’s developer-oriented urban planning: When I complained at a public meeting in 2015 that the amendments were taking away guaranteed public access to the riverfront, the then-Director of the Planning Office replied to me and the public that “they will have access to the retail” at the Harbor.

2] After supporting removal of the public access guarantee to the waterfront, Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen of Metroplex came up with the misleading argument that having a Large Vessel Dock would assure “total public access to the riverfront.” [2018 rendering below] Based on that bogus, and easily rebutted claim, City Hall and Metroplex originally proposed such a project for Schenectady DRI.  However, other State funding has been secured for the project outside of DRI, meaning that $2 million of public funds from another source will be used to build a 680-foot long, 12-ft. wide, large vessel dock (with no railing, of course) along Mohawk Harbor. It will surely benefit Mohawk Harbor and owners of large vessel boats. For a partial list of the reasons why it is unlikely that a significant portion of the public will be able to enjoy the safe and secure use of such a dock, see our post “The large vessel dock at Mohawk Harbor” (July 24, 2018).

3] While seeking Schenectady DRI and other subsidies for a large entertainment center, Rush Street Gaming’s Pittsburgh Casino announced last October, that for the tenth straight year, it was contributing $7.5 million (in two $3.525 million donations each year, over and above taxes due) for Pittsburgh’s existing, grand sports and entertainment center, PPG Paints Arena, to help cover its original construction costs. The donations will continue for 25 more years. (Note: In case you wonder, Rush Street pays higher gaming tax rates on slots and table games in Pennsylvania than it does in New York on its Schenectady Casino revenues.) When it comes to making gifts and donations, Rush Street Gaming treats Schenectady like the proverbial redheaded stepchild. When, however, it comes to asking for and accepting money, Schenectady’s generous Mayor and Metroplex Chair seem to be Rush Street’s Daddy Warbucks.

Capital Region AQUATIC CENTER  . .

If some of Mohawk Harbor’s remaining green-space is to be sacrificed, it should be for a project that offers unique services to the people of our community and the Capital Region, as well as attracting and serving visitors. If it also provides water-related activities, that would be a plus. Using those criteria, the DRI proposal at Mohawk Harbor that suits the public interest far better than a Mohawk Harbor Entertainment Complex is the CAPITAL REGION AQUATIC CENTER, even though it will not be located at the core of our downtown. [see page 66 of the February DRI Power Point Presentation]  Also see, “Aquatic center proposed on Schenectady waterfront gains $250K grant” (Daily Gazette, John Cropley, March 3, 2020). The Gazette article reports that:

The Capital Region Aquatic Center’s . . . would feature four pools for training, competition and diverse swim programs such as learn-to-swim, exercise and rehabilitation.

Plans also include spectator seating, classroom areas, meeting rooms, aquatic-focused exercise and weight room, studio/multi-purpose area, pro shop, concessions area and locker rooms.. .

In another boost, the Wright Family Foundation of Schenectady announced a $3 million grant in October.

Read about the Aquatic Center’s history and mission, here.

Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy posting. Your (civil) comments are welcome. If you agree, please let the DRI Local Planning Committee, the Mayor and City Council, and the media, know. I plan to add updates and follow-up thoughts to this post.

 . . share this post with this short URL: IMG_1801 https://tinyurl.com/RealSchdyDowntown . . 

. . Many thanks to Google Maps for assisting in making this posting . .

update: Sunday, March 8, 2020: See the Gazette article by Pete DiMola, “As priority projects come into focus, Schenectady DRI panelists could have conflicts of interest“. There’s a lot to consider in the piece. This excerpt gives a taste of the complexities:

But roughly a quarter of the 16-member panel tapped with making the final decisions represent organizations who are not only jostling for funding, but are also actively pitching projects themselves.

They include the city, Proctors, Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation, Rivers Casino & Resort and Schenectady Country Metroplex Development Authority.

Driving pedestrian traffic between downtown and Mohawk Harbor is the centerpiece of the effort.

David Buicko, CEO and president of the Galesi Group, which developed Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino & Resort, is co-chair of the panel.

