After more than a year of public outreach, number crunching and city hall strategy sessions, Mayor Shayne’s Gallo’s revitalization plan for Midtown Kingston is coming into focus. The plan, as outlined in a 24-page document, calls for an ambitious mix of partnerships, city programs and bricks and mortar projects to spur economic development and invest in the neighborhood’s “human capital.”
Gallo officially unveiled the plan, dubbed BEAT (Business Education Arts Technology) at a City Hall event last Thursday, June 27, before a group of several dozen, which included city and school district officials, a few aldermen, a few more aldermanic candidates, community leaders and Midtown-area merchants and landlords.
The mayor was buoyant in greeting well-wishers before his presentation and focused while delivering it. From the lectern in the Common Council chambers, the mayor, who has stressed Midtown’s pivotal role in the city’s overall economic fate, laid out a wide-ranging multi-stage vision, which would draw in public, private and philanthropic
Aside from the largely conceptual BEAT is a new federally mandates revitalization plan for Midtown. The Community Development Block Grant program annually funnels hundreds of thousands of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development dollars into Kingston to help the city’s poorest residents. Last week, the Community Development committee of the Common Council approved the plan, needed to access that money, but only with the proviso that they were simply authorizing Gallo to submit the document, not signing on for specific elements contained within it. The “revitalization zone” within the report to HUD is defined as either side of Broadway between Albany Avenue and West Chester Street.
Much of the report to HUD consists of a snapshot of neighborhood conditions based on a door-to-door poll of 240 residents, a “windshield survey” of local properties and other data gathering efforts. The survey for example, found that the average respondent paid 26 percent of their total income for housing, while a significant number paid more than a third of their income to keep a roof over their heads.
“That’s one thing that really jumps out when you look at the numbers,” said Jennifer Fuentes the city’s former Community Development Director who carried out much the research. “Just how many people there are who are financially burdened by housing costs.”
The windshield survey of 299 properties in the revitalization zone found that 72 percent of properties examined were either in good condition or only in need of minor repair. Another 25 percent, the survey found needed major repairs, while three percent were in need of complete renovation or demolition. The windshield survey rated 68 percent of the properties in the same “very” or “somewhat” attractive while the remainder were deemed unattractive. The same study found that 68 percent of the blocks in the revitalization zone were marred with an excess of trash and 59 percent were marked with graffiti.
The plan outlined by Gallo in both the HUD document and the BEAT initiative is intended to address both the blight afflicting Midtown and issues of “human capital” like relatively low educational levels among area residents. Many of the initiatives outlined in the plans, like an incentive program for first-time homebuyers and stepped up code enforcement in the revitalization zone are already in place. Others, like partnerships with Bard College, a proposal for senior assisted living facility at the Kingston Hospital campus, and his call for an independent physicians’ association to move into either the to-be-closed hospital or the nearby Foxhall Ambulatory Surgery Center are new. The mayor hopes the plan will “establish the city as a medical destination.”
In a section on public safety, the HUD document calls for the continued focus on community oriented policing initiatives foot and bike patrols in the neighborhood. The plan also reiterates Gallo’s plan to relocate Kingston Police headquarters from the Rondout to a vacant former bank building at the intersection of Broadway and Henry Street. Some members of the Common Council have expressed skepticism about the plan citing concerns over cost and whether the move would do anything to address crime in the area. But, Gallo said, he believed moving police headquarters nearly adjacent to the Ulster Performing Arts Center and in the heart of the city’s most crime-plagued neighborhood would pay off in economic development and neighborhood safety.
“Based on my conversations with people in the neighborhood, based on the focus groups we’ve held, on the public outreach we’ve done, I have absolutely no doubt that [the police station] is something that the residents of this neighborhood want and something that will benefit the entire city,” said Gallo. The mayor predicted a mid-July press conference with more details on the police-HQ move.
In a section on housing, the HUD document includes a call for “workforce housing” to address the needs of working residents who pay too much of their income in rent or are priced out of the local housing market entirely. The proposal also calls for initiatives to provide housing for seniors. One proposal calls for the creation of senior citizen housing in the neighborhood, another would provide job training in the building trades for youth while offering seniors free repairs and maintenance to allow them to stay in their homes.
Mayor: Make Midtown an arts mecca
The document also lays out a major initiative aimed at boosting cultural tourism in Midtown while expanding educational opportunities for area residents. Gallo’s BEAT plan encompasses a range of programs that, he said, would be phased in as funding becomes available.
Projects already underway or expected in the near future include a partnership with Bard College. The proposal calls for the Annandale-on-Hudson based liberal arts institution to provide a curator for the city’s biennial sculpture exhibition (see story, page 10) and assist with a feasibility study for a Midtown art museum or cultural center. The school would also partner with the city for educational programs in art, math, science and engineering. The BEAT proposal also references the county’s plan to relocate its satellite campus from its current location on Albany Avenue to the vacant Sophie Finn Elementary School in the heart of Midtown and includes a proposed $137.5 million renovation of Kingston High School on its list of boons to Midtown. At his June 27 event, Gallo highlighted that project — which must be approved by school district voters in December — as a major plus, saying it will bring jobs and money to that part of the neighborhood. “I’m glad [Superintendent Paul Padalino] is taking bold, bold steps to make that happen,” Gallo said.