Amsterdam

Meet Laura Elmendorf


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The Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course has been local news for the past few months. A new Common Council with a supermajority vote and a Mayor used to getting her own way have stalled contracts for both the golf pro and the concessionaire at MUNI.

Laura Elmendorf is the concessionaire without a contract who has successfully run the restaurant and bar at the golf course.  Still negotiating her contract, Laura is busy planning for this year’s events.  Although the concession used to be open on weekends during the winter, this year it is closed because a contract was never negotiated or signed last year.

As a board member of the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation, this blogger had the opportunity to meet and talk with Laura while planning a fundraiser to be held at MUNI in June. Every year the Foundation is tasked with raising money, organizing and presenting Riverlink Concerts to the public free of charge. Laura is very pleasant, knowledgeable and personable. She seems much wiser than her years. My visit to MUNI was to get a better idea of the layout and space. The AWF fundraiser will be announced as soon as we have a firm commitment, that being easier said then done.  Laura was ready with menu choices, reasonable prices and suggestions. The venue was larger than I imagined and the views were gorgeous, even in the winter!

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I sincerely hope the responsible parties take care of these contracts soon before scheduling opportunities are lost.

Categories: Amsterdam, Business, Celebration, Entertainment, Outdoors, Photography, Politics, Riverlink Park | Tags: , , , , , ,

WPHO 2013 Holiday Celebration


The World Peace and Health Organization presented their 2013 Holiday Celebration at the Goddess of Mercy Temple on 58 Grove Street in Amsterdam, New York on Saturday afternoon. It was a celebration of the Winter Solstice and Christmas bending and blending cultural barriers. There was a large representation from our local Native American tribes who shared their cultural traditions along with drumming and flute music. A local duo played their original metal composition on guitar and drums and a traditional Chinese song was sung in English by a Chinese native and in Chinese by an American. The Chinese Buddhists presented both song and a variety of costumed dance. Food and refreshments were served. It was a very colorful, festive celebration of the end of 2013.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, Entertainment, Equality, History, Music, WPHO | Tags: , , , , , , ,

It’s Time for Queen Ann to Abdicate!


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Queen Ann of Amsterdam, New York

They say she “means well” and Mayor Ann Thane has done a lot to improve Amsterdam’s image but the overbearing need to micro-manage every aspect of OUR City is a detriment to economic development. One would think that after serving as Mayor for five years, Thane would learn to delegate authority, trusting in the many talented people that make up both city government and the constituency. We see the control issues pop up time and time again, from censoring the populace to insisting on exerting influence on issues that are clearly not under the jurisdiction of the elected position of Mayor.

A Brief History

There was the Chalmers building fiasco:

A Chalmers Love/Hate Story

Removing the State imposed 3% tax cap.

Her Majesty Queen Ann has Spoken

The City of Amsterdam Zoning Update that is being held up since 2011 by Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis:

Amsterdam’s Proposed Zoning Update

There was the Art Center:

The Politics of Art

Raises for everybody!

Body Language

A Piece of the World Trade Center that was to be a memorial to 911 still sits rotting at Riverlink Park without any fanfare, dedication or respect.

The Forgotten Memorial

Then there was the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency’s purchase and rehab of a building on Main Street that was held up by the Mayor’s insistence that a damaged mural by an unknown artist in the building be preserved.  This blogger even volunteered to photograph the mural for the archives to help settle the back and forth debate between the Mayor and the AIDA. That situation, to my knowledge, is still not resolved.

The Current Situation

Meet Bala Peri

A man from Virginia, Balakumar Periyasamy, buys the former Park Hill Adult Home on 52 Grove Street in Amsterdam, New York with long-term plans to open as an assisted living facility for Veterans.  To run the home the NYS Department of Health requires a license that takes about two years to get. Having invested a lot of money in building, including the payment of back taxes to the city, Mr. Peri announces his plans to open a restaurant and hotel in the 52 room complex until such time as the adult home license is approved. This project would give local jobs and add to our local economy but requires a variance from the Zoning Board and site plan approval from the Planning Board.

Bala is very excited about the plans and invites local dignitaries to visit the facility. The President of FMCC and members of his executive team visit the building anticipating the need for overflow student housing.  He leaves the tour excited about the possibility commenting that it is in better shape and larger than he originally thought. Bala invites Mayor Thane to tour the building and she does so commenting how beautiful and large the building is stating she would do what she could to help him with the project.  Bala then invites journalist Alissa Scott from The Recorder to hear his plans for the restaurant and hotel.  Alissa writes an excellent article, published in the Recorder on December 9, 2013, that would have helped further the project along had it not been for disparaging comments quoted from Mayor Ann Thane.