Also, see Saturday’s Guest Column by former Union College President, and Mayoral candidate, Roger H. Hull, “Don’t emulate Washington on ethics transparency,” which also raises conflict of issues statements, especially re the leaders of Galesi Group and Proctors being on the Local Planning Committee. Dr. Hull ends the column with these observations:

HullOpEd7Mar2020Yet, even if they recuse themselves, the process would be tainted, since it would be easy to game the system. It would be best for them to resign, if their organizations are possible recipients of the grant.

A lack of transparency and conflicts of interest are troubling issues—or at least they should be. In the past, they were, but not today.

In the age of Trump, those issues are, seemingly, of no concern to most people.

In Schenectady, ethics and legal norms should be retained.

We would all benefit, and we might even serve as a much-needed model for Washington.

DRIPlanningCmteBLATANT CONFLICTS. Dave Buicko is CEO of the Galesi Group, which developed and owns Mohawk Harbor, and was the main spokesperson pushing the Casino application forward in 2014 and thereafter related Zoning changes and site plans, etc. As stressed above, the primary focus of DRI Schenectady is “increasing visitations to Mohawk Harbor“. Nonetheless, Mr. Buicko was made co-Chair of the DRI Planning Committee. And, Mayor McCarthy (who is seeking funding on behalf of the City), is the other co-chair. Mr McCarthy told the Gazette that he wants the Committee’s recommendations for projects that will receive grants to be bundled into a single vote. Doing that, of course, will mean that the final vote will allow Committee members with conflicts of interest, even if they have previously recused themselves on particular proposals, to vote for them as part of a “bundle” of projects.

If ever there were a situation ripe for “horse trading”, it is DRI Schenectady. Too many committee members (click on above image) are directly involved with proposals, and too many others are beholden to, or seeking favors from, the City, Metroplex, Rivers Casino, the Galesi Group and Proctors, to believe that an objective assessment of the public interest will drive the outcome. 

How else but from the now-habitual McCarthy-Metroplex “done deal” perspective, with McCarthy and Gillen “snowmen” selected for panels, can the public understand how the primary goal of DRI Schenectady could be driving customers away from our core downtown to Mohawk Harbor, a private development situated over a mile from the Real Downtown Schenectady?

HOW FAR FROM DOWNTOWN? The initial brochure of the Galesi Group for its Mohawk Harbor development proclaimed it was “in the heart of downtown Schenectady.” Since then, they have been a bit more accurate.  Galesi Group President David Buiko (co-chair of Schenectady DRI), told Spectrum News in 2016 that “you’re really less than a mile from downtown Schenectady.” And, the River House apartments amenities page points out there is “FREE Trolley Service To Downtown Schenectady” — just in case you don’t feel like walking that far.

follow-up (August 6, 2020): FULL SLATE DRI VOTING PROTECTS CONFLICTS. The screen shot below was taken during the DRI planning committee meeting last week.  It looks like the Mayor is getting his way — committee members will be voting on the entire Slate of proposed projects, up or down. That means that members with undeniable conflicts of interest get to vote for their own projects within the slate, with no way to recuse themselves. 

DRI-CombinedBallot


The dearth of questions at the Planning Commitee meeting on July 30, 2020 — no follow-ups, no skepticism about effects on downtown of the push to Mohawk Harbor, no discussion of pandemic consequences, etc. — suggests that there will be a lot of Scratching of Each-other’s Backs, and overlooking of the overreaching conflicts of interest. 
  • honestThere are far too many examples of misleading, half-true, or simply erroneous  claims surrounding Mohawk Harbor and the Casino for me to supply them in this posting. Browsing this weblog will give the reader a good taste (well, actually, a bad taste for our City Hall). But, here are three quick but relevant examples:  (1) A few years ago, the initial online brochure for Mohawk Harbor stated that it was located “in the heart of downtown Schenectady.” (2) At one time it was claimed that Rivers Casino is located “across the street” from the new Train Station. And, (3) Dave Buicko (rather than the Planning Office staff) was allowed to present the large packet of amendments to the City’s Waterfront District zoning Code in 2015. The Galesi Group CEO told the Planning Commission and City Council that the amendments were mainly minor and technical, despite among other things, removing guaranteed public access to the waterfront, permitting 80-foot rather than 7-foot signs, allowing 19,000 rather than 250 square feet of signage, and completely removing the Casino from the Signage portion requirements of the City’s Zoning Code. (See our descrption of the Planning Commission Special Meeting that approved the Amendments: “Schenectady’s Waterfront Zoning: A rubber stamp in a company town?” (Jan. 29, 2015). With “alternate facts” like these coming from City Hall and its favorite “partners”, who needs actual facts when doling out $10 million taxpayer dollars?

