Photos and story by Tom Loughlin Jr.
Utica—The League of Women Voters of the Utica-Rome Metro Area marked their annual meeting at the Oneida County History Center by introducing the League’s two choices for the NY State League’s “Students Inside Albany” program and by viewing a program on the past, present and future of the Utica Barge Canal Harbor Point.
The two students selected were Ms. Sophia O’Neill of New Hartford High School and Ms. Moolah Bu of Thomas R. Proctor High School. (See photos.) The two were chosen through a set of LOWV criteria and processes. O’Neill received her award in person from League 1st Vice President Dianne DiMeo. Ms. Bu received her award in absentia.
Citing the League’s NYS website, “This Conference is an intensive four-day training experience held in the spring and is designed to immerse students in the process by which public policy is proposed, enacted, and changed in New York State and educate them as to how they can influence and affect this process. Albany insiders discuss the operations of New York State government including how policy is shaped and enacted. Students develop knowledge of the disparate forces that influence policy development. Additionally, students are afforded the opportunity to observe Assembly and Senate sessions and to shadow both their Assembly members and Senators.”
The League of Women Voters of New York State believes that educating and empowering the youth of our country is vital to maintaining a democracy. Through the League’s Education Foundation, the State League, and many local Leagues operate programs that provide students with the information, motivation, and skills to become informed voters and engaged citizens. The State League’s primary youth program is Students Inside Albany. Email the State League office, Lwvny@lwvny.org, or visit their website, https://lwvny.org/youth-programs/ for more information on any of these programs.
Following the SIA presentation, Lisa Nagle of Elan Planning and Design, conducted a Zoom presentation about the development of Utica’s unique, lock-controlled harbor which has contributed so much to Utica’s past prosperity as one of the world’s largest textile manufacturing centers.
She noted that in 1909, a Utica engineer with manufacturing interests urged building a harbor. John Baxter proposed the Harbor as a branch off the NYS Barge Canal at a cost of $695,000, valued in 1909 dollars. Working with an Albany area engineer with the State, the project was accomplished.
The harbor did its job — served the city and commercial interests — and then fell into disuse. In 2013, the City of Utica began a planning and design process to redevelop the City’s inner harbor. Led by the Utica Harbor Point Development Corporation, in collaboration with City staff, private property owners, state agencies and City residents, a Harbor Point Master Plan was developed on May 7, 2018.
Ms. Nagle injected a quote from Brian Thomas, Commissioner of Urban & Economic Development for the City of Utica, who predicted that the Harbor Point Development Project “wouldn’t be a sprint, it would be a marathon.”
Throughout the presentation, Nagle showed historical photos and concept drawings. One historic photo showed the Erie Canal coursing by the Broad Street textile manufacturing plants, which were later the home of the G.E. Radio Receiver Department.
Nagle also mentioned the National Grid harbor-bottom pollution cleanup, and the costly repair to the retaining walls surrounding and containing the harbor waters, the ceding of two properties to the city by then-Governor Patterson, and grants, both obtained and sought, for further development. (All of this became part of a) In a master plan, as well as a master environmental impact study done to save future developers the expense and effort of doing individual ones.
Development, which Nagle illustrated with several concept drawings, showed a verdant, tree sprinkled park surrounding the harbor, with dockage for private boats.
Among other features of Harbor Point development are connection with the New York State Trails system, amateur sports playing fields, and a fishing area at the narrow neck of the harbor entrance. A bridge is planned to span the railroad tracks and join Harbor Point and the area adjacent to the Utica Memorial Auditorium. Consideration has been given to dedicate part of the area to residential uses.
Concluding her presentation, Ms. Nagle “tipped her hat” in gratitude to Paul Romano, The Paige Group, Rambo II, Harris-Beach, Allison Damian-DeTraglia, Vin Gilroy, the Mayor’s Office and earlier-quoted “marathon predictor,” Brian Thomas.
The “marathon” which began in 1909, is in its “finishing kick,” and the finish line is in sight.
Shortly following the League meeting, Mayor Palmieri released the following:
Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri today announced the city has formally taken ownership of the 1933 Building from the New York State Canal Corporation; a major step in the development of the Utica Harbor.
In 2008, then-Governor David Paterson signed legislation that allowed for the transfer of roughly 15 acres of State land around the Utica Harbor. It was the State’s intent for a local development corporation to be a steward of the land and foster the environment under which private redevelopment could occur. Since that time, the city established the Utica Harbor Point Development Corporation (UHPDC), of which the City is the sole member, and is guided by an eleven-member Board.
The UHPDC has successfully secured nearly $20 million in State and local funding to achieve the following;
· Creation of a master plan;
· Establish design guidelines for new development;
· Construct improved access with a waterfront aesthetic;
· Extend utilities into the site to facilitate future development;
· Reconstruct the concrete bulkhead that rings two sides of the Harbor; and,
· Improve pedestrian access between Downtown Utica and the Harbor.
Earlier this month, the approval to transfer the last piece of historically-owned State land to the UHPDC was granted by the Canal Corporation, the New York Power Authority and the Office of the Attorney General, thereby fulfilling the 2008 legislation.
The transfer clears the way for the UHPDC to pursue discussions with two private developers that responded to the Requests for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) issued by the UHPDC.
In addition to the transfer of this property, the overall development plans call for two structures located at the Harbor to be abated and demolished (demolition is scheduled for the week). The demolition is scheduled to begin on Monday, June 20th. The City is utilizing American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for demolition and to undertake some of the environmental remediation.
This progress is key to the city realizing its vision for Harbor Point; which encompasses commercial, residential and recreational development.
New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton stated, “For nearly 200 years the Erie Canal has been an economic driver throughout the Mohawk Valley, and the Utica Harbor has connected the City of Utica to this historic waterway for generations. Today’s final transfer of the 1933 Building is part of the city’s dynamic vision to transform the harbor into a waterfront destination that will let residents and visitors alike experience the very best Utica has to offer. It’s just one more example of how America’s most iconic waterway, the Erie Canal, continues to support our canal-side communities as it nears its third century of operation.”
Mayor Palmieri stated, “While there are exciting projects occurring throughout the entire city, the development of Harbor Point will transform our community and serve as a destination and quality-of-life asset. I commend the work of the Harbor Point Development Corporation and thank the individuals and businesses whose investment will make this development possible.”
Utica Harbor Point Development Corporation Chairman Vin Gilroy stated, “The UHPDC, in partnership with Mayor Palmieri and city staff, has been effective in securing the necessary resources to transform the Utica Harbor. The transfer of this property is another crucial step forward in the development of Harbor Point coming to fruition.”