Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook: Amsterdam, New York

Like many American cities with economies deeply rooted in manufacturing, Amsterdam, New York, was struggling to find its identity in the late 20th century. Job opportunities and new retail and residential developments were scarce in the former-industrial city located north of Albany. Still, area residents took pride in Amsterdam's rich heritage and natural assets, leaving space for optimism of what could be.

The idea for a revitalized downtown inland waterfront district in Amsterdam dates back to 1993 when the city became New York's first municipality to have its waterfront revitalization plan approved by the Department of State. It was not until 2003, during the comprehensive planning process, that the idea for a pedestrian-friendly bridge connecting the southside neighborhoods with downtown Amsterdam to the north became part of the discussion.

A family plays at the compass on Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook bridge. Photo by Chris Sawiski.

A family plays at the compass on Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook bridge. Photo by Chris Sawicki.

Residents articulated a need for a public space that created access to the Mohawk River and celebrated Amsterdam's diversity and history. Their ideal solution would also be a go-to destination for recreation, revitalize areas along the riverfront, and represent an Amsterdam community on the rise. Most importantly, the public space would connect two parts of town that had been growing separately and apart.

The Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook project, which spanned almost 20 years from planning through implementation, was not without its challenges. Securing funding was especially difficult. Local champions like U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), then Assemblyman Tonko, and Waterfront Commission leaders Virginia Whelly and Ceil Sheckton fought to ensure canal projects were eligible to receive funding from a state bond for transportation projects.

Voters from across the state approved the measure, giving Amsterdam a way to pay for a project that was originally priced at $16.5 million.

Many people had a hand in bringing the park over the water to life. Dan Sitler, former principal of Saratoga Associates, led the design work for the original pedestrian bridge and shepherded planning of the riverfront revitalization plan. Former Mayor Ann Thane's administration oversaw the final design work and initial construction of the overlook. City Historian Robert von Hasselin was instrumental in weaving Amsterdam's history into the park space, designing themes for the story marks and historical signs integrated throughout the overlook.

Some of the most striking design features of the bridge include decking that pays homage to Amsterdam neighborhoods, a story mark that identifies themes celebrated in historical markers throughout the public space, and a tile mosaic representing Amsterdam's rich textile history. Lining the overlook are public art installations that tell the story of Amsterdam, its Native American history, and the Mohawk River, showing that the city is much more than its now-extinct manufacturing industry.

Locals gather on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook bridge. Photo courtesy Daily Gazette.

Locals gather on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook bridge. Photo by Timothy Becker.

Today, Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook is a park over the water, where visitors and people living in the area can come to explore, learn, and experience moments together. The Overlook became a place for community healing and unity in 2018 when a devastating limousine accident killed 20 people, most of them Amsterdam residents. The community came together on the bridge to mourn the loss of friends and loved ones, hanging a banner signed by thousands from the center of the bridge visible from miles away.

Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook has also generated significant investments for downtown revitalization efforts under way, including $10 million in funding from the Mohawk Valley Regional Council. Years of transparent, community-led discussions facilitated through planning have brightened the future for this comeback city.