follow-up (March 21, 2020): Thank you, Daily Gazette for publishing my Letter to the Editor today, “Invest state funds in our ‘real’ downtown” (at D2):

DRI-RealDowntown

we need more Safe Gambling Education

pgam-ribbon-e1519831037164 It is March again, and March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. [E.g., see materials provided this week by the New York Council on Problem Gambling.] Once again, however, the gambling industry and its regulators in New York State, along with well-intended private-sector public interest advocates (who count on the State for funding), are focusing on finding people who already show the signs of having a problem gambling problem, and then suggesting ways for them to get help. Such activity is a good thing, of course, but we also need a strong educational campaign to teach the public Safer, Low-risk Gambling Habits that will help many people avoid needing intervention and treatment.

As many already-existing resources demonstrate, such problem gambling prevention education does not have to be painful or complicated to arm individuals with common sense but effective knowledge that keeps gambling a fun, recreational activity. We have listed many examples of such resources in our problem gambling posts, such as the information and links compiled last March. The list immediately below of low-risk and high-risk gambling behaviors from the Problem Gambling Canada website is a good example.

Low Risk and Harmful Gambling

Not all gambling is a problem. Gambling may be low risk, or it may be harmful.

Low-risk gambling means you:

      • Limit how much time and money you spend gambling
      • Accept your losses, and don’t try to win them back
      • Enjoy winning, but know it happened by chance
      • Balance gambling with other fun activities
      • Don’t gamble to earn money or pay debts
      • Don’t gamble when your judgment is impaired by alcohol or other drugs
      • Never borrow money or use personal investments or family savings to gamble
      • Don’t gamble to escape from your problems or feelings
      • Don’t hurt your job, health, finances, reputation or family through your gambling

Harmful gambling means you have started to:

      • Lie about your gambling or keep it a secret
      • Lose track of time and play for longer than you meant to
      • Feel depressed or angry after gambling
      • Spend more money than you planned, or more than you can afford
      • Ignore work and family responsibilities because of gambling
      • Borrow money or use household money to gamble
      • “Chase your losses” to try to win back your money
      • Believe that gambling will pay off in the end
      • See gambling as the most important thing in your life
      • Use gambling to cope with your problems or to avoid things
      • Have conflicts with family and friends over gambling
      • Ignore your physical and emotional health because of gambling.

I encourage readers to check out our fuller treatment last March of Problem Gambling. That posting explains the obvious fact that casinos, their regulators, and our State and local government entities receiving gambling revenue taxes, have little incentive to significantly reduce the amount of gambling done in New York State. The issues raised there, and the practices of Rivers Casino relevant to problem gambling awareness, have not changed since last year. They may, however, be getting worse, due to the continued significant growth of slots gambling, the most addictive form of casino gambling, at Rivers Schenectady.

  • hazardsignContinued “Slotsification”: Slots/ETG gross gaming revenue increased by $13.6 million in 2019 over 2018, which is 12.9%, while Table Game wagering went down 4.5%, and Poker table play down 6% in 2019. [See the Weekly Revenue Reports from Rivers Casino, and its Monthly Reports.]

To my knowledge, unlike the trumpeting of their 2017 figures, Rivers Casino has not released to the media or public the number (or its estimate) of patrons at the Casino in 2018 and 2019. Our fear is that patronage/visitation has not been broadcast because it has in fact been flat or declining, despite the growth in Gross Gaming Revenue. That could mean that slots GGR is increasing due to long or frequent repeat visits by slots patrons showing the signs, or in the throes, of gambling addiction.

