‘Riverport’ sees Rondout’s past as its future

Hosted by Ann Loeding of the Friends of Rondout and Kate Mitchell, executive director of the Hudson River Maritime Museum, a Sept. 19 “discussion,” as it was billed, about the future development of the Rondout waterfront aboard a restored Pennsylvania railroad barge berthed at the museum was part reality check, part visioning session, and part call to action.

There were a lot of ideas thrown around about how to invigorate the waterfront as well as an underlying sense of urgency; money is scarce, and it’s only through an effective grass-roots effort, matching and hopefully attracting the small amount of government dollars that are available, that anything will get done. Hence, Loeding and Kitty McCullough, also of Friends of Rondout, ended the meeting with several “action” points to pursue that would keep the exciting initiatives under discussion on track.

Clearwater board President Allan Shope, in his introductory comments about the various programs he’d been involved with in the past two years, made no effort to pull the proverbial wool over anyone’s eyes. “Go to the Department of the Interior, and there’s no money to do anything, no partnerships,” he said, referring to his disappointment with the federal “Great Outdoors” program, which, he said, turned out to be just a lot of hot air.


“We want to act, not talk,” Shope said, positing his description of what Clearwater has planned for the Kingston waterfront as a series of questions. Could he get the buy-in? Shope was clearly making an immediate appeal to the many stakeholders present, which included officials from the city and county government as well as representatives from local and regional environmental and cultural groups, state agencies, the business community, and regional planning organizations.

Kate Mitchell, executive director of the HRMM, has written up a compelling statement of what Riverport, as they propose to brand the Rondout, would be. Refreshingly, it’s not Disneyland nor a James Rouse-style mini-South Street Seaport, but rather history with an edge, as Mitchell writes. The concept of Riverport is to jumpstart the local economy by establishing a vibrant destination where multiple museums, historic work boats and neighborhoods, boat building facilities employing youth, interpretative tours, festivals, recreational opportunities and stores would recreate the energy of the former port by attracting both city and county residents and tourists.

Clearwater will be using the museum docks as the winter berth for its eponymous world-famous sloop and it plans to construct a facility on the museum grounds. The barn-like building, which according to the image on Shope’s PowerPoint presentation would echo the shape of the Cornell building, would be for boat maintenance and repair as well as for education.

Shope said he hopes the building will be constructed on the property by this time next year — it is actually being built in modular units and plans call for 100 volunteers to erect it in a one-day “barn raising” — and that six boats will be berthed at the museum, undergoing repairs and generated income for the area. That’s phase one, which he estimated would cost approximately $1 million; Clearwater could probably raise $600,000 of that amount in private money, he said.

Phase two would consist of acquiring Rosita’s (which Shope noted is not available right now) and fitting it with solar panels, building a lobby, renovating the museum and adding a boat building yard — all of which would cost about $5 million. “I could raise half that if the government would pick up the rest,” Shope said. Phase three would extend development of the waterfront to the Steel House, while phase four would bring it farther down the creek, to the Cornell Building.

Shope said he hoped the barn raising would occur next year on Earth Day; Dave Matthews has reportedly volunteered to provide the music. But the recent loss of a major solar company from the area illustrates the difficulty right now of making the dreams for a new economy become reality.