Wallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty

 . .

. . above: Lady Liberty and Mary Wallinger in silhouette during Plaza Tour . .

Mary Moore Wallinger

 This past Thursday, May 16, 2019, the group LocalXDesign sponsored a  Public Tour of Gateway Plaza in Schenectady, led by Mary Moore Wallinger, the chief designer and construction administrator for the Plaza, and the Chair of Schenectady’s Planning Commission. The public was invited to “Come and learn how the design evolved from concept to reality!”

Although very curious about the devolution of several important aspects of the Park/Plaza from the approved Implementation Plan (see our pre-Tour “plans evolve” post), the author of this posting decided to have a low-key display of protest, rather than shadowing Ms. Wallinger to pepper her with questions during the Tour.  We therefore headed to the “central sculpture and seating display” at the upper, urban plaza portion of the Park, the approximate original location of Lady Liberty from 1950 to 2017.

. . .  

. . above: images during the Tour at the “central sculpture display”; its base is still empty and could readily become the re-location/return spot for Lady Liberty, pleasing many residents and visitors, and saving the expense of purchasing a new sculpture . . 

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Nonetheless, I did hear two relevant comments by Ms. Wallinger, one prior to and one after moving to the upper portion of the Plaza. Here are the two telling remarks by Ms. Wallinger:

  1. The Beer-Drinker Anecdote. Mary, early in her Tour presentation, told her audience just how dreadful and over-vegetated Liberty Park had been prior to its reconstruction. It seems that in 2015, Mary was at the old Park, taking photographs, when an apparently inebriated beer-drinker rose up from the vegetation to ask what she was doing. She told him she was the designer of the new Plaza, and he said he liked the privacy of all the bushes and trees. The beer-drinker than asked if he could make some recommendations. Mary’s reply was: No, we already have an approved Plan, so we can’t make changes in it. [paraphrased] Ms. Wallinger did not seem to see the irony of that statement, at least from the perspective of those protesting her significant changes to the approved Plan.
    1. “i” for irony.
  2. The REPLICA EXCUSE: When the Tour group was approaching the upper plaza, someone must have asked Ms. Wallinger about the protestors or the missing Lady Liberty, or she simply felt the need to comment. I heard Mary speak dismissively of significance of any dissent to her change in the Plan. Then, to justify the absence of the Statue, Mary added what was to me a new excuse for the exile of Lady Liberty. To paraphrase her explanation:

This Plaza is meant to welcome people to Schenectady and to symbolize its future. As a replica, the Statue of Lady Liberty is not an appropriate sculpture, given the location and purpose. The piece should be something original.

 

. . see #6 in Plan Legend, “Relocated Statue of Liberty Replica”. . 

 Of course, I am not a certified urban planner, nor an architect or landscaper. But, I do wonder whether this No Replica Principle is widely accepted within the professional planning and design community, much less that it has been embraced by the American public. Our Lady Liberty Replica was known to be a replica, and called a replica, at the time Ms. Wallinger and her colleagues placed her in sketches, legends and renderings of the proposed Gateway Plaza. (for example, see image above this paragraph, and detail at left). This is surely not a situation where someone might confuse Schenectady’s 110″-high replica with the original Statue of Liberty. Like an adolescent who keeps adding (weak) explanations and excuses to justify a misdeed, Ms. Wallinger become less and less credible and trustworthy with each excuse.

By The Way, as for authenticity:

  • A rendering of the proposed Pedestrian Walkway used in the Final Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (and in prior drafts) shows what I assume is a replica of Venus de Milo, and not the original in Gateway Plaza. See detail to Right.
  • More apt, Mary Wallinger is the designer who waxed poetic about the symbolism and “story” to be told by the proposed Wind Turbine sculpture to be used at the Central Focal Point of Gateway Plaza – a reference to our historic technological innovations, future accomplishments, and ecological aspirations. Instead, with no chance for public input, she gave us as “modern urban sculpture”, three Cor-ten, fast-rusting, off-the-shelf pillars/girders, which (intentionally or not), many folks in Schenectady believe may have been part of the destroyed World Trade Center towers. (see our post “pillaried at the Plaza“)

  

. . above: Tour group at the Plaza’s  “urban sculpture” focal point . . 

CRITERIA for CHANGING APPROVED PLAN? Of course, the biggest absence to date in the “explanations” from Mary Moore Wallinger, as both a prolific designer and Chair of the City Planning Commission, is any acknowledgement that there is a difference between plans changing from earliest concepts through drafts, steering committee sessions, and public workshops, and changes after official resolution and approval of a Final Plan by the City Council and Mayor.

Moreover, there is no indication from Mary Wallinger as designer or as Planning Chair, as to what the standard should be for changing a significant aspect of a Plan after such Final Approval and adoption of a Plan after the planning process is completed. We also wonder just what the role is of renderings submitted during the planning process and with a final draft for approval. From years of observation, such changes are “justified” by citing engineering reports that claim serious safety or financial difficulties, necessitating varying from an approved plan; changes in a designer’s stylistic preferences do not warrant such changes.

One More (Major) Irony: Before I list for the reader’s edification the excuses compiled by Mary Wallinger for her refusal to return Lady Liberty to Liberty Park, there is one major ironic coincidence to mention about last week’s Tour of Gateway Plaza:  The Grand Opening of the Statue of Liberty Museum took place earlier that very day on Liberty Island. That’s right, despite claims to the contrary, Lady Liberty is so relevant to present-day America and its future, that $100 million was spent to create this museum that explores and celebrates the meaning of the Statue of Liberty. See “What does Lady Liberty stand for? A look at changing attitudes” (Christian Science Monitor, May 16, 2019, by Harry Bruinius)

  • Liberty Enlightening the World. By the way, our Mayor and Planning Chair are quite enamored with the notion of a Renaissance in Schenectady. They could do worse than remembering that, beyond craft beer and a casino, our City could use more stress on culture and enlightenment. The Liberty Statue in New York Harbor was named “Liberty Enlightening the World” by its creator. One commentator had this to say in contrasting Renaissance and Enlightenment political philosophy:

The political philosophy of the Enlightenment is the unambiguous antecedent of modern Western liberalism: secular, pluralistic, rule-of-law-based, with an emphasis on individual rights and freedoms. Note that none of this was really present in the Renaissance, when it was still widely assumed that kings were essentially ordained by God, that monarchy was the natural order of things and that monarchs were not subject to the laws of ordinary men, and that the ruled were not citizens but subjects.

.

It was the Enlightenment, and thinkers who embodied its ideas, like Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin, who were the intellectual force behind the American Revolution and the French Revolution, and who really inspired the ideas behind the great political documents of the age like the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.

In this context, Lady Liberty, seems to most of us an excellent symbol and reminder of our past, and bridge from our present to our future.

WHY EXILE LADY LIBERTY from HER PARK?

Below are the reasons that Mary Moore Wallinger has given for her change of heart in refusing to return the Replica of Lady Liberty to the expanded Liberty Park, a/k/a Gateway Plaza. Many of us believe that none of these excuses would have been accepted — and most would have been ridiculed, or at least soundly defeated on the merits — during the actual planning process for Gateway Plaza. That might be why Ms. Wallinger never raised them at the time.

 . . too small? of course not.