The Schenectady Gazette published an article this week describing an event at Rivers Casino on March 2 announcing problem gambling awareness month. “Rivers Casino hosts state kickoff of problem gambling awareness month” (by John Cropley, March 3, 2020). Rather than a point by point reaction to quotes and information in the article, I am reprinting my comments to that article left at the Gazette webpage:

https://www.facebook.com/pg/RiversCasinoNY/posts/?ref=page_internal

David Giacalone Comment

Rivers Casino likes to tell the press and the gaming industry and regulators how hard it works to identify problem gamblers. But, neither Rivers nor our government leaders help in any significant way to educate the public on how to avoid becoming a problem gambler. We need to help create a healthy, informed attitude toward casino gambling, and educate the public on how to be a savvy, low-risk gambler. Going to the casino should be a form of low-risk, casual entertainment and recreation, rather than a strike-it-rich high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.

At its Facebook page, Rivers Casino focuses on opportunities to win BIG. It never even mentioned Problem Gambling during all of last March on Facebook, and has no mention of it yet this year. [and no mention as of March 7, 2020]

Since its first year of operation, Table Games and Poker revenue have declined each year, while Slots revenue has increased significantly. Slots revenue went up 12.9% in 2019. That is not a surprise, as Slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling.

To read about Schenectady’s Slots Gambling Problem, see how Rivers’ feeble efforts compare to those at MGM Resorts, and learn how to gamble safely (and simply go to a casino to have fun), see https://tinyurl.com/SlotsProblem .

  • Furthermore, according to the numbers in the Rivers Casino Weekly GGR Report to the NYS Gaming Commission, Schenectady’s Casino just had its biggest SLOT/ETG week ever: Its slots take for the last week of February 2020 was $2,937,288. The prior week was its third biggest slots week, after three years operating at Mohawk Harbor.

Since the Casino and local Government are not giving us Low-Risk Gambling information, it is up to private citizens and the private sector (health, religious, civic groups focusing on both the young and the elderly, etc.) to step up an act urgently

Mayor McCarthy also dissed the Boy Scouts

LLMissingPlaque1

LLNoPlaqueSchenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy had our replica statue of Lady Liberty dumped last summer at the corner of Erie Boulevard and Union Street, next to a train trestle and among a forest of poles. At the time, we wrote “McCarthy disses Lady Liberty (and all of us) again” (August 28, 2019), a posting with photos of the dreadful spot and a summary of the sad saga of our Statue.

So stunned was I by the Mayor’s brazen insult to his City and its history, it was only recently that I realized Lady Liberty stood in exile with no plaque commemorating the source and spirit behind the Statue, when it was placed in its real home in 1950 and for the next 67 years. See the collage at the head of the posting, which shows the plaque attached to the original pedestal; the image to the left depicts the current situation; and here is the plaque itself:

LLPlaqueC

Here is our description, from a posting in March 2018, of how Lady Liberty came to Schenectady and her original location:

Lady Liberty, a 100-inch tall replica of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, came to Schenectady as part of a 1950 Boy Scouts of America program. Local Boy Scouts across the City and County saved up the $350 to purchase the statue. It stood in Liberty Park, which was later named for the replica of Lady Liberty, until it was put into storage (in August 2017) to protect the statue during the reconfiguration and reconstruction of Liberty Park, as it was expanded into Gateway Plaza.

In a 2012 Schenectady Gazette article, the story of our Lady Liberty is told through the eyes of several local Boy Scouts from the troop that met at St. Anthony’s Church, and worked to save up the $350 to purchase the sculpture in 1950. “Lady Liberty replica has 62-year-old story to tell” (by Bethany Bump, Jan. 15, 2012; emphasis added).

LadyInParkSept2016It was an endeavor that dovetailed nicely with the Scouts’ basic mission: prepare youth to be responsible and participating citizens and leaders. And there was no better symbol of leadership and American citizenship than Lady Liberty.

. . .  Just like the 305-foot-tall national monument in New York Harbor, Schenectady’s lady offers an inspirational message: “With the faith and courage of their forefathers who made possible the freedom of these United States, the Boy Scouts of America dedicate this copy of the Statue of Liberty as a pledge of everlasting fidelity and loyalty.”

