Now that Uptown and the Rondout are enjoying something close to booming times, could it be, at last, Midtown’s turn?
Real estate experts point to developments at a key intersection as evidence that the neighborhood, long synonymous with blight, is poised for an economic boom.
Where Broadway and Henry and O’Neil streets meet lies at the heart of a revitalization zone and arts district established during the administration of ex-mayor Shayne Gallo. But attempts to spur economic development at that intersection go back much further. In the 1990s, efforts to transform the intersection into a “Broadway Square” hosting comedy and jazz clubs to complement the nearby Ulster Performing Arts Center failed to take off. More recently, hopes of redevelopment and revival spurred by the closure and 2011 demolition of the notoriously drug and crime-ridden King’s Inn motel went unfulfilled. An effort to fight crime by moving a police substation into the Broadmoor Apartments — long known as a locus of drug activity — was abandoned after cops learned the then-owner of the apartment complex was a convicted felon. A cluster of Henry Street row houses was tagged as a “known gang location” by the KPD; a veteran narcotics cop once told the Kingston Times that he was so familiar with drug houses in the neighborhood that he simply had to check that they hadn’t been painted since the last search warrant before filling out a detailed application for a new warrant.
But a spate of development at and investment in the intersection has city officials, business leaders and area residents hopeful that years of revitalization efforts are, at long last, starting to pay off.
On the northwest corner of the intersection at 635 Broadway, the long-vacant former Bank of America building has begun to fill up with tenants. In 2013, the bank sold the building to the Kingston Local Development Corp. for $1. Then-mayor Gallo planned to relocate Kingston police headquarters from Garraghan Drive on the Rondout to the former bank building as a centerpiece of his Midtown revitalization plan. The police station plan never came to fruition.
Last summer, the KLDC sold the property to New York City-based developer Neil Blaichman for $450,000. Blaichman spent six months gutting and renovating the 10,000-square-foot building before seeking tenants.
Realtor Nan Potter, who handles leasing at the building, said this week that the former bank was filling rapidly. The ground floor currently hosts the offices of Democratic congressional candidate Zephyr Teachout. Potter said that the candidate had attended a recent meeting of the Business Alliance of Kingston and told attendees that if elected, she would open a district office at the site. (A spokeswoman for Teachout’s campaign was unable to confirm her statement on Tuesday). Upstairs, Potter said, a graphics firm and other tenants occupied four units. The upstairs can also accommodate more office and studio space custom designed to tenants needs.
“Midtown is exploding and we’re part of that explosion,” said Potter. “I was always known as an Uptown broker, but I’m excited that the market has finally spread to Midtown.”
Across Henry Street from the former bank, the vacant lot where the King’s Inn once stood has been transformed into an open space called “Broadway Commons.” Next week, the Common Council is expected to approve a lease agreement with the owners of the “Spiegeltent,” a large wooden portable structure that can accommodate concerts and other events. (The Spiegeltent operated on the King’s Inn site for a short time in 2014 before it shut down following a dispute with Gallo.) The new lease agreement calls for the business to pay the city 10 percent of all rental fees for special events like weddings. Mayor Steve Noble said that the tent was a way to create buzz and activity in the neighborhood, while leaving the site open for eventual redevelopment.
“It’s a showcase that Kingston is becoming more vibrant,” said Noble. “That’s our main goal with the Spiegeltent.”
On the east side of Broadway at its corner with O’Neil Street, the Broadmoor apartments dominate the block. In 2010 the building was briefly condemned for a severe cockroach infestation and unsanitary living conditions. It’s long been a thorn in the side of law enforcement — during the brief period when the police substation operated there, a cop opened a back door to the office and nearly bumped into a man smoking crack in the hallway. But Ed Kang of Woodstock, who bought the property last summer, said he has big plans for the block-long building that holds 21 apartments and six retail spots. Kang said he hopes to fill all of the ground floor retail spaces with arts-related businesses in keeping with the neighborhood’s designation (under existing revitalization plans) as an arts district.
One of those spaces has already been rented to high-end kitchenware manufacturer Black Creek Mercantile. The company has an existing manufacturing facility on Cedar Street. The new location in the Broadmoor will serve as a showroom and retail outlet.
Kang said that he sensed the same potential for growth in Midtown as he had years ago in a blighted Jersey City neighborhood that is now a sought-after location for young professionals. Kang, who owns properties in Manhattan, said that in the past few months he’d seen new businesses opening up in the neighborhood and attendance at meetings of local business owners grow from a handful to dozens.
“All places, when you reach the bottom, they make a comeback and I think that’s what’s happening [in Midtown] now,” said Kang. “It’s a great investment opportunity and the price is right. I think we’re already past the tipping point.”
Commercial real estate broker Tom Collins attributed the surge in investment in Midtown to a strong regional economy. Collins added that rising prices and declining inventory in Kingston’s more established Uptown and Rondout business districts were driving bargain-hunting investors to Midtown. Collins said his firm had received offers on a mixed-use retail/residential property adjacent to UPAC at 609 Broadway just days after putting it on the market. Just a year ago, he said, he would’ve expected a similar property in the neighborhood to spend months — or years — on the market before selling.
“It’s true for the entire city, we’re seeing a sudden, dramatic surge in investment,” said Collins. “Market times are greatly compressed and we’re seeing a steady infusion of investment dollars coming into the community.”
The momentum in Midtown is likely to continue as a series of infrastructure improvements, currently in the planning and design phase, move towards bricks-and-mortar reality. Under Gallo’s administration, the city received millions in state grants and federal grants for Midtown projects. Among the planned upgrades is a plan to improve traffic flow on Broadway while making the artery more bike- and pedestrian-friendly and more scenic. More state money will pay for a walking and biking trail linking Midtown and Uptown Kingston along an old railroad line.
Noble said recent developments had made it clear that Midtown’s revitalization was well under way. He pointed to a new energy and sense of community among neighborhood business owners and the continuing influx of new investment. “Our job now is to be as supportive to the business environment there as possible,” said Noble.
Among some Midtown stakeholders, however, enthusiasm for the new wave of investment is tempered by concerns over gentrification: the process by which once blighted neighborhoods become more attractive and more expensive driving out long-established businesses and residents.