  • The STATUE IS TOO SMALL, so that the Statue would be overwhelmed in the big Plaza.  [Response: Not in the scale rendering done for the Implementation Plan (see detail at right). In addition, Lawrence the Indian is almost three feet shorter and commands his Circle, as is Thomas Edison down at Erie Blvd. and S. Ferry. An experienced landscaper should be able to create a niche for the Lady somewhere at this large Plaza, honoring Her, without creating a space that is too-enclosed for safety.]
  • PLANS CHANGE“: In defending her wish to keep Lady Liberty out of the new Plaza and to send Her to Steinmetz Park instead, Mary told the City Council Meeting of March 26, 2018 that “Plans change,” giving the example that the design team had originally planned to have a road going through the Park. As discussed above, this justification for failing to return Lady Liberty ignores the distinction between the many stages of the planning process and the decision to change, without public input or return to City Council, a major aspect of a Final Plan that has been through public workshops and approval by the City Council. Neither Mary nor the Mayor claimed any safety or engineering issues for not returning Lady Liberty. (The presentations “from the floor” to the March 26, 2018 City Council Meeting are discussed more fully in the posting “Lady Liberty is Timeless“.)
  • NOT SIGNIFICANT PART of the PLAZA PLAN
    • [Response: Mary is confusing square footage with significance, and overlooking the clearly stated preference of the public for the Lady’s return. Returning Lady Liberty was fully supported by all commenters in the Public Workshop. As the Gazette reporter who attended the Public Workshops wrote on June 13, 2013: “Residents . . expressed a strong desire to keep the park’s identity in line with its name: Liberty. The Lady Liberty replica has sat on its pedestal in the park for 62 years would still remain. But it would likely move closer to the State Street border.”]
    • Wallinger also told City Council that only a few members of the public took part in the Public Workshops, which she noted were held because the State requires them when funding is requested. [Response: This is, for many obvious reasons, a scary argument for the Chair of our Planning Commission to make.]
  • GPPlanCover

    Cover of Final Plan

     NOT IN THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. Ms. Wallinger noted in passing to City Council that Lady Liberty was not mentioned in the Executive Summary of the Final Implementation Plan. Given placement of Lady Liberty in renderings submitted with the Final Plan, and on the Cover of the Final Plan (see image at left), and explicit discussion of the Return in the public workshop, leaving Her out of the Executive Summary looks like an intentional action, meant to set up the future exile of Lady Liberty.

  • Goose Hill Petition

    NEGLECTED FOR FIVE YEARS in STORAGE. Mary Wallinger did not make this argument directly, but she let her friends and allies on Goose Hill make the argument in March 2018, and put it in their petition to City Council and the Mayor, seeking to have Lady Liberty sent to Steinmetz Park for a Veterans Memorial. Wallinger never corrected this misinformation, and did not advise City Council of the erroneous claim. As administrator of the construction plan at Gateway Plaza, Ms. Wallinger was well aware that Lady Liberty was not removed from Liberty Park until August 2017, and only to protect the statue during construction.

  • NOT CONTEMPORARY ENOUGH to fit in with the intended style of the new Plaza, which she insists is meant to “celebrate the future” of Schenectady. [Response: (1) That formulation truncates the original goal written by Wallinger in the Implementation Plan: the Plaza will “celebrate the past, present, and future” of Schenectady. And, (2) One is hard-pressed to find a “style” of design at the Plaza, and the well-known and loved appearance of Lady Liberty might take the edge off the mood set by rusty girders and light-sabers.]
  • “SHE’D LOOK LIKE SHE’s CATCHING a BUS”. [Response: This flippant remark to a reporter is from the designer/planner who chose the relocation spot for Lady Liberty next to the bus stop, and bragged (see image to right) insisted the Statue would seem grander there and have more exposure.]
  • The STATUE is VERY DAMAGED, VERY EXPENSIVE to REPAIR. [Response: This damage and expense were not mentioned until months after the decision to send the Lady elsewhere was made (she looked pretty good next to Director of Planning Diotte, in photo to left). Also, there has been no description of the damage, or apparent action to get an estimate, much less get it repaired and back in public view.  Some of the expense should have been part of the original Plaza budget, since the statue and base would have been slated for a least refurbishing, if Ms. Wallinger ever planned to return the Lady to Liberty Park. Also, the money saved by not buying a new sculpture for the Main Sculpture location should go toward any needed repair, followed by placing Lady Liberty at the main sculpture spot, approximating her original location.
  • IT’s THE MAYOR’s DECISION, Not MINE: [Response: Of course, the Mayor (or a City Council with backbone, or a court) can settle this, but there is no doubt that it was Mary Moore Wallinger who has spearheaded the notion of not returning the Lady. Mary’s failure to take responsibility suggests how weak the many arguments are underpinning her subjective desire to exile the Lady for Wallinger Plaza, and echoes her complaint to me that I was making her look like the “bad guy”. On the other hand, there is little doubt that Mary Wallinger, as the Mayor’s “Design Team” and his partner moving projects through the Planning Commission, could successfully lobby the Mayor to follow the approved Implementation Plan and return the Lady to Her Home, Liberty Park at Gateway Plaza.]
  • IT’S A REPLICA: [scroll back up this posting for commentary on this sad excuse for an excuse.]

A Final Thought: The UTICA EXAMPLE:

    . .  

. . above: [L] Schenectady’s Liberty Replica in warehouse storage room since August 2017; [R] Utica’s Liberty Replica in a workshop where She was fully restored, June 2017  

Our neighboring upstate City, Utica, New York, also received a replica of Lady Liberty in 1950, thanks to their local Boy Scouts. It is apparently two feet shorter than Schenectady’s and had deteriorated badly. Nonetheless, thoughtful people of Utica decided to pay for a complete restoration of their Liberty Replica (with donations to cover the $10,000 expense), to reestablish its grand presence on their Monument Parkway. See the May 17, 2017 Newsletter of the Central New York Conservancy.

 . .

. . above: Utica’s Lady Liberty at Monument Park [L] before and [R] after the restoration by Michael H. Mancini, MHM, Inc., of St. Johnsville . . 

  • Thank you for the heads-up from Gerald Plante, who featured Utica’s Lady Liberty replica at his Facebook Page, where he advocates for the return of Schenectady’s Lady.

at Gateway-Liberty Plaza “plans evolve”

. . above: Liberty/Gateway Plaza on May 15, 2019; Lady Liberty still in exile

Plan rendering detail with Lady Liberty back

 This evening (May 16, 2019, at 6 PM), landscape architect Mary Moore Wallinger, chair of Schenectady’s Planning Commission and primary author of the Final Report of the City of Schenectady Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan, is leading a Public Tour of Gateway Plaza. We are invited to “Come And Learn How The Design Evolved From Concept To Reality!” Naturally, I am quite curious to learn how the Implementation Plan has “evolved” since its approval by the Schenectady City Council in 2013. That approved Plan had Lady Liberty returning after construction; with a central focal point sculpture of a Wind Turbine; and attractive lamp-posts on the new pedestrian way. The current, “final” form of the new Plaza is rather different.

 

img_8575

Please stop by the former site of Lady Liberty this evening (Thursday, May 16, 2019), just before 6 PM, to join a friendly “rally for Lady Liberty“, similar to one we had last September. [see photo at right]

The Plaza has also, somehow, been renamed without the public having a chance to comment on losing the name Liberty Park. [see our posting “The name is Liberty Park”]

 In addition, the Plaza is about to have a new installation celebrating the LGBT movement, sponsored by Schenectady PRIDE, and located approximately where the Original Implementation Plan called for Lady Liberty’s re-location. See Schenectady’s Gateway design celebrates diversity but missing Lady Liberty” (by Paul Nelson, May 15, 2019); and  “Gateway Plaza installation in Schenectady taking shape: Construction likely to begin this week” (Daily Gazette, by Pete DeMola, May 16, 2019). The PRIDE cause deserves a place at the New Plaza; however, as the editor of this site said last November: “In my opinion, Schenectady PRIDE and the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising deserve a much better design,” and, a process more in tune with good government. 