Somehow, our Mayor, who now trumpets all sorts of minor craft projects as symbols of community enthusiasm, did not see fit to honor or commemorate the spirit that brought Lady Liberty to our City, or the decades thereafter of annual rededication ceremonies. An indication of its importance can be seen in our description of the day the statue was dedicated:

news10-ll-gazette Dedication Day. The procrastination of our current Mayor and his carefree attitude toward Lady Liberty, her proponents, and the Planning and legislative process, is in stark contrast to the importance of the Statue to the City at the time of its Dedication. The [News10 Special Report on the plight of the Replica] shows the front page of the Schenectady Gazette on November 9, 1950, and the prominence given the story. The article states that 2500 scouts and scouters marched in a parade to the Park, with a crowd of 3,500 persons overflowing the small park for the dedication ceremony. Then Mayor Owen M. Begley called it a “beautiful, beautiful gift,” commenting that the replica here will be a great emblem in Schenectady of our great heritage of liberty.”

Where is the Boy Scouts of America plaque that once enhanced our Liberty replica? Can it be cleaned and restored and be joined again with the Statue? Or, has it been sold for scrap or secreted away to the den of a City Hall staffer? I hope someone on our City Council will investigate and then fight to bring back the plaque or, if necessary, have a suitable replacement made and installed, either at the (temporary) Trestle site of Schenectady’s Lady Liberty, or at Liberty-Gateway Plaza, where She was always expected and promised to be returned.

An apology to the Scouts who worked to bring the Lady to Schenectady would also be most appropriate.

. . this photo-opEd is still most relevant . .

LLPlaque4x6a

. . share this posting with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/McCarthyBSA

SoupStroll2020-LLiberty

. . Lady Liberty seen at her dismal new location during the 2020 Schenectady Soup Stroll 

can the Sidewalk Plan be repaired? (with updates)

IMG_2722

Today’s Schenectady Gazette reports that “City share of costs for troubled sidewalk program escalates: Officials pledge to save troubled initiative” (by Pete DeMola, Jan. 29, 2020). The article begins:

The city has seen its share of replacing sidewalks on Ardsley Road jump from $63,000 to $159,192, again calling into question the shifting costs of the city’s new sidewalk replacement program.

The original bid to replace sidewalks on Ardsley Road came in at $179,435. But final costs were $238,194, which resulted in homeowners getting hit with bills twice as high as they were expecting.

The rapid and unexplained rise in City Share (about $98,000) is particularly puzzling, because we have been told by Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Engineer Chris Wallin that the huge bills sent out to Ardsley Road residents a month ago were caused by unexpected costs for Top Soil, Seeds, and Tree Removal. But, the increase in Soil & Seed costs (which were almost 12 times as much as in the approved and supposedly reviewed Contractor’s Bid) were “only” an extra $42,538. Moreover, the Tree Removal costs, which were always going to be paid for by the City, were merely $9000 more than in the Contractor’s Bid. That leaves over $40,000 in City Share costs unexplained by anyone and by any figures shown in the original Contractor’s Bid or the new Project Cost sheet.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/SidewalkRepair

We are left with some big questions:

  1. IMG_2723How could the Contractor’s Bid, which did not include the surprise additional $42,538 Soil and Seeds expense, have been 84% more than the Polimeni-Wallin estimates? There apparently were tens of thousands of dollars of costs not anticipated by the Polimeni-Wallin estimate calculations and not yet explained or disclosed to the Residents, or even to Council members.
  2. How did the City Share balloon from the $37,000 subsidy unveiled at the January 7, 2020 Committees Meeting, to what amounts to a subsidy over $96,000? How much of a subsidy is the City (taxpayer) willing to supply for future Project sidewalk districts to keep costs for Sidewalk Plan residents at a reasonable level, and a level likely to attract residents to the Plan?

