Archive for August, 2013

amsterdam2000I didn’t know Daniel DeRossi very well, but when I heard of his passing, it reminded me of this old newspaper clipping that I have saved in my photo album for many years.

So I thought it would be nice to share this memory of him as well as my 5th grade friends from back in 1986. I think the picture speaks for itself.

Here’s to a man who believed in and worked for the future of Amsterdam.

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In reading about the progress of Amsterdam’s pedestrian bridge over the Mohawk River, I was a little skeptical about the attendance estimates of at least 30,000 per year cited in the Maintenance and Economic Impact report for the project. But recently, a co-worker told me about the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, NY and it’s reported 500,000 annual visitors.

I had not heard of the bridge before, but after taking a look at the walkway’s web site (which mentions the 500K per year statistic) and seeing some of the pictures of the scenery, I thought it might be fun to take the family on a road trip and see if Poughkeepsie’s “Bridge to Nowhere” lived up to the hype.

You can click through the photos and read the captions to see how the trip went…

So here’s my take –

Poughkeepsie’s Walkway Over the Hudson shows that yes, lots of people will in fact travel to a bridge simply to walk over it and enjoy the view. As it is now, there isn’t much to do on either side of Poughkeepsie’s bridge, save for a few ice cream or refreshment stands, so the people you see walking it are there for scenery alone.  The Mohawk River will not provide quite as grand scenery as the Hudson, however the view will still be quite nice.

As far a numbers go for the Poughkeepsie bridge, I’m having a hard time believing the 500K visitors per year statistic (maybe they had that when the bridge opened four years ago.)  But if I guestimate an average of 1000 people per day over the course of 200 days, then 200K per year seems a reasonable number. So if we get even 15% of that traffic, then 30K per year for Amsterdam’s bridge doesn’t seem out of line.

And I think our bridge will actually have a couple of advantages over Poughkeepsie’s. For one, it will be shorter; it won’t take 1-2 hours to cross both directions, which may appeal to some people. Secondly, there will be actual grass and trees on the bridge which will make it nice to spend time sitting while enjoying the scenery. On Poughkeepsie’s bridge, it’s all concrete; you can stop and sit on benches for a while, but generally the idea is to keep moving.

Looking further down the road, I think that once the bridge is connected to Riverlink and Main St, it will be an even more attractive destination. If you can park one place on a Saturday afternoon, walk the bridge, maybe go shopping (one day?), get dinner and then walk to a show at Riverlink, that will certainly be worth travelling an hour to spend the day here. And with the addition of a decent hotel, it will also certainly make Amsterdam an attractive over-night stop for people travelling north to the Adirondacks.

I’ve been critical of the public process (or lack thereof) by which this project has come about. But I think at this point, the wheels are irreversibly in motion and it’s time to stop complaining about it and just get behind it because there is really no other credible plan to develop the waterfront. This project has the potential to put more money in local business’s cash registers as well as more tax dollars in city coffers which can be put toward infrastructure improvement. And just as importantly, the project will improve the quality of life for those living here, helping to shore up those all-important property values.

Now if you want to comment on this, please let’s not re-hash the old arguments. And please do not ask why we can’t redirect this money to fix infrastructure. The question has been answered hundreds of times – it’s state law, it can’t be changed. I might add, however, that it’s my understanding that state money is coming down the pipe for neighborhood improvements in the East End and the Reid Hill area. So it’s all getting done – eventually.

So anyway, let’s discuss the future. Do you think the apparent success of Poughkeepsie’s pedestrian bridge is a good indicator of what we can expect in Amsterdam?

While debating on a previous post as to how much tax rates factor into people’s home buying decisions, I thought that there must be some market research out there that would clear things up . Buying a home is one of the most important purchases of most people’s lives, so there must by some studies on what factors affect a buyer’s decision.

So after preparing myself for the possibility of having to put my foot in my mouth, I googled the interwebs for some answers. Surprisingly, I did not find too much. But here’s what I got from the summary section of a 2012 research report by the National Association of Realtors, which I would dare say is a credible source…

The quality of the neighborhood, convenience to job, and overall affordability of homes are the top three factors influencing neighborhood choice.

