Hugh Reynolds: Uptown’s perennial problems

Hugh Reynolds.

Hugh Reynolds.

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.

Advertisement

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’s message

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.)

There are 4 comments

  1. Anonymous

    When, oh when, will Mr. Reynolds learn that being a snarky, bitter, old man does not make for good journalism. Yawn… Being able to be rude and sarcastic doesn’t make you look witty and well-informed– just makes you look old, pointless and irrelevant Not to mention that this article reeks of lack of research or effort, or should I say, significant laziness, about getting accurate facts regarding your “story.” Many people in this community are working their arses off to make this town better. Shame on you for trying to drag everyone’s effort and work through the mud simply because you think your negative rhetoric makes you look intelligent. Hint: It’s not working

  2. nopolitics

    Mr. Anonymous, you have obviously not been here very long. You probably came from NYC along with most of the newbies with your money and your web-business B.S. Get a bit of a life yourself. Better yet become the next city of Kingston historian. It’ll be interesting to see if that position goes the way of attrition after Ed Ford passes. Then maybe you can get some ink yourself. Oh that’s right, no criticism is supposed to flow to the newbies because they brought their Democratic Party enrollment up from the great metro. Uh-huh. I say I don’t give a flying fart.
    As for the style of Mr. Reynolds, that is what is old. I agree it is designed to make him look more well informed and in the know than would otherwise be possible, but he is just an old hanger-onto politics who benefitted therefrom for years from this. It IS working(don’t delude yourself now) because the pols have all reached a happy medium with him, despite his granting an impression to the contrary. The only way you can ever do that too is to accomplish some symbiosis with the pols. Good luck–I was born here and in 56 years I haven’t been able to do it. Nothing in the water–that’s around the best in the nation and always has been!!(Let’s lobby for a piece on the water department as often as we enoounter stop signs in Kingston).

  3. anonymous

    Wrong, wrong, wrong on so many counts. Didn’t your mother tell you about “assuming?” No, not a “Mr.”, not from New York, not loaded with money, and not owning a web business. You sound a little bitter, ya know. And I actually do have a very fulfilling life — but then again, people who “assume” and then say “get a life” usually don’t. I stand by my comments on old sourpuss — boring and uninspired. A little positivity goes a lot further than false assumptions and pointless rambling — for both of you.

  4. Richard Wood

    For the record, I remain an active Kingston business proudly and unabashedly serving women in need of my expertise: When I purchased and rehabilitated 781-783 Broadway, I created a new business at that location (Women’s Incontinence Center. Prior to my improvements, the building was vacant, rundown, and the alley contained used condoms, human excrement and needles from drug addicts. The neighboring attached building was mostly vacant building with huge ugly signage looking for tenants. After I improved the address, the neigbor was able to attract a reputable law firm tenant. Not only has my business helped the area improve, it has helped many women in need of my services. The Business Alliance of Kingston keeps me a priority and thinks as follows (I have the original signed letter:

    Richard M. Wood, MD
    783 Broadway
    Kingston, NY 12401

    April 20, 2011

    Dear Dr. Wood:

    The Business Alliance of Kingston has noted your decision to sell your building on Broadway. We wish you well; it is apparent from your web site that you have numerous other offices. The purpose of this letter is to respectfully request that you take down the sign, “Women’s Incontinence Center” as soon as your business moves. In the mean time, the recently tacked on sign that tells us you are still there, is in violation of the Mid-Town Design Guidelines (Section 405-36, N: Unsafe, abandoned and unlawful signs.) Please remove this small sign at your earliest convenience. We’ve been notified by Fire Chief Salzmann that ticketing for such violations is about to begin, so we hope this letter will help you avoid a fine.

    While it is clear that you are devoted to helping women with health issues, we have always found your permanent sign to be inappropriate in its current location, at one of the main gateways to the city. We see nothing wrong with such a sign in a hospital, a phone book, or on a web site – where people are actually looking for your help. For those of us putting in long hours to improve the business climate of Kingston, however, it is a daily reminder that we have much work to do.

    Sincerely yours,

    Patrice Courtney Strong
    President

    Page 2 Letter to Richard M. Wood. M.D.

    The signers were (in order of their signatures):

    Pat Courtney Strong, Courtney Strong Inc.
    Larry Zalinsky, Mezzanine Antiques
    Nancy Donskoj, Main Street Manager/Business Alliance of Kingston
    Kevin Quilty, Smith Printing
    Teryl Mickens, Rural Ulster Preservation Co.
    Rev. Darlene L. Kelley, Clinton Avenue United Methodist Church
    Greer Smith, TransArt
    Tom Hoffay, Alderman, City of Kingston
    Ken Darmstadt, Darmstadt Overhead Doors
    Martitza Estrada, property owner
    Hayes Clement, Alderman, City of Kingston
    Ann Loeding,
    Karin Clark Adin, Bop To Tottum
    Rebecca Martin, Kingston Land Trust

    Please note: The signers are property owners in the City of Kingston.

Post Your Thoughts