DAGArdsleyCover Click on the thumbnail to the right for David Giacalone’s Comments submitted to City Council for the Public Hearing on Monday, January 27, 2020, regarding the Ardsley Road Sidewalk plan and the City’s proposal to reduce the cost to the Homeowner-Residents to $55.44 per linear foot of sidewalk (an amount that would still be 25% higher than the estimates for the program given in January 2020 by Councilman John Polimeni and City Engineer Chris Walling). The Comments contain a breakdown of relevant costs, showing the original Contractor’s Bid, the revamped Cost Sheet giving “actual” Project Costs, and the escalation in the City’s subsidy to the Ardsley Rd. residents in order to reach the $55.44 figure. The Comments include discussion of many of the questions and issues raised by the puzzling numbers in the first and second Cost Sheets and the City’s “explanations”.

At the Council Meeting on Monday, Council members Leesa Perazzo and Marion Porterfield, who along with Vince Riggi, voted against the enabling Resolution for the Sidewalk Plan, both emphasized that improvement is crucial, and revamping the entire Plan should be considered. Perazzo called the increase in the City Share “breathtaking.” Polimeni’s co-conspirators in adopting the Plan and approving both the Ardsley Rd. Bid and New Cost Sheet, Ms. Zalewski-Wildzunas and Ed Kosiur, had nothing to say about the Ardsley Rd. frustrations or the ballooned subsidy by the City.

Despite all the problems and unanswered questions, John Polimeni told the Gazette:

“We’re making attempts to correct and make it better in the future,” he said after the meeting. “As the architect of the program, I’m going to do what I can to make sure it succeeds.”

However, with so many uncertainties as to costs and procedures, and so few blocks likely to volunteer for this Sidewalk Assessment District plan, here is, to my mind the:

MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: Are those large and unexplained costs expected to be encountered by every block petitioning to be in the Sidewalk Assessment District? If so, does it make sense to continue the Program, which was never destined to be used by more than a tiny percentage of City blocks, rather than pausing or junking it?  Wouldn’t it be more responsible to do the homework necessary to construct a system in Schenectady that is fair to property-owners and taxpayers, and will actually achieve what we all want, a sidewalk network that is in good repair across the City? [click this link to see a description of how Rochester and Syracuse approach sidewalk repair.]

GazLTE-Bacheldor29Jan2020 See the Letter to the Editor in the January 29, 2020 Gazette by DeCamp Avenue petitioners Laurie and David Bacheldor, who are rightfully upset and asking the right questions.

Here are side-by-side depictions of the Cost Sheets used by the City for Ardsley Road. 

ArdsleyCompareProjectCosts

ArdsleyCompareResidentsCost

. . for more details on how this fiasco happened see our Jan. 7, 2020 posting . .

ardsley-campaignsignp.s. I continue to believe that the Sidewalk plan was pushed and rushed by Mr. Polimeni and the Mayor’s office for the political purpose of having a block completed before the November 2019 election. If that guess is correct, the failure to ever inform Ardsley Rd. residents of their cost under the Contractor Bid, or of the City Hall decision to charge even more than the Bid cost in the First Payment invoices, was not just an oversight or a Pilot Program issue. It was an intentional decision to prevent the Ardsley Rd. residents from withdrawing their Petition and stopping the construction on their block because prices had increased so much above the Polimeni-Wallin Estimates.

. . THIS TALE IS TO BE CONTINUED. .

CmteMtg3Feb2020-sidewalk update (February 4, 2020): On Monday February 3, the Schenectady City Council held its customary Committees Meeting, with the Ardsley Rd. sidewalk project on its agenda. The public access video of the Meeting can be found at https://tinyurl.com/CouncilCmte3Feb20, with the Sidewalk segment beginning at about 00:23:00. [In the photo to the right, Marion Porterfield asks John Polimeni whether residents signing a Petition, would be able to withdraw from the Petition after being informed of the selected contractor bid, if they believed the cost to them would be too high. Mr. Polimeni quietly said “yes”, and started nodding his head up and down. There was a pause in all discussion, and neither the topic of residents withdrawing from their Petition, nor the process process of doing so, was discussed further.

Although there were many important issues raised by the public in last week’s public hearing, the Council, with Finance Committee Chair John Polimeni leading the discussion, ignored most of them. Beyond mentioning the need for better communication several times (with no details on how and when to achieve it), the only subject getting detailed attention was the complaint by a corner-property owner that, without notice, the City sent a bill for sidewalk footage on Union Street to the owners of the two corner properties at Union Street and Ardsley Rd. 