As for Lady Liberty, today’s Gazette article explains:

ll-locationcompareThe new installation comes as some residents are pining for the return of another piece of public art, a Statue of Liberty replica statue erected in 1950, but removed in 2017 as part of park improvements.

Since then, residents have jockeyed over where “Lady Liberty” should be relocated once retrieved from storage.

“Ultimately, the decision is not mine,” Wallinger said. “It’s up to the mayor to decide where it will go.

“It needs some work. It needs money and it needs some restoration.”

Mayor Gary McCarthy didn’t return a request for comment.

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AND, see our follow-upWallinger’s excuses for exiling Lady Liberty” (May 20, 2019),with the short URL: https://tinyurl.com/WallingerExcuses

a bargeful of yellow bollards on the Mohawk

. . but, first, a Mother’s Day Bouquet for Mama G. :

2 of 180

 A Conversation We Might Have Over-Heard at Mohawk Harbor on Mother’s Day:

Q: “What are all those big yellow things called, Son?”  A: “Bollards, Mom.”

Q: “Why are there so many and why are they so tall?” A: “Only God, Ray Gillen, and maybe Mayor McCarthy, know”.

Q: “Weren’t they supposed to make Mohawk Harbor and the Casino a classy, attractive destination?” A: “That’s what they promised.”

Q: “Then, how the heck did all those yellow bollards get here?”

“They” — the Developer Galesi Group, Casino Owner Rush Street Gaming, the Planning Commission, Mayor Gary McCarthy and City Hall in general, Ray Gillen and Metroplex, and County government — could have and should have made this crucial project more attractive, to help bring in tourists and repeat business, and for the sake of residents who deserve a beautiful harbor district. Instead, there are, by my recent count, at least 180 bright yellow bollards (that is,15 dozen) surrounding Rivers Casino and detracting from its attractiveness.

The bollards are, in addition, taller than the average bollard (which is 3.5 ft., and not 4′, 5′ and 6′, as at Mohawk Harbor), increasing their visual impact.[see photo above] In the opinion of many folks in Schenectady, parking areas and pedestrian walkways should not be this pedestrian.

  • The Sentries assigned to protect Schenectady from harmful outsiders went on the day of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre instead went off to a Mill Lane pub for some brew, leaving behind snowmen and open stockade gates to greet French and Indian marauders from Canada. Sadly, it seems, weaponless and voiceless Snowmen have been appointed or hired to oversee design and implementation of Schenectady’s most important development of this Century. They’ve permitted a bumper crop of bright yellow bollards to sprout along Mohawk Harbor. For my taste, if they had spawned at least a few snowman-shaped bollards, we would have been better off.

You can see the results of the City’s planning and oversight omissions for yourself with a quick look at the next two collages; one shows bollards at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor on the west side of the facility [L], and the other shows bollards along the east end and rear of the Casino complex [R].

 

 

 

 

. . click on either collage, or any image in this posting, for a larger version . 

What Is a Bollard and What Do They DO?

 A bollard is a sturdy, short, vertical post. The term originally referred to a post on a ship, wharf or dock used principally for mooring boats, but is now also used to refer to posts installed to control road traffic and posts designed to provide security and prevent ramming attacks, as well as provide a theme or sense of place. [see Wikipedia; Reliance Foundry; TrafficGuard.]

Bollards are available in many different sizes and styles, including removable or fixed versions, designed to evoke virtually any era or taste. The type chosen depends on the purpose of the bollard, and the location. For example, Reliance Foundry displays illustrations, specs, and prices for 143 bollard models at its website, including bollard covers in many styles and choice of materials. And, see: its Pinterest Creative Bollards display. Bollards can be serious or stately, artsy or whimsical. The style or mood can even be mixed on the same site or project.

 Bollards are not, therefore, merely practical, and definitely do not have to detract from a landscape or streetscape. Reliance Foundry notes that “Bollards enhance the visual quality of buildings and landscapes while providing visual and physical barriers for safer, more controlled environments.” And, relevant to our discussion of Mohawk Harbor and Rivers Casino:

 When used to complement new or existing architecture, bollards can create or reinforce thematic visual cues and enhance a sense of place within a neighborhood or community—and for approaching visitors. [click the collage at the head of this blurb to see samples of Reliance Foundry bollards] 

Despite the hundreds of bollard styles to choose from, and their coincidental nautical history, tall bollards with bright yellow covers are so ubiquitous on the lawns, parking areas, and walkways of Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, that they are the most prominent architectural feature defining the otherwise uninspiring, and unnamable external design of the Casino complex.

Thus, whether you are . . .

. . entering the Rivers Casino parking lot from the west on Front Street:

. . coming from the east on Harbor Way:

. . . visiting next-door at STS Steel:

. . driving over the Mohawk from Glenville on Freeman’s Bridge:

 . . .

. . aboard your yacht on the Mohawk River:

 . . .

. . entering the ALCO Trail on foot from the west:

. . or, even checking out the ALCO Trail signage from your bike:

your first and subsequent views of the site at Rivers Casino are highly likely to be populated by an inert army of tall, bright yellow bollards.

WE DESERVED BETTER

In the posting “Why does Rush Street give Schenectady its scraps” (June 19, 2015), we pointed to the image created by the Applicants before the Location Board, when they sought a gaming license from New York State, and noted our disappointment in the eventual design of Rivers Casino:

A flashy digital brochure submitted to the New York State Gaming Commission, “The Companies of Neil Bluhm,” touts his having “developed and acquired over $50 billion in world class destinations,” his “Establishing international beacons to successfully attract the tourism market,” and “placing an emphasis on superior design” for his casinos. Unfortunately, instead of an “international beacon” like Fallsview Casino in Ontario, Canada, we get a design that reminds us Neil Bluhm “pioneered . . . the creation of urban shopping centers.”

Why did we get such a disappointing, second-rate design? I got no reply when I emailed the Schenectady Planning Office and City Engineer, on April 15, 2019 and asked, regarding the yellow bollards:

  1. Did the Applicant designate the color, style and size for its bollards for its Site Plan review? 
  2. Did the Commission either approve or direct such bright yellow bollards?
  3. Did Staff review this choice and okay it?

That leaves me to speculate on my own. In our June 15, 2017 “scraps” posting, we stated:

Our first guess as to why Rush Street does not try very hard for Schenectady is that it has had our “leaders” fawning over it ever since the first rumor of a casino was in the air early last year.  This morning’s Schenectady Gazette suggests another reason: As with the earlier zoning amendments, the normal Planning Commission process has been aborted (hijacked?), with the skids greased by the Mayor to make sure Galesi and Rush Street never have to wait very long to get their wish list fulfilled, and with public input stifled whenever possible.

In their Casino License Application, Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group were required to submit detailed renderings and sketches of the proposed Casino project. For example, the July 2014 Application included an overview sketch with the detail at the right of their west parking lot, the largest ground-level parking area.  [full sketch] There are well over 100 trees in the west parking lot in the submitted sketch. That presentation shows that the Applicants/Developer/Owners knew what a parking lot meant to attract and keep tourists and other customers should look like. If nothing else, the image should also have reminded the Planning Commission and planning staff what their goal should be regarding the landscaping and appearance of this prime location. Unfortunately, the public and perhaps also the Planning Commission never again saw such detailed proposals for the casino compound.