So there it is folks. Like a boss. Talk amongst yourselves… 😛

So I’m getting a deluge of internet traffic to my completely off the wall joke post about “Leave Aid” (thanks a bunch Times Union!) So I figured while I have a few eyes from around the Capital District, that I’d make a serious plug for what I consider to be one of Amsterdam’s most marketable assets – it’s abundance of affordable office space.

If you are a small business struggling with high rental costs for your office space, I would recommend you check out what the Walter Elwood Museum has available now that they have taken ownership of the old Noteworthy building at 100 Church St.

There are dozens of different sized rooms available for rent at $7/sq ft (one year lease) which includes heat and electricity.  Non-profit organizations get $5/sq ft.  So potentially, you could get into a small space somewhere around the $200/month range. They also have tons of storage and warehouse space as well. You can get a few more details here on their Craigslist ad, but please call (518) 843-5151 for more information.

These are decent, clean rooms in a well maintained old brick building. I would say they are perfect for any type of IT based or consulting business or for artist or photography studios or non-profit organization offices. Although Church street has a high volume of traffic,  I don’t think they are especially suited for a retail storefront. Internet connectivity is not included, but both Time Warner or Verizon broadband services are available in the building.

I just moved my own web design business into a space here two months ago. I had previously rented space from the Noteworthy company a few years ago, and I was pleased to be able to move back. Director Ann Peconie was extremely helpful in getting me situated in my new space. I have clients who visit my office occasionally, and when they do, they have no problem finding my office, and the entrance way is very nice, with several exhibits from the museum on display.  I know my clients will get a good first impression of my business when they visit! Including my own business, there are already several other offices moved in, including the Montgomery County Literacy Project.

I also want to mention that just down the road, you have the Sanford Clock Tower which also offers plenty of affordable space and can also build customized offices.

There are several other places in Amsterdam with good space as well, but these two buildings, within a few minutes walking distance of each other, offer an extraordinary value for affordable office space. And in my experience, both owners are highly motivated to get tenants in. I think there is great potential in this section of the city to become a magnet for technology or digital arts based businesses. Any small business considering their rental options would do well to check these buildings out!

leaveaidAmsterdam NY resident Mike Raffone announced today that he is organizing a special benefit concert titled “Leave Aid” tentatively scheduled for September 31, 2013 at Shuttleworth Park. According to Raffone, the goal of the event is to raise money to help area residents trapped in Amsterdam to relocate to more desirable locations.

“I know so many people who are suffering as a result of living in Amsterdam,” explained Raffone, “but for a variety of reasons, they can’t leave. So I wanted to do something about it. Amsterdam always pulls together to help those in need, so I think we can really make a difference here.”

Raffone and several volunteers met with some of the victims they hope to help in order to discuss some of the problems that area residents face in leaving Amsterdam.

“I’d love to move to Guilderland or Glenville, or someplace nice like that,” explained Abby Seenia, “that way I could pay double for my mortgage, and I’d save a little in taxes. That would mean less money going to the man!”leavepic1

According to Seenia, the taxes in Amsterdam are just so prohibitive, that she can’t afford the higher price of housing in the areas she wishes she could live in.

“I hope Leave Aid will be able to help her with that,” said Raffone

The impending Carmageddon, due to strike at the end of August, is another issue Raffone cited as a motivation for organizing Leave Aid.

“I wish I could have started earlier, to help get people out before it hits, but it just wasn’t possible,” explained Raffone, “but I think if people just stay in their homes for a while and let the worst blow over, they should get through it OK. If everything goes well, we’ll get them out before the first snowfall.”

hecknoExperts predict the upcoming change in traffic patterns will cause massive pileups in front of the post office as well as a glut of confused commuters ending up in Amsterdam’s downtown area. Additionally, state officials expect further mayhem as known problems with snow removal of the perpendicular highways still have not been worked out. Local efforts to press citizens into manual snow removal service remain confused and disorganized.

Other residents like 25-year-old Bill Melater claim to suffer from Amsterdam’s “lack of coolness.” Melater explains, “I got a pretty cheap flat up on the hill, but like…I can’t even have my friends over, they say it looks like their grandma’s place or something.”

