In his 1980 book “Annals of a Mill Town,” veteran Recorder reporter Hugh Donlon gave an account of Amsterdam’s urban renewal projects, which Donlon said consisted of new highways, a downtown shopping mall and construction of public housing.
All three initiatives involved demolition of familiar buildings. “Where did they all go” was an often heard question, according to Donlon.
First, state Route 5-S was relocated in 1956 from the former Bridge Street business district on the city’s South Side to near the Thruway, which had opened Amsterdam Exit 27 in 1954.
By 1960, the four-lane Route 30 stretch from the Thruway exit to the Mohawk River had been created, with demolition of 30 buildings. Route 30 on the North Side of the river to the top of Market Hill was completed in 1968.
A new Route 30 bridge over the Mohawk River opened in 1973. The old river bridge, dating back to the First World War, was torn down.
Other transportation changes included relocation of the West End railroad tracks and creation of stretches of four-lane highway for Route 5 inside and outside the city limits.
Donlon said retail establishments downtown started to decline in the 1950s. As carpet manufacturing moved elsewhere, Amsterdam’s downtown decline accelerated. The number of occupied upper floors downtown dwindled. The government began purchasing properties for demolition.
During Republican Marcus Breier’s four years as mayor from 1963 through 1967, urban renewal began in earnest. The public safety building on Guy Park Avenue extension was started and Veterans Park on Locust Avenue was developed.
The senior citizen and low income housing projects around Division Street were begun. The senior citizen High Rise building is thirteen stories tall.
Mayor Breier worked with Democratic Congressman Samuel Stratton and Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller to secure funds for projects. Breier was succeeded in office in 1968 by Democrat John Gomulka who was elected to three four-year terms.
Creation of the downtown shopping mall began in 1973 on Gomulka’s watch. In a move deplored by many, the mall was built so that it blocked Main Street, dividing the city. Some called it the Berlin Mall.
Part of the downtown shopping mall opened in 1977 although work continued on the complex into the 1980s.
About 400 buildings, 100 from the nineteenth century, were demolished for urban renewal, primarily in the formerly dense downtown.
The mall at first featured retail businesses, some new to Amsterdam including a department store and supermarket. But retail shopping in the region migrated to Route 30 in the town of Amsterdam north of the city limits.
Land previously occupied by the Sanford family horse farm was developed for big box shopping complexes. People still shop there today.
The downtown mall is now called the Amsterdam Riverfront Center. No longer a shopping mall, the Riverfront Center contains medical facilities, other offices and WCSS radio. Cranesville Block Company owns the Riverfront Center and WCSS.
A major addition to downtown Amsterdam this century was the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, a pedestrian bridge over the Mohawk River constructed with funding from a state bond issue. The structure, dedicated in 2016, displays art work on the history of the area.
David Hochfelder, Ann Pfau and Stacy Sewell plan to develop a digital history of urban renewal around the state and assemble an inventory of urban renewal records from about 80 municipalities, including Amsterdam.