  • from 2nd Casino Design

    from 2nd Casino Design

    The limited 2nd design images submitted for public review of the Casino compound did not include the full parking lot, but still seemed to have quite a few trees. [See the image to the left.] The third design submitted to the public only revealed a tiny part of the front and back of the Casino, giving no parking lot views. Of course, nothing prevented, and their duty demanded, that the Planning Commission require more detail and allow more public comment; more important, their duty demanded the construction of far more attractive parking lots, especially given how much of the total footprint of the Casino Compound and Mohawk Harbor they would consume.

The the next four images below show the actual west parking lot, with its mere handful of trees along the rows. Click on a photo for a larger version.

IMG_9158 . . IMG_9150-001

. . photos taken, Nov. 4, 2018 [above] and May 4, 2019 [below] . . 

. .

You have to wonder: “What happened to all those trees?” Indeed, the Minutes of the July 22, 2015 Commission Meeting, which included the Casino Site Plan Review, have Commission Member (now Chair) Mary Moore Wallinger noting (at 5):

[T]hat she very much appreciates the detailed planting plan and that she feels that the applicants listened to the feedback from the Commission regarding the landscaping and pedestrian walkways and took it into account when revising the design.

What could Ms. Wallinger, a leading Schenectady landscape architect and designer of major municipal projects in the City and County, have meant, if the result is a swarm of yellow bollards that would seem to be the antithesis of good landscaping and site planning at an “international tourist destination” and unique, new, upscale neighborhood? The beauty and shade added by robust and numerous trees in a parking lot are, of course, much appreciated by urban designers, and by passersby, drivers, and passengers coming from near and far.

  • BTW: I recall being in the Commission hearing room when, at one point in the process, Ms. Wallinger spent a lot of time worrying with the applicant over the size of the parking lot tree beds. Did she have any follow-up with the Planning Office staff on this issue?

Throughout the Casino design and site plan approval process, this website and local media complained that the public and the Planning Commission were receiving far fewer and far less specific details about how the casino site would look as proposed by the developers than we would expect in even the most insignificant project. We were shown only incomplete “peeks” at segments of the proposed plans, often with sketches and not complete renderings, and the Commission never demanded more, despite the importance of this project and its clear authority to require more. Instead, phony deadline pressure arguments from the Applicants were accepted without complaint, and last-minute incomplete submissions were accepted. For example, see the limited-view renderings submitted for the rear (river-side) of the Casino and its Hotel on the Right for the 2nd Rivers Casino Design, and immediately below for the 3rd design.

 . . .  

By the way, despite their prominence on the actual constructed site, there are no yellow bollards in sight in either version of the rear of the Casino complex.

How could this happen at a project hailed so often as Schenectady’s premiere new, upscale location, and hope for its future? The City’s Planning Commission purportedly gave the Casino and Mohawk Harbor a full Site Plan Review (see our disappointed coverage). Site Plan review is not merely meant to make sure that all zoning laws have been followed. As we explained during the Site Plan process for the Casino complex in July 2015:

“[T]he commission has the ability to evaluate the aesthetic visual impact of the project even if the plans satisfy zoning requirements.” [Gazette article citing Corporation Council Carl Falotico, Feb. 3, 2015.]

Also, see the section “What a site plan accomplishes” in the “BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LAND USE LAW”, by the Land Use Law Center of Pace University School of Law, at 19.

    • By the way, at the end of the July 22, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting, chair Sharron Coppola announced it would be her last meeting as chair, and that she would be resigning her position as Planning Commissioner. I certainly wish Ms. Coppola had written a Memoir of her time at the Commission, including the entire Harbor District zoning and Casino site planning experience.

POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS?

NotYellow-OrthoNY

at OrthoNY Liberty Street

Some of the most imaginative people I know have not been able to figure out or conjure up a justification for the excessive and near-exclusive use of bright yellow bollards at Rivers Casino Schenectady. In addition, in none of my readings have I found any indication that bollards need to be bright yellow in order to effectively serve their functions. My inquiry to City Engineer Chris Wallin about requirements that bollards by yellow in certain situations never got a reply. (Of course, in a location where one might not expect to find the protected item, a bright color to signal its existence does make sense, but that issue does not seem to warrant the ubiquitous choice of bright yellow at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor.)

A Schenectady Tradition? No, it isn’t, despite their use to protect utility cabinets at recent projects downtown. City Hall, County, civic and business leaders are surely aware that there are other kinds of affordable and more attractive bollards, or similar security measures or screens available. A short outing around Downtown Schenectady should suffice to prove that proposition; here’s the result of my recent bollard tour:

at S. Church & State St. . .

Also, the first tenant at Mohawk Harbor, Courtyard by Marriott Hotel, did a nice job looking like a tasteful place to stay, without using even one yellow bollard to protect the building and utility units. Here are a couple of sample views of the Hotel; for more, click on the Collage Thumbnail to the head of this paragraph.

 . .

Unfortunately, Marriott’s example did not rub off across its driveway at Galesi’s Harborway Drive office-retail buildings.

A Rush Street Gaming Branding Tool or Trademark? And, No, bright yellow bollards are not a design theme uniting all Rush Street Gaming properties. The collage below (on L) has images compiled from an extensive on-line Google Street Map tour of the exterior of Rivers Casino at DesPlaines, Illinois, which has a design similar in many ways to Schenectady’s Rivers Casino, but without yellow bollards. Similarly, the collage on the Right shows exterior scenes from Rush Street’s Sugar House Casino in Philadelphia, where yellow bollards are also absent and do not appear to be a design element for exterior spaces. Similarly, Google Images we located of Rivers Casino Pittsburgh contain no yellow bollards.

SugarHouse-NoYellowBollards

Furthermore, Rush Street Gaming and their development partner Galesi Group used not-yellow bollards and non-bollard alternative devices in strategic spots at and near Rivers Casino. Click on this Collage:

. .

A few years ago, we documented at this website how much better Rush Street Gaming has treated the cities that host its other casinos or potential sites than how it treats Schenectady [see, e.g., Rush Street Giveaways, and Money on the Table]. So, it is not surprising that we have not been able to find similar aggregations of bright yellow (or even similarly unsubtle or unsightly) bollards at other Rush Street casinos.

at Waterfront Condominiums, Mohawk Harbor

Finally, Is Bright Yellow a Galesi Group Trademark or Branding Tool? Despite a minor outbreak of similar bollards at the Galesi-built and owned Price Chopper/Golub headquarters (example), there does not seem to be any internal imperative for yellow bollards within the Galesi Group.  Indeed, we see a far more tasteful/tolerable (and less conspicuous) set of bollards at the eastern end of Mohawk Harbor, performing protection service for utility cabinets and similar objects at Galesi’s high-end Waterfront Condominiums [asking price, $500,000 to $700,000]. There’s not a yellow bollard in sight on site.

  

Like the westside of Mohawk Harbor, the eastside (between Harborside Drive and Erie Boulevard), sits on the banks of the Mohawk River, has a bike-pedestrian path running through it, and features ALCO Heritage signage sponsored by Schenectady County.  Both ends of Mohawk Harbor sit within the City of Schenectady, with site plans reviewed by its Planning Commission. And, both ends were proudly godfathered/mid-wived by Ray Gillen of Metroplex. Why such a visually-different result?