Melater can’t afford a hip, trendy loft apartment closer to his job at the mall in Albany. But the real kicker, says Melater, was when he learned that Amsterdam officials had turned away an Apple Store from opening up on Main St.

“I was just like…I can’t even….Amsterdam is just so not cool…” stammered Melater.

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Other victims were more succinct. “When I bought my house here, I was banking on a real estate bubble that never happened,” explains Earl E. Byrd, “now my house isn’t worth much more than what I paid for it.”

These and other issues, such as a recent influx of pet food stamp recipients, the Mayor’s screen name, and civil unrest preceding last year’s Spring Fling, have local residents saying that Leave Aid can’t come soon enough.

Raffone plans on contacting local favorites such as Alex Torres, The Joey Thomas Big Band, Skeeter Creek, and Black Tooth Grin about performing.

Raffone adds “It will be a real nice family event, just like the Spring Fling or the Riverlink Concerts, or Park Fest, or an Amsterdam Mohawks game, or the Winter Mixer, or National Night Out, or Movies in the Park, or Creative Connections events, Mohawk Valley Creative Alliance meetings, or the Citywide Cleanup, Homecoming Day or …well you get the idea. And I think we’ll have good numbers, because…ya’know … there’s really nothing to do in Amsterdam.”

Anyone interested in donating or volunteering to help, can contact Raffone at 518 555 1212.

It has always bothered me when I hear people complaining about the taxes in Amsterdam. It’s not that I don’t know NY State is one of the highest taxed states in the nation, which causes most large businesses to avoid us like the plague.  It’s also not that I like paying taxes or that I don’t wish my taxes were lower. It’s just that I’ve always understood Amsterdam to be a very affordable place to live in comparison to surrounding areas, considering both property taxes and home prices combined.

So I decided to do a little more research to see if my hunches were correct. I took data on median home prices and median property taxes in various localities (and one from Texas just for good measure) from city-data.com. I calculated monthly mortgages using the same interest rates and down payment values (based on a typical FHA mortgage, less PMI.)  Take a look at the chart below and tell me what you think…

Selected home ownership costs
(Click to enlarge)

Area_Home_Ownership_Prices Source: city-data.com
(Click to enlarge)

What really baffles me is how much people talk about how high our tax rate is. But it’s easy to see on the chart that a lower tax rate doesn’t necessarily mean you will pay less taxes and it almost always means you will pay more to purchase your home.

If you are in Amsterdam and move to Saratoga, an area which boasts one of the lowest tax rates in the state, you will still end up paying more in taxes each month.  If you move to Broadalbin, which certainly has lower monthly taxes, you will still probably pay more for your house, which overall will still make it slightly more expensive to live there than in Amsterdam.  If you move to the Town of Amsterdam (ie Fort Johnson) you will save money, but only about $80/month.  I think it’s worth noting, however, that there are trade-offs in rural areas (such as having to take care of your own water well and septic tank. )

So here’s my take: even with a high tax rate, Amsterdam is actually a very reasonable place to buy a home in comparison to other local areas. For me, a low tax rate doesn’t do me any good if I can’t afford the mortgage or the higher tax payments. When someone says they are moving out of Amsterdam because of the taxes, they are either woefully misinformed, or there’s really another reason. I believe that when a person with an unsatisfactory view of Amsterdam moves to another local area, it’s probably because they are looking for what they consider a better quality of life – a better looking neighborhood, higher ranked schools, etc, and they are usually ready to pay more for it.

If monthly out-of-pocket home ownership expenses were really the most important factor for people, then why wouldn’t Gloversville be a booming economic center rather than Saratoga Springs?

And that’s why it bothers me when some politicians say their most important goal is lowering taxes. Sure  – lower my taxes by $50 to $100 per month – that would make me happy! But given what we now know, do you really think that is going to attract more people to our city? Lowering taxes will not improve our blight situation; it will not improve our schools. In fact, drastic cuts could actually worsen the situation.

If we are serious about our city’s revitalization, yes we need to keep taxes in check, but our efforts should be squarely focused on improving our neighborhoods and schools and attracting new businesses. Concentrating on these aspects will ensure that Amsterdam is economically viable in the years to come, and is really the only long-term strategy that will keep taxes stable.