Amsterdam: Development or demolition?
Residents’ opinions split on Chalmers Building’s fate
AMSTERDAM Work to convert the former Chalmers Knitting Mill into luxury loft-style apartments could begin in 18 months, according to developer Uri Kaufman.
Kaufman, city officials and representatives from design and engineering firm Saratoga Associates met with nearly 150 residents Monday for a public forum on the Chalmers project and developments on the South Side.
Kaufman, of Long Island, has developed the Harmony Mills in Cohoes into a successful luxury apartment complex and believes he can make a similar project happen in Amsterdam.
Kaufman signed a one-year option agreement with city officials in May and has the right to extend the contract for another year for $50,000.
Financing for Kaufman’s project is contingent on issuance of mortgage insurance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Kaufman said his work with HUD does not mean there will be low-income tenants living in the building — rather, he is striving for one of HUD’s historic restoration programs.
Kaufman showed members of the community papers that proved he had met all the milestones outlined in the option agreement: An appraisal of the property, architectural drawings, and a copy of a letter from a representative at M&T Bank that said Kaufman would be able to get financing once he obtained HUD mortgage insurance. “This says they are willing to make a loan, and it’s hard for any developer to get a loan right now,” Kaufman said.
Still, many residents on the South Side and beyond want to see an end to the “white elephant,” an eyesore that has towered over South Side residents for 40 years, and many don’t believe Kaufman’s assurances that he can pull the project off.
This is the second time something other than the wrecking ball was proposed for the Chalmers Building. The original plan for Via Ponte called for converting the Chalmers Building into apartments. It wasn’t until 2006, when according to Daniel Shearer, an engineer from Saratoga Associates, the city decided to demolish the building because the concrete was falling off the facade. City grant writer Nick Zabawsky said the city wasn’t having any luck finding a developer for the site and so he obtained a $1.4 million grant to tear the building down and commence with pollution cleanup.
The debate is not just about whether to tear down the building, it has become a divide between two factions of Amsterdam residents: those who believe change will come by adapting the city to attract new residents and private investment from the outside and those who want a good quality of life for the residents already living here.
Demonstrating the divide, an equal number of people spoke in favor of and against the project Monday.
Residents like John R. “Chet” Watroba blasted Mayor Ann Thane, an outspoken proponent of saving the Chalmers Building.
He called for the building’s demolition while Anthony Alteri, who owns a business on the South Side, asked how he can reserve one of the units in Kaufman’s proposed building.
Thane said she was pleased with the forum and was especially pleased that there were some positive comments about the project.
“I wasn’t expecting that given all the negative comments on the radio talk shows,” she said.
Kaufman said the project will “redefine” the South Side. He said people won’t notice the junkyard nearby or the rundown buildings adjacent to the property.
Kaufman said the city of Cohoes has been revitalized in part because of Harmony Mills, noting there are new shops, restaurants and a blooming artists’ colony there.
He expects each unit to rent for between $1,100 and $1,800 and attract a demographic not currently seen in Amsterdam.
The building will consist of rental units for a period of time, roughly 5 years, and then Kaufman intends to sell each unit, which he said is where he makes his money.
“We actually operate at a loss for the first few years,” he said.
Environmental remediation is continuing, according to Shearer, just in a different fashion. Shearer said the remediation process should pick up this summer and be completed by around November.
Kaufman said the Chalmers project could start in the next 18 months. It would take 14 months for the first phase to be completed, but people could start moving in earlier as units become available.