. . Mohawk Harbor riverbank bollards: [above] at Rivers Casino; [below] at Waterfront Condominiums . .

  • Discount Bollards? Did a literal bargeful of yellow bollards or bollard covers show up at Mohawk Harbor or another Schenectady County location with great price breaks for buying them in bulk? What amount of savings could compensate for their lack of aesthetic virtue?
  • Peoples’ Choice? I know that taste can be very subjective, and that some “leaders” want to force constituents out of their confined preferences, but I believe that the great majority of Schenectady area residents, if asked the question directly with photos, would strongly prefer non-yellow bollards.

As with the failure of our Mayor to demand financial, employment, purchasing benefits, etc., in a host community agreement, it appears that our City Hall and its appointed Civil Snowmen neither demanded attractive landscaping and protective installations around the Casino, nor required that the developers fulfill any specific promise they may have made in the site plan process.

  • The collage to the Right gives a stark example of Galesi Group promises in a site plan meeting that were apparently later ignored by the developer and by any enforcement officials reviewing the execution of a Mohawk Harbor project. According to June 17, 2015 Planning Commission Meeting Minutes, during review of the Site Plan for what would become the 220 Harborside Drive office and retail building, project engineer Dan Hershberg:
    .
    [E]xplained that because there is underground parking beneath the parking lot, landscaping option are more limited in this space.He stated that large planters are proposed for the islands in the parking lot, and that they will be cast in concrete on site and will be quite substantial in size. He added that they are proposing to add trees to the site wherever possible, but there are some spots where easements are located which will be planted with more seasonal, less permanent options. [emphasis added]
    .

    There are, as you can see in the collage above, no islands, no planters, and no trees. Who in our City government is responsible to follow-up on such matters?

Why is this Bargeful of Bollards Story Important? It is a prime, very visible example of The Snowman Effect: The inadequate protection of the public interest in Schenectady, due to the appointment and retention at City Hall by Mayor Gary McCarthy of subservient, ineffectual or disinterested public servants (with dismissal of those who do not cooperate), resulting in both rushed, superficial review of submissions from favored applicants, and lax follow-up and enforcement of City Code provisions and applicant promises. [as symbolically depicted here] It has meant, in the Casino Design and Yellow Bollards context, suffering a less attractive and less successful Rivers Casino in Schenectady, and in other contexts, such as the ALCO Bike-Pedestrian pathway, a less safe Mohawk Harbor for those who visit and use the facilities (see this and that).

For more on the Snowman Effect, see “McCarthy only wants snowmen on the Planning Commission“. For an explanation of the Snowmen Metaphor, see our posting “have we learned the lessons of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre?”; for examples, some of which are more subtle than others, check our postings in the Snowmen Effect Category.

The unspoken attitude of our Mayor and the Metroplex Chair seems to be that Schenectady is the old Mohawk term for “Second-Rate-City“. Consequently, they have failed to demand, or at the least strenuously bargain for, the best for our City from Rush Street Gaming and the Galesi Group. The result is a tremendous lost opportunity for Schenectady to truly shine and succeed at our only remaining riverbank land suitable for commercial development and public recreation.  The bollard crop along the Mohawk also suggests that Schenectady’s Snowmen/women are not merely on the Boards that review projects, but also in the offices that are supposed to see that reviewed plans are implemented as approved or as promised by an applicant. The situation with readily visible aspects of Mohawk Harbor also makes us wonder what is going on with items that are not readily seen by the public (such as the “shoddy work” recently alleged at a Harborside Drive building).

Having beget a “bummer” crop of bright, yellow, too-tall* bollards, the same municipal officials now stand as mute as snowmen when Rivers Casino complains that it is losing business because of an unfair tax structure compared to its competitors, and seeks tax breaks that would cost the City hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lost revenue. See “Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid.”] Leaders and residents should instead point out that one very big reason Rivers Casino finds it hard to compete is that they have built a homely, mediocre, regional gambling facility, with the acquiescence and cooperation of City Hall and Metroplex, despite the promise to create an international tourist attraction for Schenectady.

  • Financial Realities. Rush Street does not have to meet its bloated projections for Rivers Casino in Schenectady to prosper on the Mohawk. Failing to attract visitors beyond a small geographic radius, Rivers Casino seems content to focus on: Seeking tax breaks; Slots (the most addictive form of casino gambling) as the focus of its gaming growth; Sports gambling (which might siphon off gambling dollars that are taxed at a much higher rate); and attracting Non-gambling spending at the Casino, which helps the bottomline of Rush Street and its associated enterprises, but reduces gaming tax revenue to the State, County and City, and hurts other local businesses. And, City Hall and The County Building seem content with this situation, continuing to call the Casino their Partner.
  • New Attitude Needed. Schenectady’s government leaders disarmed themselves when dealing with the Casino applicants, giving away leverage that could have assured many additional benefits for the City and County and its residents, like The Giveaways Rush Street has made or promised other prospective casino towns.  They will have few if any comparable opportunities, now that the project design and the zoning changes demanded by the Applicants have been approved. Nevertheless, a new attitude that, at the very least, asserts the position of Senior Partner for local government can hopefully salvage a few benefits, avoid some disadvantages, and help restore some civic pride.

Geelong Bollards by Jan Mitchell Better Bollards at Rivers Casino?

No one can solve all of the problems that come with having become a Casino Town with Development Groupies at his head. However, the community, with the cooperation of Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming, plus Mohawk Harbor’s residents and its business tenants, could perhaps have a little fun and come up with alternatives to the gaudy yellow bollards, and ways to correct the situation.

. .

CHALLENGE. For example, the folks at Beekman 1802 and the Druthers crew at Mohawk Harbor have both panache and spirit, and might be able to put together a fun rivalry to design better bollards for all or portions of the Casino Compound. Rivers Casino’s “team” members, who have to look at those bollards a lot, might have some great ideas, too, as well as Ellis Medical. The Contest or Challenge to design better bollards might also bring in civic groups.

As we noted and depicted near the top of this posting, with links, there are innumerable styles of bollards and bollard covers commercially available already (for example), and creative minds can envision more. The yellow skin on the Casino bollards at Mohawk Harbor can be lifted or peeled off and replaced with virtually any style cover. The nautical origin of bollards might spark some interesting themes tied to Schenectady’s history. Schenectady deserves better; can do better; and could have a good time finding a solution to our Bummer Crop of Yellow Bollards.

If you’d like to help improve the Rivers Casino bollards, please contact me directly or by leaving a Comment. Or, let the media and City Hall, and Rivers Casino know your feelings. Thank you.


*The folks at Trafficguard.net provide a set of FAQ on bollards, including:

10. How Tall Are Bollards?

Bollards come in a variety of sizes, in order to accommodate being used in different areas and for different purposes. Heights for bollards typically range from 30″ to 48″ tall, with the average height of them being 36″ or three feet tall. Since most vehicles are about 5 feet tall, the height of bollards is effective at stopping them from passing through into restricted areas, and if someone does attempt to bypass a bollard, they will cause significant damage to their vehicle. The width of bollards is what generally makes them stronger, though, not the height. The wider a bollard, the more weight it can withstand. The reason they are not smaller is because at 36″ (or about that tall), they are an effective visual deterrent before ever having to be a physical deterrent.

