I harp a lot on strategies and ideologies that are wrongheaded, misguided and numerous other pejoratives in terms of how we perceive and position the city. Let me switch gears here to emphasize the flip point — what should we do to position, differentiate and ultimately market the city.
The context of this post is in the post at Mohawk Valley Independent and The Recorder on the Historic Preservation Award for the Armory.
By any metric, the successful repurposing of the Armory runs counter to the established orthodoxy here:
– No one wants to live in Amsterdam and no one wants to move here
– Old, existing structures have no relevant use or its related argument: people want to build new, in the towns,  lower taxes, blabbady blababa
(Guess I’m low on patience to articulate the orthodoxy so let’s move on. )
The point is that the Armory is most definitely on the high side in terms of financial risk, in terms of marketing complexity (not many buyers shopping for armories fair to say) and in terms of perceived feasibility. I’ll sum up the perceived feasibility argument as follows: “No one would ever buy that Armory in Amsterdam”.
But as the award and a visit will demonstrate, given all the risks and perceived impossibility of the task, the owners made it work and the city has a distinctive architectural, historic landmark.
What the city gains from this success is more than the financials: it’s differentiation.
Few cities have armories. Few cities have valley views. Few cities rest along a river. Few cities have such history, character, charm albeit sided, shellaced and ignored but still, it exists.
In my view, Amsterdam lacks an identity as a city. I think the best phrase would be raison d’etre even at the risk of more mockery for employing said phrase.  But given the very real will power exerted here to abandon the very notion of a city, I can’t help but remind ourselves of the essence of simply being.
And being different , from a product/marketing side, always trumps “me too”. In my view, too much energy gets spent on “me too” types of approaches that ultimately yield very little. Again, marketing 101 — you want to be differentiated and you want to align those differences with your target market.
It escapes me why a small city, admittedly past its heyday, still can’t succeed as a city given its many strengths above. Why can’t the city rally behind being a city instead of some me-too amalgam of the towns, Clifton Park, and everywhere else but here?
Fundamentally, the notion of history and architecture as strength runs counter to the me-too value of suburbanization. As a case study, you can look at how desperately some folks wanted to abandon any upkeep or support for historic city hall, favoring instead to invest more money to lease payments to a suburbanite’s dream– a mall.
But then you would have to think outside the orthodoxy here, something sorely missing and lacking. And that’s sad as the historic, architectural fabric — frayed and tattered as it is– here can’t be rebuilt or copied so the options are either to leverage the differentiation on where your strengths lie , or, try to compete on where you’re weakest. With very few exceptions, the former trumps the latter.
If the Armory can succeed with a differentiated approach– outside investment, outside investors, repurposing, vision and hard work– it would appear that other successes could be had as well.
That requires history and architecture to shift from the liability column to the asset column on the 12010 balance sheet.

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8 Responses

  1. robert purtell says:

    First and foremost, congratulations to the Phiministers (apoligies ahead of time in case I murdered the owners name) fantastic job keeping the Armory in tip top condition as well as winning a much deserved award.
    To address your other points, the first thing we have to do is stop complaining about the past and acting like we are not progressing (not pointed at you by the way), as I said before, we are making great progress, let someone else tell us that we are a dirty little town with super high crime rates and less than desirable inhabitants, then we can reply that they are wrong!
    As far as the architecture, we have a lot of beautiful architecture, but so do a lot of cities, and over the years covering up the architecture was the thing to do, vinyl siding, aluminum fascia and soffit, replacement windows, new simpler porches it was always cheaper to rip it out or cover it.
    Lets get back to the basics, clean drivable (or walkable) streets,safe enviroments, good edjucation, nice clean parks, employment, entertainment,freedom to be who we are.
    I believe these are the issues that will seperate us from the rest.