. . . IMG_2703 . . IMG_2702

. . above: the west [L] and east [R] corners of Union St. and Ardsley Rd. . .

Although they did not address the complaint that the cost of $55.44 was too high, the Council committee decided that the City would bear the cost of 40 feet of sidewalk on the Union Street corner related to disability access ramps.

The decision meant reducing the total frontage to be charged to the Residents on the Ardsley Rd. petition from 1425 feet to 1385 linear feet, with the 40 feet added to the City Share of project costs. Although not mentioned, it therefore meant that the City Share of the total Project Cost would rise another $2217.60, to more than ninety-eight thousand dollars.

Immediately below are marked-up versions of the Project Cost sheet and Cost to Residents sheet approved by the Committee on January 21, showing the new costs to the City and the affected property owners, which will be on the Agenda of City Council for final action on February 10, 2020.

ArdsleyCosts3Feb

ArdsleyResidents3Feb

The Council Committee also concluded that any disability access ramps that were need on the Petitioning portion of DeCamp Avenue would also be treated as part of the City Share for that Project. Those changes were approved to be put on the Agenda for the next City Council meeting, February 10, 2020, with the primary provision of the Resolution being a change from $81.71 to $55.44 per foot as the cost to the Ardsley Rd. residents.

There was no discussion of, among other things:

  • Whether the $55.44 cost per linear foot was appropriate for the Ardsley Road residents to pay, as $55.44 is 25% higher than the Polimeni-Wallin Estimate, and the Petitioners were “stuck” and never had the chance to reject the Contractor or revised City cost numbers.
  • Just how high a subsidy Council is willing to grant if a Sidewalk Bid in the future, including the upcoming DeCamp Ave. project, is considered too high by the petitioning residents.
  • IMG_2700Whether the Council will impose a threshold for cost escalation in the Sidewalk Assessment District program, requiring that the added costs be approved in order to compensate the Contractor.
  • Whether, in the words of John Polimeni, the only problem was the “communication thing,” or whether additional core problem exist that should be addressed before starting any new Sidewalk blocks.  For example, what about the $40-50,000 of unexplained costs that were apparently not anticipated by Wallin and Polimeni in their estimates, but found their way into the original Contract Bid for Ardsley Rd.?

FinalArdsleyCosts10Feb2020

. . (above) FINAL COSTS for the Ardsley Road Assessment District sidewalk project . . 

update (Feb. 11, 2020): Yesterday evening, February 10, 2020, the Schenectady City Council approved the Final Costs for the Ardsley Rd. sidewalk project. [Click on image directly above this update.] The matter was on the Council’s Consent Agenda, and was therefore passed unanimously with the entire Consent Agenda, without discussion. At the end of the Council Meeting, no Council member took the opportunity to mention Ardsley Rd. or the Sidewalk Assessment District Project. The approved Ordinance, with a Cost Breakdown document dated 07Feb2020), only deals with the City Share, Costs to Property Owners, and Assessment Costs by Address (without interest, which will apparently be 2%, with a 10-year payback period).

  • Property Owners will pay a rate of $55.44 per linear foot of sidewalk, with each frontage determined by the City Tax Map. The original cost in the Contractor Bid approved last September was $81.71 per linear foot. With the linear footage reduced to 1385′, the total cost to Property Owners is $76,784,40, about 32% of the Total Project Costs.
  • The City Share, $161,410.45, is 68% of the Total Project Cost of $238,194.85. The City Share under the original Contractor Bid was $63,000.

None of the other issues mentioned above were addressed, much less settled. Therefore, the future of the Sidewalk Assessment District Plan is still up in the air.

mahafez06aug2017 MH-LTE-BackToSchoolfollow-up (Feb. 15, 2020): On today’s Schenectady Gazette Opinion page, with the Polimeni Sidewalk Plan in mind, local businessman Mohamed Hafez suggests we should send the Council member I call “Professor D-Minus” Back to School (click on image to the right for a larger version).