 

11. What Is a Bollard? One of the most commonly asked questions about bollards is what their purpose is and what they are. A bollard is defined as a short vertical post, originally meant to be used on a ship, but nowadays used to direct or control road traffic. This includes using them to obstruct the passage of motor vehicles, such as outside of store fronts, to separate paved walkways from paved motorways, to block off public parks, etc. Bollards are typically made out of steel, but can sometimes be made out of concrete or other strong materials. They come in a variety of styles and sizes, perfect for accommodating a large number of applications.

Rush Street must think we are all pretty stupid

. . . or, don’t care about the facts or taxpayers

emptypockets Rush Street Gaming’s billionaire CEO/Owner Neil Bluhm is back walking the halls of the New York State Legislature trying to get a tax break for their Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. [See “Schenectady casino seeks lower tax rates: Tax credit floated as relief” (Albany Times Union, by David Lombardo, March 29, 2019); “Rivers Casino takes another crack at a tax cut: Schenectady facility says highest tax rate among New York casinos puts it at a disadvantage” (Schenectady Gazette, March 28, 2019)].

openpalmgThey are again whining about the unfairness of the gaming tax structure, and have bolstered their specious arguments with a flood of misleading statements about their new competitor, MGM Springfield. They are also acting as if an Advertising Allowance tax credit is not a tax break. [follow-up (April 14, 2019): According to the Sunday Gazette, Rivers Casino just had its best month ever, but continues its whining and seeking tax breaks.]

Below is the slightly edited text of an email that I sent to members of the media this afternoon (Friday, March 29), in the hope that the press will dilute Mr. Bluhm’s Casino Chicanery with facts, and that our Legislators will care about the facts. It has been supplemented with arguments against the Marketing Allowance.

MGMSpringfRevs . . Left: MGM Springfield Tax Revenue Report . . 

Email Message

Rush Street Gaming is again seeking tax cuts from Albany for its Schenectady Rivers Casino, using misleading information and half-truths, plus a boatful of whining. 

 
Here are the facts:
When it applied for a casino license in July 2014, Rush Street Gaming knew:
  • The gaming revenue tax on a Capital Region casino, as stated in the 2013 enabling legislation,  would be 45% on Slots and 10% on all other gaming revenue, with lower rates on slots in other Regions (that had less population density, fewer economic resources, and more competitors, i.e., racinos, Indian and Canadian casinos).
  • MGM Springfield had received its license in June 2013 and was planning to build a spectacular casino resort on a bend of the Connecticut River, in the historic and cultural center of Springfield.
  • The gaming tax in Massachusetts would be 25% on all casino gaming revenue proceeds (slots and table games).
  • There might be a second full casino in western Massachusetts (but that has not happened).
 
Rivers says that this unfair rate differential has lowered its Slots income, however:
  • In the six full months since MGM Springfield has been in operation (Sept. 2018 through February 2019), Slot GGR at Rivers Casino has increased 10.4% over the same months the prior year,  from $46,090,049 to $50,902,095. See Monthly Reports
Rivers says its unfair tax burden makes it impossible to fairly compete with MGM Springfield, and they need a slots tax rate below 40%, but:
 

From Sep 2018 through Feb. 2019, Rivers paid approx. $24 million in Gaming Tax, that equals a blended 34% gaming tax on its Total GGR. See Rivers Casino Monthly Financial Reports. While, from Sept. 2018 through Feb. 2019, MGM Springfield paid approximately $33 million in Gaming Tax, 25% of Total GGR.  See MassGaming Revenue Report on MGM SpringfieldHOWEVER, 

red check Rush Street is not mentioning that, under its Host Community Agreement with Springfield: 

  • MGM Resorts paid upfront and advance payments, totaling $15 million to the City of Springfield during the construction phase including pre-payment of taxes for general city purposes as well as:
    • $2.5 million to purchase equipment and to provide training for police, firefighters and emergency medical services personnel.
    • $1 million to redevelop Riverfront Park.
  • Big$Jackpot Once opening for business, MGM Springfield must make more than $25 million in annual payments to the City. This includes $17.6 million in lieu of tax payments as well as, among other things:
    • $2.5 million to fund operating and other costs for police, firefighters, emergency medical services and education.
    • $2.5 million for a Community Development Fund to be administered by the city to support early childhood education, higher education, libraries, health initiatives, and the betterment of the city and its residents.
  • And, other $50 million coming up: Just last week, MGM Springfield reported to the Mass. Gaming Commission  that it intends to invest in the proposed $55 million redevelopment of the long-vacant Court Square hotel building in downtown Springfield as part of an obligation to build housing within one-half mile of its resort casino. See WAMC Report.

See the MassGaming 4-page Summary of Springfield HCA, for the amazing array of extra obligations MGM Springfield has undertaken while Rush Street just pays what it has to pay under the 2013 Legislation. 

exclamationpoint
 It should be clear that the Massachusetts gaming tax structure intentionally took into account the obligation of any casino applicant to negotiate an HCA or Mitigation Agreement with the host municipality, with its consequent large financial obligations over and above the State gaming revenue tax.
.
RIVERS CASINO never entered into an HCA with the City of Schenectady, as Mayor Gary McCarthy refused to negotiate for one, as did Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen. It paid no upfront money during construction, and no economic development funds for the community. (see our posting “answering Mayor McCarthy on HCAs“, June 28, 2015)
  • NYS Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow (Dem., Mt Vernon), the Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Racing and Wagering, has been insisting that Rivers Casino offered to pay an “exorbitant” amount over the mandated gambling revenue tax, and should now be given a break. However, Rivers pays exactly the amount called for in the 2013 Legislation, under which it would have to pay more if it had offered to do so as part of its Application. Instead, The Report and Findings of the New York Gaming Facility Location Board (Feb. 27, 2015, at 261) specifically states in the section captioned “Maximizing revenues received by the state and localities. (§ 1320(1)(b))”, that:  “Rivers does not propose a supplemental tax payment or increased license fee.”
.
MGMSpringfield-rend2 . . . MGMSpringfield-render
.
above: the $960 million MGM Springfield Casino Resort; below: the $340 million Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor (front entrance on R, rear and hotel on L)
.
MHrailing14Oct2018 . . Rivers08Feb2018

 

WHY DO PEOPLE TAKE BUSES TO MGM Springfield?

  • CasinoBusTripMRM Resorts spent $960 million to build a spectacular, true destination casino, in a bustling, interesting neighborhood
  • Rush Street, after bragging that it builds spectacular international destinations in its Applications, spent merely $320 million at Mohawk Harbor, and has produced, at best, a homely, mediocre regional casino, which targets and predominantly attracts local residents and perhaps those living within a 60-mile radius
  • By failing to insist on a true destination casino, Schenectady’s Mayor, City Council majority and Planning Commission, and the County’s Metroplex and Legislature, condemned our City to a mediocre Casino that will be constantly failing to meet its bloated projections and wanting tax breaks. See, e.g., our posting “casino choices in Upstate New York: who will choose Schenectady?” (January 19, 2017)

920x920 Exactly a year ago, we were in the same situation, waiting to see if the rush to the Legislative Budget Deadline (April 1), would bring with it a budget that included casino tax breaks. See “bum’s rush needed” (March 28, 2018). We were pleased at the time that Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not favor casino tax breaks. Also, the Gazette Editorial Board wrote a piece entitled “Editorial: No state financial deals for casinos”  In addition, on Sunday March 30, 2018, the Times Union editorial board weighed in with “Editorial: Say no to casino subsidies“, which included the nifty illustration by Jeff Boyer that is at the head of this paragraph.

