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11-09-20 | Feature

Park Over the River

Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook
by Dan Shearer, President, CEO, Saratoga Associates - Photos: Saratoga Associates except where noted otherwise

The Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook in Amsterdam, New York, is a 500' pedestrian bridge that connects the north and south neighborhoods across the Mohawk River which became isolated during urban redevelopment planning efforts in 1960. Landscape Architecture firm Saratoga Associates created a "Park over the River" that unites the area and highlights the city's cultural history. Photo: Keith Bantav
The curves in the bridge structure, paving design, seating and planters transform the bridge into more than just a walkway. Art installations attract visitors, including a 32' tall stainless-steel sculpture in the background called DreamRiver by sculptor Dimitar Lukanov, located at the northern entrance of the bridge.
Instead of traditional pavers, the bridge overlay is a colored and textured, stamped thin-crete concrete. Interpretive icons along the overlook represent the area's history and people including Native Americans, immigrants and early settlers. Round patterns are etched into the concrete for each distinct neighborhood seen from the bridge with names, places and objects representing each neighborhood.
A cast bronze compass was designed by Shannon-Rose Design and sits atop a concrete base and granite outer curb in one of the bridge's outlooks over the river. A quote from The Amsterdam Oratorio, a locally well-known musical composition by a city native, is inscribed in the design along with thematic icons found throughout the bridge under one of four categories: living, moving, working and renewing.
A cast bronze compass was designed by Shannon-Rose Design and sits atop a concrete base and granite outer curb in one of the bridge's outlooks over the river. A quote from The Amsterdam Oratorio, a locally well-known musical composition by a city native, is inscribed in the design along with thematic icons found throughout the bridge under one of four categories: living, moving, working and renewing.
Curved concrete planters span the bridge, some with integrated timber benches and exterior low voltage LED accent lighting. Interpretive graphic elements are seen throughout the bridge, giving reference to the city's cultural history.
Curved concrete planters span the bridge, some with integrated timber benches and exterior low voltage LED accent lighting. Interpretive graphic elements are seen throughout the bridge, giving reference to the city's cultural history.
Stepped, curved planters and retaining walls at the bridge entrances reinforce the park like setting.
A 12' diameter glass mosaic replica of the Wheel of Life carpet by weavers at Mohawk Carpet Mills was created for the bridge by French artist, Louis Rigal. The carpet, an image of continuity rendered in six picture groups depicting the cycle of life, lays in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria, the landmark hotel in New York City, and has become a symbol of renewal for the city of Amsterdam as well as an emblem of the quality of workmanship that made it the Carpet City. The replica is made of a mixture of high-grade silica and metal oxides.
A 12' diameter glass mosaic replica of the Wheel of Life carpet by weavers at Mohawk Carpet Mills was created for the bridge by French artist, Louis Rigal. The carpet, an image of continuity rendered in six picture groups depicting the cycle of life, lays in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria, the landmark hotel in New York City, and has become a symbol of renewal for the city of Amsterdam as well as an emblem of the quality of workmanship that made it the Carpet City. The replica is made of a mixture of high-grade silica and metal oxides.

The Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook (MVGO) pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam, N.Y., extends Riverlink Park and the Erie Canalway Trail to create a unique landmark that serves as a showcase for the city and the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. The project was part of the Rebuild and Renew New York Transportation Bond Act.

The MVGO reconnects the city of Amsterdam's north and south side neighborhoods. These neighborhoods saw themselves split by roadways in the 1960s and 1970s, leading to a disconnect from each side. This pedestrian bridge was conceived to reconnect the city and also unite the neighborhoods that had been divided by the river. To infuse new energy into the city's riverfront, Landscape Architecture firm Saratoga Associates created a comprehensive vision for a waterfront park system that could not only connect the two sides of the Mohawk River, but create a much larger, cultural impact on the city and Mohawk Valley Region.

The unique "Park over the River" theme for the pedestrian bridge extends a greenway across the Mohawk, including extensive landscape planting, viewing areas, and gathering spaces for large functions. Fostering the revitalization of downtown Amsterdam, the bridge provides residents and visitors an opportunity to access Riverlink Park on the north side of the river. An array of interpretive elements highlights the history and culture of the city and its relationship to the Mohawk Valley Region. The design of the bridge used various interpretations of architectural and landscape architectural elements to celebrate the story of Amsterdam.

Construction Details

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The $16.5-million, 500' overlook is a three-span continuous structure comprising of steel plate girders supported on drilled shafts. Rock, stone and wood patterns were used as the primary materials for creating art elements that reflect the history of the area and include references to Native Americans, settlers and immigrants.

Saratoga Associates' design team created an attractive and lightweight structure by using a textured, stamped thin-crete concrete overlay on the bridge deck in place of traditional pavers. The entire length of the bridge provides information on the history and importance of the region and the waterway through detailed decorative plaques. Since its completion in 2016, multiple pieces of art have been commissioned and installed on the bridge, further enhancing its position as a "must-see" destination within the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

The new structure's S-shaped alignment is complemented by a curved walkway across the bridge, which provides seating along its length in the form of integrated timber benches in addition to more intimate, semi-enclosed seating areas. The project was created with a 20' clearance for commercial, recreational and U.S. Coast Guard vessels.

To further encompass the park-like feeling of more than just a bridge, landscape lighting, cultural and interpretative items, railings, benches and other public amenities were intertwined with each phase of the design elements. Concrete surfaced pedestrian trails, decorative retaining walls, and plantings are incorporated on bridge approaches, creating a continuous park-like environment and transforming the area into a unique recreational destination.

Economic Impact
In an economic analysis conducted by the City of Amsterdam, it was estimated that if the bridge drew 30,000 visitors per year, the potential economic impact for local businesses could total $10,210,460 annually, which would generate an additional $408,418 in Montgomery County sales tax, and $64,121 for the city. The visitor estimate was based on the actual number of guest book signers at the Bridge of Flowers each year, a similar bridge destination in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, a community smaller than Amsterdam.

The impact of the MVGO on the community and region was immediate. An estimate conducted in conjunction with the city's Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department revealed that the number of visitors to the bridge in 2017, its first full year of existence, was likely in excess of 200,000, more than 6 times the projected costs to cover maintenance.

A plethora of community building events such as Sunset Celebrations, Halloween, Spring Fling, Italiafest, Santa's arrival and the holiday tree lighting ceremony, Oktoberfest, Amsterdam High School Pep Rallies, concerts, memorial services, weddings and exercise classes all take place on or around the MVGO each year. By aggressively programming events on and adjacent to the bridge in the local Bridge Street neighborhood and Riverlink Park since its completion, this city of approximately 17,000 residents now attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to their community each year. These results recently earned the city's Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department the Barb V. Spraker Tourism Partner Award from the Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Since its opening in 2016, the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook has won numerous state and regional tourism, planning, design and engineering awards and has been the subject of numerous informative educational tours and classes for students of all ages.

During its short life, the MVGO has become a source of revenue generation for the city due to popular programming. In addition to regularly scheduled activities like yoga classes, walking programs and kayak tours, the MVGO now hosts a myriad of events including; ethnic festivals, sunset viewing parties, river celebrations and numerous concerts and family events all through the year which aim to unify diverse origins, perspectives and places, becoming a destination for tourists, historians, nature enthusiasts and boaters alike.

As seen in LASN magazine, November 2020.

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