Thane said she doesn’t think Peri should go through with student housing. “I actually don’t think that will work because there’s too much in the way of state regulations that would need to be done to make that ready for students,” Thane said. “The cost would be too high.”She also doesn’t think a hotel would well-suit the community’s needs. “To propose a hotel, you have a high-end hotel going in across the river at the castle and you have a Hampton Inn and they have much better locations,” Thane said. “IfI’m going to book a room in a hotel, I don’t want to stay in the room that was a senior cubby hole.”

Thane goes on to suggest what Peri should do with HIS property, stating she is not sure the area can support another adult home. This from an elected official who touted economic development in her election campaign.  Bala’s vision is not for a high-end hotel like the proposal for the Amsterdam Castle or the new Hampton Inn. It is for students or the budget minded traveler, the 99% who can’t afford to stay at a high-end hotel.
Here is a business person who invested in our community buying a building that was left to deteriorate, who already employed a dozen local people to help with his project. Mayor Ann Thane’s damning comments may have a harmful effect on Bala’s project before any approvals are granted from Zoning or Planning.

My personal experience catching the criminals who stole thousands of dollars of copper from the building is chronicled in the following link.

A Copper Caper 

For the greater part of 2013, this blogger exhibited much restraint in not posting political critiques or commentary but this situation just crossed a line.  The Republican supermajority Common Council taking office on January 1st will dethrone Mayor Thane’s veto power.  She may as well abdicate now and negotiate a compromise as she will soon be forced to trust the legislative body of the City of Amsterdam.

Categories: Amsterdam, Business, Law, Park Hill Adult Home, Politics | Tags: , , , , ,

A Tale of 2 Candidates


Debra Baranello is a registered Democrat who is running for 3rd Ward Alderman in the City of Amsterdam, New York, while Diane Hatzenbuhler, a registered Republican, is running for 4th Ward Alderman. With all of the dysfunction in our federal government as a result of differences in political ideology, you may think these two candidates do not have much in common. Nothing could be further from the truth and that is a very refreshing fact.

This blogger had the privilege of photographing, designing palm cards and brochures for both well qualified candidates for office. The design process involved sitting with each candidate and coming up with a list of concerns they would address as Alderman. Both candidates gave me lists that were almost identical. They want to fight URBAN BLIGHT, decrease CRIME in our neighborhoods, increase COMMUNICATION between elected officials and our citizens and CUT SPENDING to keep property taxes at bay.

Both candidates want to fight urban blight by increasing code enforcement through inspection and prosecution. Diane Hatzenbuhler would like to see annual inspections of rental properties and a workable complaint procedure for tenants. Debra Baranello would like to increase the number of demolitions of condemned properties. Diane Hatzenbuhler wants to fight crime by improving our Neighborhood Watch and increasing patrols in known high crime areas. Debra Baranello wants the Amsterdam Police Department to start neighborhood foot patrols as a deterrent and increase recreational activities for our young people. She is grateful for the work done by Amsterdam Recreation and Wishful Thinking at the Clara Bacon School. To improve communication Debra Baranello plans to listen to the concerns of the residents of the 3rd Ward and take positive action. Diane Hatzenbuhler wants to improve the flow of communication by increasing transparency of all municipal transactions with an emphasis on finance. To help cut spending, Debra Baranello wants to increase our economic development by working with our elected officials to help revitalize an aging infrastructure to support new business ventures. Diane Hatzenbuhler wants to cut all unnecessary spending and increase revenues by prosecuting code violators.

There are negative campaigns being run against both candidates for Alderman. Their opponents must have run out of solutions or viable candidates. Both of these women would make a great addition to the Amsterdam Common Council. With them we have the hope of a bipartisan solution that will bring us out of the standstill that we are stuck in. The Council has been spinning its wheels for much too long. There is power in unity and together the Common Council can move Amsterdam in a forward direction.

 

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Debra Baranello, candidate for 3rd Ward Alderman

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Diane Hatzenbuhler, candidate for 4th Ward Alderman

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Division Street resident Ed Battistini and Debra Baranello in the 3rd Ward

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Debra Baranello at Riverlink Park in Amsterdam, NY

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NYS Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk, Debra Baranello, candidate for 3rd Ward Alderman

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Debra Baranello, Dan Peluso, NYS Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk in Amsterdam’s 3rd Ward

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NYS Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk and Debra Baranello, candidate for 3rd Ward Alderman

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Elks Club, 4th Ward

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Holland Garden Apartments, 4th Ward

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Peddler’s Wagon at 5 Corners in the 4th Ward

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Polish National Alliance, 4th Ward

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Pulaski Bridge, 4th Ward

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The Rao Center, 4th Ward

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St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, 4th Ward

Categories: Amsterdam, Photography, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Clara S. Bacon School


The Clara S. Bacon School at 40 Henrietta Boulevard in Amsterdam, New York has been a hot topic for the past few years.  The former elementary school with its circular design is nestled in a wooded section of the city known as Sassafras Park.  The school has a sports field in back and sits next to an extensive wooden jungle gym built on the grounds of the city owned Sassafras Park. The once popular well manicured trails of Sassafras Park that led to picnic areas, an amphitheater and a woodland museum building have deteriorated.  There is little is left of its original splendor, just a newly constructed the wooden jungle gym that bears the name.

