Mayor Shayne Gallo said he’s standing by a nonprofit group’s efforts to restore a decrepit but historic home on Henry Street. But, he cautioned, he would not approve any city funding for the project until the nonprofit demonstrated that they had the capacity to follow through on the ambitious but long-delayed restoration job.
The Burger-Matthews house at the corner of Henry and Prospect streets had stood vacant and decaying for decades. Over the years the city, which held title to the property, had handed over the deed to series of owners in hopes of seeing the house restored, only to take it back when renovation efforts faltered. In 2008, owners Jennifer Schwartz Berky and Todd Diffee went to the Common Council asking that the deed be transferred to Transart & Cultural Services. The nonprofit arts group, based in Ulster Park, promotes African and African-American arts and culture through educational programs and an annual jazz concert in Poughkeepsie. Back in 2008, Transart Executive Director Greer Smith laid out for the council an ambitious plan that called for stabilizing the structure, renovating the interior and exterior and turning the building into a cultural center and exhibition space in the heart of Kingston’s African-American community. Smith said the project represented an opportunity to draw visitors to Midtown and create a cultural anchor and source of pride for residents of a distressed neighborhood. The council approved the transfer, over objections by some aldermen who doubted the restoration job was feasible and preferred to see the building torn down.
Using a state grant, Transart carried out some of the job, including fencing off the property, weatherproofing the roof and repointing a crumbling chimney. Then, work appeared to come to a halt. Five years after the transfer, the exterior of the house remains dilapidated and little was heard about the project. That changed earlier this summer when the Henry Street project was cited in a Midtown revitalization plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and touted at a City Hall press conference as the Business Art Entertainment and Technology (BEAT) initiative.
Smith, meanwhile, said despite outward appearances, the restoration work has advanced slowly but steadily with a focus on shoring up and stabilizing the interior of the 1870’s vintage Victorian.
“Unfortunately, the work that has to be done first is not the cosmetic bells and whistles that people can see on the outside,” said Smith.