My first Kingston Uptown Business Association meeting last week in at least 20 years gave me the distinct impression that not much had changed except for some new faces around the table. Board members, earnest and intent as ever, were discussing most of the problems and issues I recalled the last time I sat through one of these endlessly circular sessions.
Since problems often take years to resolve, if they ever get resolved, the dozen or so participants at the Ulster Savings offices had plenty to rehash. At a business meeting that lasted about an hour, the gamut of concerns ran from parking, to marketing, signage, promotions, cleanup, traffic flow, public toilets, Pike Plan design and more.
Mayor Shayne Gallo, displaying a remarkable familiarity with the minutiae that consumes city business associations like KUBA and its counterparts in Midtown and the Rondout soaked up about half the time fielding questions, detailing progress and highlighting his second annual mayor’s message delivered the night before at City Hall. Despite repeated pleas for support from KUBA directors, the mayor, it would appear, is no soft touch. While expressing sympathy with this or that, it was clear he left the checkbook in his other jacket. “Let’s put this in perspective,” he told the gathering. “For every $150,000 we spend, we have to raise the tax rate 1 percent.” By state law, the city can raise property taxes by only 2 percent a year without seeking a special vote of the council, and very likely provoking public ire.
One example involved a request by Stockade-area alderman Tom Hoffay (who was not in attendance) to refurbish badly neglected city parking lots in the area. Shamelessly kicking off his re-election campaign, Hoffay, the council majority leader, said grading, repaving and restriping the two North Front Street public parking lots could add 30 extra parking spaces at a cost of about $1 million. He advocated the installation of parking meters to help pay for the project. (The city DPW, which knows better from a previous study, later downgraded that figure to $200,000.) The mayor, who doesn’t always see eye to eye with Hoffay, advised he had plenty of other places to spend a million dollars. If he was going to repave business-district parking lots, he said, he’d do it in every district.
Former KUBA president Kevin Quilty said the organization might be willing to dress up the parking area with planters and other pretty things. The mayor wasn’t biting. KUBA has all of $5,000 in its checking account, which doesn’t buy a lot of shrubbery.
Moving on, board members waxed about “gateway” signage. The county’s “horrible” tourism caboose adjacent to the traffic circle on the western edge of town was deplored as “sitting in the middle of a mudhole.” Again, the remedy was in other hands. The county caboose is reportedly on land owned by corn king John Gill.
At the other end of the nation’s shortest Interstate highway (Col. Chandler Drive) lies another city gateway, this one festooned with confusing signage and competing messages. The ghost of failed Republican state Senate candidate George Amedore smiles from a poster in a second-story window. First-floor confectionary Michael’s Candy plies his wares on another sign, as does Rondout Savings Bank, a mile or so down the street. A sign from Dr. Richard Wood offering help to “incontinent women” remains, years after the urogynecologist relocated his practice. (Contacted after the meeting, Dr. Wood said he’d be happy to rent the sign for KUBA promotion purposes. For a fee, “They can put a billboard on the roof, too,” he offered.)
After taking copious notes for about an hour, it occurred to me that KUBA really has only one major problem: lack of resources and money. Which is to say, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play? There is no lack of competing proposals on how to improve a business district that began a long downhill slide (literally) when KingstonPlaza was opened in the early 1960s. What an idea! Imagine a line-of-sight shopping area — you could see every store from your car — with almost unlimited free parking!
Obviously, painfully, Kingston’s business districts will never have the advantages of a modern shopping mall. The Pike Plan, for all its detractors, was a bold attempt at branding the Stockade area as unique. The seasonal farmers’ market has drawn hordes of visitors to an area the previously resembling a ghost town on Saturdays. An as-yet-unproposed condo project with parking and commercial space on the site of the old parking garage on North Front Street could pump millions into the tax base with permanent residents and disposable income. We’ll see. Requests for proposals might go out by June.
The future of Uptown may not be bright as some would like, but there are hopes.
KUBA, too often slavish in its focus on day-to-day details, needs to keep an eye on the broader horizon.
Getting his ear
Often in my business we are forced to seek out subjects in bars, cars or public meetings. Getting back to the media doesn’t seem to be very high on anybody’s priority list these days.
I dropped in at the KUBA meeting mainly because I was told they were going to discuss a letter I had written Mayor Gallo a few weeks ago — with a copy to the business association — about Hizzoner shutting down the staircase to the free parking lot earlier this winter. Access to the lot was via a series of steep steps on which I almost took a header on snow and ice.
Gallo had not deigned to respond in any form to my letter. But he closed the badly designed and poorly maintained staircase via executive order after someone else had fallen.
He explained after the meeting that there were liability issues, that the city was being sued by a plaintiff. Besides, he said, it didn’t make sense to make the staircase safe now because some time in the near future the city hoped a developer would come in and reconfigure the whole site. Makes sense.
I was just as glad the letter wasn’t read at the meeting since I’d used intemperate language — “chickenshit insurance companies” — setting city policy. I didn’t expect the letter would be widely circulated.
Mayor Gallo’s second mayor’s message, delivered at the City Hall last week to mostly empty seats and uninterrupted by applause, spoke to hopes, dreams and optimism more appropriate to New Year’s Day, when such messages used to be broadcast, than on the approach of the Ides of March.
The mayor spoke to the challenges of balancing an annual address with its necessary components — reviewing the year previous, praising public employees, speaking to trying fiscal issues, thanking his mother, thanking County Executive Mike Hein at least a dozen times — with the inspirational tone some expect from these kinds of addresses. (Picture Obama in full rhetoric.)