SteckAtRiversCasino

Phil Steck at Rivers Casino

 Marketing Allowance? For some reason, we are supposed to believe that a Marketing Allowance is not a tax break, although it would reduce River Casino’s gaming tax burden by 10% of the Casino’s marketing expenses. Last year, we noted on this topic that: “In the TU article “Casino seeks state help in marketing” (Sept. 29, 2018), Assemblyman Phil Steck is far from elegant defending Rivers Casino request for a 10% marketing allowance reduction in its gaming tax obligations to the State”:

“It’s not saying, ‘State, come in and give us money’; it’s saying, ‘We believe we need to expand the market for our product, we need an allowance for marketing,’ and I think that’s a reasonable position for a business to take,” said Steck, a Democratic lawmaker from Colonie, of the request by the Schenectady casino, which is located on the former Alco site on Erie Boulevard.

“What they’re saying is, ‘If we spend 10 cents on marketing instead of giving you 100 cents on that dollar, we’re going to give you 90 cents,’ and that makes a lot of sense because if the total amount of revenue expands as a result of their marketing effort, the state’s going to make more money anyway and so will the city,” Steck said.

Steck-Golub-McCarthyatCasino Assemblyman Steck apparently still supports such a Marketing Allowance, if it brings in more revenue, but does not demonstrate how that would happen.  As I noted last year in correspondence with Mr. Steck, Rivers Casino already does a lot of advertising and marketing (a rather basic expense for doing business in a capitalist market), and if doing more would increase its revenue in any way, it would be doing just that. Moreover:

  1. DSCF4456Much of Rivers’ marketing appears to be aimed at bringing in non-gambling customers to the Casino complex and Mohawk Harbor. That business (drinking, dining, conventions, fight shows, concerts) does not add to Rivers’ gaming tax obligations (45% on slots, 10% on table games and poker). Instead, it merely increases profits for the Casino and its business associates, and generates the much lower taxes based on food and similar sales taxes (often “cannibalizing” the business of other local businesses).
  2. DisoverySchyCasino.jpg Rivers Casino is already a major beneficiary of the County’s Tourism Bureau and Discovery Schenectady programs for gaming and convention programs.
  3. MohHarb30ftPylonMohawk Harbor was allowed to put a giant shopping-mall style 30′ high by 18′ wide pylon sign, that looms over Erie Blvd. at a location that normally would permit only a 7′ high sign under our Zoning Code. In permitting the sign, after literal begging for the favor by Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen, the Board of Zoning Appeals reversed a decision it had made just weeks before. The pylon sign contains a large LCD screen that changes message every 8 seconds; safety-conscious cities and planners discourage such distractions so close to a busy intersection. Isn’t this quite enough favoritism at the expense of the public interest for Mohawk Harbor and its Casino tenant?

Phil Steck balked when I called him “the Assemblyman from Mohawk Harbor” last year. But, I cannot imagine the normally-thoughtful Mr. Steck offering even his current conditional support for the Marketing Allowance, were Mohawk Harbor not in his Assembly District.

 

. . share this post with this URL: http://tinyurl.com/WhiningRivers

RiversCasino-eastentrance

. . many locals believe this northeast Harbor Way entrance to Rivers Casino, with its utility bollards, parking garage, and Hotel, is the more attractive (and far less tacky) view of the Casino . . 

resolve to bring back the Lady to her Park

2019Calendar-LADYe

. . above: click on image above for a larger version of our Bring Her Home calendar, which is formatted for a 5″x7″ print. . Please download, use, and share. 

It has been nine months since we began asking the Mayor and City Council of Schenectady to honor and implement the Gateway Plaza Implementation Plan (2013) and return the City’s replica Lady Liberty statue to her home, Liberty-Gateway Park. Since that time, Mayor Gary McCarthy has not given us any justification for failing to follow the fully approved Implementation Plan, saying only that “our design team” recommended not returning Lady Liberty.

The Design Team is basically Mary Moore Wallinger, who was the primary author of the Implementation Plan that promised return of the statue, and is Chair of the City’s Planning Commission. Ms. Wallinger either never wanted Lady Liberty to return, and proposed the return to avoid controversy during the planning process, or simply changed her mind and decided on her own, with no public notice or input, to send the Statue of Liberty replica elsewhere. Why? At first Wallinger advanced the silly excuse that Lady Liberty was too small for the Plaza; she then merely noted at a City Council meeting that “plans change”, and settled on the sad and insufficient excuse that the Lady is not “contemporary” enough to fit her image of the new Plaza.

Throughout 2018, Mayor Gary McCarthy has indicated he has been too busy to make a decision and direct Ms. Wallinger, whose LAndArt Studio is the “construction administrator” of Gateway Park, to arrange to return Lady Liberty (after its mysteriously damaged base is repaired). At no point has anyone at City Hall offered a justification for ignoring an implementation plan that went through a full design process, with public input and agreement, and approval by City Council in a Resolution naming the Implementation Plan an official Document of the City, which the Mayor signed. There is no safety or financial basis for ignoring the approved Plan. There is only the change of personal change of mind by Ms. Wallinger.

We ask that the Mayor, Ms. Wallinger, and City Council resolve to return the Lady Liberty statue to an appropriate location in her home Park as soon as winter’s end allows for the installation. Surely, our so-called Smart City is wise enough to do the right thing. Returning Lady Liberty would be an important step toward gaining the trust of the public, and give us reason to hope the New Year moves Schenectady toward having a City Hall its people can respect.

newyearlady-001

 

poorly planned safety railing erected along Mohawk Harbor trail

 mhtrail29octa1 update (Oct. 29, 2018):  With no help from City Hall or the County to delay the installation, the fence is finished, without the needed improvements. . . It is too close to the Path [should be 3′ clearance or more, not 2′], too short [should be 54 inches high, not 42″], and has no rub rail to protect bicyclists. There is adequate space for the preferred 3- to 5-foot buffer, but the installers were instructed to use a 2-foot buffer. The public was never given the chance to raise the issues and the regulators apparently never bothered. See discussion below.

MHTrail29OctD. .  photo to the right shows: 2-foot buffer between Path and guardrail/fence, and sufficient space on the riverbank side to widen the buffer for the safety of all path users and those who come merely to watch the River.

MHTrail29OctC . . MHTrail29OctB

ALCOTrailWestEnd . . westendwall-buffer . . at the west end of the Mohawk Harbor trail, the new fence along the riverbank has only a 24″ buffer from the edge of the path; while the wall on the other side of the path has a much safer 50″ inch buffer. 

. . above photos taken October 29, 2018 . . 

ORIGINAL POST . . October 15, 2018

“poorly planned safety railing going up along Mohawk Harbor trail”

IMG_8948

orangesafetyconeBelow is an email message that I sent today (October 15, 2018) to Christine Primiano, the City of Schenectady’s Chief Staff Planner. It outlines why I believe we must halt the installation of a railing/fence along the riverside of the ALCO Heritage Trail in Mohawk Harbor, and seek to achieve a better, safer guardrail. The 42″ high guardrail is being installed only two feet from the paved edge of the Hike-Bike Trail.  Best practices for shared-use paths and relevant regulations call for a 3-foot buffer (including the Bike Schenectady Master Plan adopted just last year). A taller guardrail, with a rub rail, is also needed. Following the regulations and guidelines can help increase the likelihood that hikers, cyclists, tourists and other visitors will avoid injury along the Mohawk Harbor trail and guardrail, and reduce liability exposure by the City and County.