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Google Maps aerial view of the Clara S. Bacon School.

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Similarly, the Clara S. Bacon School has fallen into disrepair.  The former school has been the home of the Whispering Pines Day Care Center that occupied the northern section for the past few years.  The school was put on the market for sale and had a valid bid from the Chinese World Peace and Health Organization who paid a $50,000.00 down payment on the building.  The offer was withdrawn because of the bigoted nature of the  questions asked by citizens attending a required public meeting prior to the sale agreement and the questionable ownership of an access road to Sassafras Park through the school property.  The money for the down payment still sits in an escrow account, with neither party having access until they can agree on terms.

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Since then, the City School District started using the building for an alternative education program with four teachers, a teacher aide and a principal to accommodate those students who do not function well in the main high school setting. These students, for whatever reason, are disciplinary problems who have educational needs that are met by the smaller class sizes and personal attention they receive at the Bacon School. The students respond well to this setting and a large number graduate with a high school diploma and some a regents diploma.

The Bacon School has also become the adopted home of the Amsterdam Recreation Department who partnered with the Amsterdam School District and the Wishful Thinking  group to create a basketball program, a summer camp program and a sports and after school program for our young people. The gym floor was refinished, walls painted and decorated from money donated by generous benefactors who realized the importance of having a safe place for our kids to learn to compete as athletes

I had the opportunity to photograph the Bacon School property and Sassafras Park early this spring on assignment from Bob Cudmore for his recent book.  What I saw was a little disappointing. Graffiti  adorned most of the back section of the Bacon School. I mentioned this to Amsterdam’s Recreation Director Rob Spagnola and suggested to him that it would be a positive gesture if the group Wishful Thinking organized a cleanup of the graffiti.  Unfortunately this never happened.

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I visited Bacon School again on September 15th, with 3rd Ward Alderman candidate Debra Baranello.  We met Hännah Watermann, one of the alternative education teachers who was just back from a camping trip, bringing back some mushrooms harvested from a tree that she carved as an art project to show her students.  Hännah was very passionate about her program and the students she teaches.  She described the difficulty of getting needed maintenance and supplies for the school and told us she has bought paint for the walls of the building and classrooms. Hännah also had the same idea about the graffiti removal, suggesting it would be a good project for her students to gain a sense of self-pride.  The alternative education program also accommodates students from the Broadalbin-Perth School District who have no program of their own.

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Amsterdam’s 3rd Ward Alderman candidate Debra Baranello.

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Debra Baranello and Amsterdam teacher Hännah Watermann

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3rd Ward Alderman candidate Debra Baranello and Amsterdam Alternative School Teacher Hännah Watermann.

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Debra Baranello, Karin Hetrick and Hännah Watermann in the Bacon School gym.

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The refurbished Bacon School gym.

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3rd Ward Alderman candidate Debra Baranello and Teacher Hännah Watermann outside her classroom at the Clara S. Bacon School.

You would think the Amsterdam School District would be very proud to be able to offer our young people all of this positive programming at the Clara S. Bacon School. Instead, they move forward with plans to vacate the building with a multi-million dollar renovation to move the District offices into the building. The plan involves lowering the gym height to build offices over it and to bus all of the Kindergarten classes to the Bacon School. This would mean the alternative education program that finally found a home would have to move back to the high school building, The after school and sports program would have to relocate and who knows what will happen to the Whispering Pines Day Care Center. Should we put up with this just so some bureaucrats can have nicer offices?

JUST SAY NO!

Listen to Amsterdam Board of Education member Gavin Murdoch describe the plan in the September 20, 2013 version of the podcast TSWNN:

We can do better than this.

Categories: Amsterdam, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Meet Bala Peri


Mr. Bala Peri (Balakumar Periyasamy) is an American citizen from Leesburg, Virginia.  He has a wife and two young children with whom he recently shared a cross-country trip making stops at all the National Parks along the way. Bala now works for the IRS in the IT department but plans on retiring and moving his family to New York. Bala’s reason for the move is to oversee his new investment that he hopes will help finance his children’s college education.  Bala’s new investment is the former Park Hill Adult Home at 52 Grove Street in Amsterdam that this blogger previously described in the 2011 article Park Hill Adult Home for Sale and the 2012 article A Copper Caper.