  2. karin says:

    Amsterdam just needs to be reinvented. We have a great little strip of what’s left of our downtown area – make this a pedestrian friendly and artsy area – think Jay Street in Schenectady. And most importantly, appoint all new people on the AIDA board, People with fresh and exciting ideas on how to reinvent our city. I haven’t seen much progress within the actual city since i moved back here from Niskayuna – 7 years ago this August. What Schenectady has done within the past 10 years is absolutely amazing. Before this time, their downtown was littered with vacant buildings and bums panhandeling all along State St, not to mention, the possibility of closing the doors at Proctor’s Theatre. They have done an amazing job – we need THOSE people here! Next, Schenectady is going to be developing the waterfront. INCREDIBLE!!! Truly incredible.

  3. robert purtell says:

    I guess the question is what if you were to be relocated to somewhere USA, what would be the criteria you would look for? what are the top 5? now take that list and see if it would fit here.
    So Flip what are your top five relocation requirements?
    And if you moved here from somewhere else what are the top five reasons you picked this area? maybe some others can help.

    • flippinamsterdam says:

      My top 5 are in ranked order:
      1) school rating
      2) preservation of equity; value proposition
      3) style of home
      4) livability of neighborhood/area
      5) proximity to work/clients/schools etc (shopping less important)
      Why I bought current house(I did not relocate here as a reader FYI )
      1) proximity to bacon school for my young kids
      2) close to family
      3) historic home to renovate
      4) nice neighborhood, walk ability, sassafras
      5) felt Amsterdam would turnaround, home would appreciate

  4. robert purtell says:

    From your list, I think you mirror most purchasers or tenants that I have dealt with, from your list I would arrange the top “5” as:
    1> School system, rating of which may be veiwed differently, scores, graduation rates, # of students going to Ivy league schools, sports, special ed, after school programs, etc.
    2>Livability of neighborhoods, I would add feeling safe, services, etc.
    3> Proximity to work.
    4>Entertainment, outdoor activities, shopping, resteraunts, with in a short traveling distance.
    5>Quality, style, architecture, ease of maintenance and comfort level of the home.
    So what makes us more appealing for someone to live here? what is it we have to change?
    We have to change our attitudes about the past and work on the future,and if we are not the ones that initiate the change, then we are destined to keep on having a bad perception of ourselves.

    • flippinamsterdam says:

      Your questions basically mirror the issues I blog about. Your questions rightly reflect the kind of questions we (as a city) should be asking and discussing. My bullet responses to your So what makes us more appealing for someone to live here?:
      – Historic, distinctive homes
      – Safe city (relative to other cities)
      – Natural beauty (river, valley, parks)
      – Value proposition of home cost (median price of low $100s(guessing) versus $200K plus in other areas)
      – Reasonable Commuting distance
      – Proximity to shopping, parks, sports (fields, diamonds)
      what is it we have to change?
      – Failing to work toward making Amsterdam a viable city
      – School district
      – Thinking our problem is high taxes instead of no/low growth
      – THinking local government is THE solution versus part of the solution; aka, what is private industry doing to help grow the city?
      – Believing demolition solves problems versus creating a set of different ones
      – Failing to strategize and invest for growth
      – Signals to outside investors and homeowners that Amsterdam is on decline, not worth investing in– this creates a vicious cycle ; we need positive signals
      – Looking outside the 12010 and realizing macro view effects what happens locally, ie, Global Foundries
      – Failing to take risks on projects with potentially large returns
      – Corrupt local institutions more interested in nepotism, cronyism , favoritism and protectionism
      – Lack of economic development engine
      – Appeal to younger demographic
      – Stop listening to the same folks and ideas that got us here

      • robert purtell says:

        so when do we stop discussing these and implementing change? The school district seems to be a common topic, but including myself, noone really steps up to the plate to run for the school board, what you are left with are people who get beat up during their term and then do not return. and then the cycle starts all over again.
        So my comment to everyone, is what are you going to do to make your enviroment a better place to live?

  5. diane says:

    Flippin and Bob,
    I agree with all your comments except the school district should be first and foremost. To bring in more educated folks which in turn have a better job in the area and more disposable income to renovate an historic home. By bringing up the educational levels of the school district, we ultimately bring in the folks that are not on welfare. You have to give them something to move here for and want to stay for.
    Good education and them telling their friends who might also want to move here. I beat the same horse because if my daughter had not been in college, I would not have moved here.

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