[update (Nov. 5): I have received no reply from the Planning Office, nor Corporation Counsel, nor any other City or County official on these issues. When I visited the Trail on October 14, the fence was only 220′ long, with no cables; when I visited it on Friday, October 19, the guardrail installation had continued, extending at that time almost to the east end of the Landing Hotel, but still without the cable strung.]

IMG_8953 . . ALCOtrailFence2

From: David Giacalone
Subject: the Mohawk Harbor trail railing is not safe enough
Date: October 15, 2018 at 11:55:10 AM EDT
To: CHRISTINE PRIMIANO, Chief Planner, cprimiano@schenectadyny.gov
Cc: meidens@schenectadyny.gov, cfalotico@schenectadyny.gov, RGillen@schenectadymetroplex.org

Hello, Christine,

A guardrail is finally being erected between the steep riprap riverbank and ALCO Heritage Trail at Mohawk Harbor. For that I am grateful. But, there are so many ways a guardrail should and could have better protected cyclists, hikers, tourists, and River-watchers (including those in wheelchairs), that I wish there could have been an opportunity for comment by experts and the public.

Given that this is the end of the hike-bike season, and safety cones or caution tape could readily be used to line the top of the steep slope, I believe we should halt the current installation, which as of yesterday, was only about 220’ long, with no cable strung, and then decide how to do it in a way that is more appropriate from a safety point of view for all likely users. 

  • IMG_8956 Note, the fence being installed is taller than, but otherwise the same style and materials as the fencing along the Casino and Landing Hotel patios.
  • the first (gray) photo-collage below has shots taken on October 11 of the fencing; the last photo was taken yesterday, from the east end of Riverside Park
  • the second (green) photo-collage below demonstrates why I have been arguing that a safety rail is needed. A fuller discussion of those issues can be found at http://tinyurl.com/HarborTrailSafety


Was the design of this fence and its placement submitted to your Office for review? Did anyone have the opportunity to remind the County or Metroplex that the Bike Schenectady Master Plan states, in the Shared Use Path guidance section (p. B-21 of the Appendices):

“A 2 foot or greater shoulder on both sides of the path should be provided. An additional foot of lateral clearance (total of 3’) is required by the MUTCD for the installation of signage or other furnishings.”


BikeSchdy-TrailClearanceI hope no one in authority will try to argue that a fence 3/4 of a mile long is not a furnishing and not as troublesome as a sign post in presenting a hazard to trail users. A screen shot of the BikeSchenectady page is inserted to the right (click on it for a larger image]; also, click here to see a relevant page from Schenectady’s 2001 Master Bike Plan (mandating a three-foot clearance to obstacles); and a useful page from the Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail Master Plan. , which explains (at 29, emphases added):

Railings

Railings are generally used to protect trail users from steep gradients located close to the edge of the trail. A general landscape guideline from the NYS Building Code is that if there is a sheer drop of 18” or greater then a railing should be provided. In New York State, all railings along bike paths should be 54” high. While there are no specific warrants for providing safety railings where steep slopes are adjacent to a trail, the NYS Highway Design Manual does indicate (Figure 18-16 Safety Railings Along Bicycle and Multi-Use Paths) that a 54” high (1.4 meter) safety rail be provided when a significant slope is closer than 5’ from the trail edge. Sound professional judgement should be used to assess whether the slope gradient, vertical drop or dangerous obstacles on the slope (trees, poles, concrete structures, etc.) warrant the installation of a safety rail.

IMG_8946 On Friday, the supervisor of the fence/rail installation firm (Access Anvil Corp.) told me that there was no obstacle to putting the structure three feet from the trail edge, but his specs called for two-feet. Of course, in many places along the slope, there is room for the railing to be the 3-5 feet that many studies and regulatory bodies have said is preferred for the shoulder. That would allow bikes or pedestrians making evasive moves a safer landing, and permit groups of river-watchers (and those in wheelchairs) to enjoy the River without worrying about hanging over or inadvertently stepping back onto the Trail.

For such an important location and project, we need a real discussion of how to do it right. For example, shouldn’t there be a “rub rail” so that handlebars do not catch on the rail? The main “silver” portion being installed is 42” high; the “black” section on the western end is apparently 5’ high. Why isn’t the entire railing 54” high? Would such a long railing/fence be aesthetically more pleasing if it were at different heights and distances from the trail edge? Etc., etc. I don’t know the answers, but I do know a discussion might have produced useful answers and maybe a consensus.

Before more of the railing is installed, let’s pause and decide that Mohawk Harbor and the people using it deserve as good a safety rail as best practices can achieve.

Thank you for your time and review of these important issues.

David

 P.S. I still have never been given an explanation for the failure to follow the C-3 zoning requirement that there be the customary two-foot shoulder PLUS ten additional feet buffer on the riverside of the Mohawk Harbor shared-used path. Nor, do I understand why the April 2015 trail submission, posted by the County as Riverside Trail Map, showing 10’ of mulched and planted shoulder between the trail and the steep riverbank was not followed, and we instead have a shoulder of 4 to 7 feet, covered in unstable gravel. [annotated detail from plat inserted at right of this p.s. blurb]

ALCOTrailFence11Oct

IMG_8987

ALCOTrailSafety

complaintbill In addition to the points made in the email to the Planning Office, I continue to wonder why taxpayers are paying 90% of the cost of constructing the bike-hike trail, and for the guardrail, when the Schenectady Zoning Code for the Harbor District [C-3, §264-14(1)E(4)] says that: “A single multi-use pedestrian and bicycle trail shall be constructed by the applicant.” “Applicant” refers to the developer or owner of the harbor property.

the Large Vessel Dock at Mohawk Harbor

LargeDockView2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LargeDockView1

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

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

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

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

  1. If the dock is successful — that is, busy — how welcome will non-boating members of the public be?
  2. How will the dock be supervised? The proposed dock at Riverside Park several years back was to have no supervision.
    1. Will adolescents with bikes or skateboards take them from the Trail to the dock?
  3. Will there be pedestrian access after dark? River access for the kind of beer parties that take place at the Gateway Landing dock late at night?
  4. What happened to the Site Plan approved by the Planning Commission, in which the bridge from the Trail went to a quiet Overlook that would allow safe viewing of the River, close-up, but with a railing for safety?
  5. etc.

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

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

BZA denies variance for oversized Harbor pylon

variance denied, then allowed, after begging by Ray Gillen

update: After Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen literally begged them for “a favor”, they changed their mind: “BZA’s pylon flip-flop – a change from 221″ wide to 220″ wide!” (Nov. 16, 2017).

ORIGINAL POSTING

Yesterday evening, October 4, 2017, the Schenectady Board of Zoning Appeals denied the request of Mohawk Harbor’s Paul Fallati for a variance to permit a 30-foot-tall pylon sign alongside Erie Blvd, at Mohawk Harbor Way, that had a large LCD screen and 22 lighted “tenant signs”. BZA did grant a variance for a “monument’ sign at the entrance to Mohawk Harbor, on the south side of the intersection. The variance is needed because the Zoning Code only permits freestanding signs 7′ tall in the C-3 Waterfront district for signs that are not casino-related. 

For more details and discussion of the issues see our earlier posting “updates on the proposed Mohawk Harbor signs“.

update (Oct. 5, 2017): According to the Daily Gazette, “The board rejected the plan for the 30-foot sign by a vote of 4-2, said Avi Epstein, the city’s zoning officer.” In addition:

The proposal was denied because the board felt it would cause an undesirable change in the surrounding neighborhood, and that the applicant could achieve the purpose of the signage through another method, City Planner Christine Primiano said.