This historic building was once the mansion of an early Amsterdam landowner, it then became a convent for the Sisters of St Joseph who taught at the former St Mary’s School before the transition into an adult home. The original building has two rounded towers nestled on either side of a three-story cross-shaped building. There is a large wrap around porch on the front and eastern side of the building.  All of the original woodwork including complete sets of pocket doors, ornate moulding, staircases and six fireplaces are in excellent condition.  An upstairs room is fitted with stained glass windows bearing religious symbols of the Catholic faith. There were several additions built on the West and back sides of the building including fifty-three patient rooms, an industrial kitchen, day room, dining hall, nurses station and even a beauty salon.

Bala purchased the buildings mortgage from the bank that foreclosed and had traveled back and forth from Leesburg to Amsterdam for the past two weeks to supervise work on his new investment. He began by hiring a team for a much-needed carry out of accumulated junk and a good cleaning.  A security system was installed including video cameras and motion detection alarms. General building maintenance and repair will start very soon.

It has only been two weeks and Bala has already employed five people from this neighborhood to work on his project.  A consulting team has been through the building to advise Bala of the steps he must take to get licensed to run an adult care facility.  Bala will run under the name Trilok Noble Care, Inc.  A member of the consulting team is a retired NYS Department of Health inspector. Bala will be meeting with a representative from NYS Veterans Affairs next week. He would like to open an adult home for Veterans, however the licensing process may take up to 20 months.  In the interim he wants to get his building in working order so he can use it as a bed and breakfast facility.

I commend Bala for his willingness to invest in our city and for his initiative and drive. He previously established a successful adult home in India.  He has three close relatives in the United States who are physicians and will provide needed references.  He has already provided employment for our citizens with the number soon to increase.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Business, historic preservation, History, Park Hill Adult Home | Tags: , , , , ,

Tropic Rhythm


The Albany based Latin-American band Tropic Rhythm closed out the 2013 Riverlink Park Concert Series with a repertoire of Boleros, Merengues, Salsa, Rock and Roll, Oldies (50’s and 60’s), Motown, R&B and Jazz.

The rain did come down as soon as the band set up their equipment under the bandshell saturday evening, but the storm blew over and the sun peaked through the clouds as the concert began. Although the rain and Memorial Day weekend may have kept the regular Riverlink Concert crowd away, those that did attend were in for a real treat. Tropic Rhythm is composed of Eduardo Nieves/Lead Guitar, Joseph Carrick/Rhythm Guitar, Dave Andrews/Bass Guitar, Roberto Rodriguez/Congas-Bongos-Percussion, Manny Grau/Timbales-Congas-Percussion and Dashira Cortes/Lead Vocals. Last night we had Leo in for Dave on Bass and Alex on Keyboards.

The star of the show was Dashira who has an amazing voice with a huge range. Whether a Spanish ballad, a current pop song or a 50′s song, Dashira can sing it, hitting all those hard to reach high notes with ease. I must say she is the most talented vocalist that performed at Riverlink Park this year by far! I did record a few videos of last night’s performance that I will post as soon as I get them processed. For now I have these images from our last concert of the season.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Entertainment, Music, Outdoors, Riverlink Park | Tags: , , , , ,

The Greater Amsterdam Riverlink Park


A formal acknowledgement of accomplishment celebrating the conceptualization, design and implementation of Riverlink Park, is what the email invitation described. On Wednesday, August 20, 2013, at 11am, elected officials and representatives from local organizations celebrated the fruition of 30 years of planning and development resulting in Amsterdam, New York’s beautiful Riverlink Park.

Like proud parents seeing their child off to college, Congressman Paul Tonko and Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane were beaming with smiles as they talked about the hard work involved in turning a brownfield contamination into the Jewel of the Mohawk River. Phase one and two of the park development are complete and soon phase three construction will begin. The third phase is the much debated curved pedestrian walkway that will span the Mohawk River as a park lined with benches, plantings, trees and pictographs describing the history of Amsterdam.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Celebration, Outdoors, Photography, Politics, Riverlink Park | Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Chronicles


Voted Metroland’s Best Jazz Band for 2013, the Chronicles entertained at the Greater Amsterdam Riverlink Park last night. Daniel Lawson, Jeff Nania, Tyrone Hartzog, Bryan Brundige, Andrae Surgick and Justin Henricks make up the Chronicles, whose soulful-jazz and syncopated rhythms joined the old with the new for a refreshing change in musical style.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Entertainment, Music, Outdoors, Riverlink Park | Tags: , , , ,

Berkshire Bateria


Saturday evening’s Riverlink Park Concert was performed by the Berkshire Bateria .  Their drum line,  Samba and Bossa Nova tunes entertained and engaged the concertgoers. Performing with the group was Amsterdam’s own Fabiola Dayian.

The performers were pleasantly surprised with the beauty of our Greater Amsterdam Riverlink Park as they drummed along the Mohawk.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Entertainment, Music, Outdoors, Riverlink Park | Tags: , , , ,

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