one year too many for exiled Lady Liberty

[NOTE: the Aug. 28 Rally for Lady Liberty was cancelled, but the Fight for our Liberty Statue and Good Government in Schenectady continues.]

LadyL1stAnn4follow-up (August 28, 2020): Despite a cancelled Protest Rally, Silhouette Lady visited Lady Liberty on the first Anniversary of its Exile by Mayor McCarthy to that location at 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 . . LadyL1stAnn3

HERE’S WHY HONEST GOVERNMENT REQUIRES  the RETURN of LADY LIBERTY to LIBERTY-GATEWAY PARK

IMG_1845-001The First Anniversary of the Exile of Schenectady’s Lady Liberty is Friday, August 28, 2020. On 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. 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. This 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.

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.
  • 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 the location selected in secret with no public participation nor consultation with City Council.

. . share this post with this short URL: tinyurl.com/OneYearTooMany

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, 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 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

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.

  . .

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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.

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.

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

NOTE FYI: DRI Meetings were postponed due to COVID-19 virus concerns.

DRI-postponed

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’.”

The next Public Meeting of Schenectady Downtown Revitalization Initiative is Thursday, August 13, at 6 PM. See the DRI Website for more information. The COVID-19 Pandemic and its social and economic consequences make it even more important that our DRI decision-makers take into account the impact on our existing 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

It is impossible for outsiders to know the reaction of Schenectady DRI insiders to the recent public discussion of Conflicts of Interest, nor to the issues of Favoritism and Implausible Assumptions discussed in thus posting.  Especially in light of unfolding Pandemic complications, I hope members of the Leadership Committee are thoughtfully considering these issues, 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 building 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. 

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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

Olaf at the gates

IMG_0695-001   .  snowmencameo

IMG_0696Olaf-001 As you may know, given the name of this weblog and its content, the proprietor believes Schenectady has been suffering the ill effects of having Snowmen at its Gates since the tragic night of the February 8, 1690 Massacre, when the appointed sentries were having a drink at the Mill Lane pub, and only two snowmen were “guarding” the Stockade gate.*/  Naturally, the Stockade and its Gate, along with the guards, were meant to protect the residents of Schenectady.

Harkening to that history, we fervently believe our current Mayor-for-Life Gary McCarthy, in addition to supporting the new craft brewery at Mill Lane, vastly prefers appointing and re-appointing “snowmen” — silent, deaf, and weaponless citizens, who melt if subjected to heat — to Schenectady’s Boards and Commissions, and naming managers to important City jobs with similar attributes. The result is “enforcement” of Schenectady’s laws and regulations that appears to serve the Mayor’s favorite causes, people and enterprises, rather than serving the public interest. See, our Snowmen Effect Category of posts, and “McCarthy only wants snowmen on his Planning Commission“.

*/ By the way, the Stockade gates had been left wide open on the night of the 1690 Massacre, inviting attack, because the mostly-Dutch villagers did not like having a newly-appointed Englishman in charge. So, they ignored his orders to remove the high snow blocking the entryway.  As a result, Indian scouts reported back to their French commanders that the Schenectady gate was wide open, while Albany was well-guarded, making Schenectady the better choice for attack.

OlafVita We are also quite keen on irony and twists of humor here at Snowmen at the Gates. So, this week, it was with a gleam in our eyes that we spotted Frozen‘s famous snowman Olaf “guarding” City Hall. More precisely, an ice sculpture of Olaf by Charlie Jones, of “The Ice Man Custom Ice Sculptures“, was on duty near the main entry stairway on Jay Street, a leftover feature of last Saturday’s City Hall-iday“.

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  • IMG_0695OlafHead Adding another element of either irony or reality to our Snowmen at the Gates theme, the top of Olaf’s head was leaning against the base of the sculpture when I arrived. Whether the victim of vandals, Mayoral edict, or strong sunshine, we do not know. While taking pictures, I decided to move the head over a bit to permit the character’s name to be read again by passersby.
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Here in Schenectady, however, an Ice Olaf gives cold reassurance to a populace about to endure four more years of Mayor Gary McCarthy. To overcome the curse of the Snowmen at the Gates, we need strong warm bodies at City Hall, with open minds, eyes and mouths, equipped with fully-operating and courageous brains. Is that too much to wish for in this Season of Hope?
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P.S. To help celebrate Olaf’s visit to our lovely Downtown, I have put together this one-page 2020 calendar, formatted for an 8×10″ print, for you to download and use for any non-commercial purpose.
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OlafIceMan. . . The Ice Man’s finished product