Imagine wedding parties arriving at Kingston Point Park by boat, tourists flocking to an upscale hotel resort built adjacent to the park’s protected and restored wetlands or low-rise live/work units along the Rondout Creek. Maybe a food market, similar to Chelsea Market in New York City, in the cavernous Cornell Building or floating houses moored along the creek’s bulkhead. How about art installations and playgrounds on Island Dock? The eastern side of Broadway transformed into a retail center to boot. Could the waterfront finally be on the verge of realizing its potential?
Over the years, numerous plans have been conceived for Kingston’s mostly vacant, post-industrial waterfront, but very little development has actually occurred (with a caveat: the building of the walkway has resulted in a significant increase of strollers along the creek). The Hudson Riverport Vision, which is the latest initiative, will hopefully represent a tipping point.
Underlying the sexy design vision of what the two-mile-long waterfront could be in the future is the Kingston Waterfront Brownfield Opportunity Area Plan. Consultants are preparing a draft generic environmental impact statement that will identify any remediation that needs to be done on the patchwork of privately owned sites along the creek’s banks. It thus not only helps get rid of a major impediment for potential developers but also leverages state funding for brownfield cleanup. This complements grants the city is pursuing for restoration of the eroding bulkhead that extends from the former Rosita’s restaurant to North Street, according to Gregg Swanzey, City of Kingston director of economic development and strategic partnerships.
Besides getting rid of the contamination, what type of development the city should encourage and how it would fit into the existing landscape, some of which has evolved, after years of inactivity, into a prolific wildlife habitat — bald eagles, for example, are a common site at Kingston Point Park — are key concerns. The city obtained a $430,000 grant to hire New York City-based consultants Perkins + Will to come up with a plan. (The grant was 10 percent matched by the city as well as private land owners in the area).
On Feb. 24, the city hosted the first public meeting on this bold vision, called Hudson Riverport, which will be followed up by a second public meeting in October. A presentation by the consultants was followed by break-out sessions in which members of the public, seated at separate tables, shared their comments and suggestions with the consulting team.
The city is accepting public comments on the Brownfield Opportunity Area Plan draft scoping document, which was handed out at the meeting, until March 10 (comments on design elements of the Riverport vision will be accepted until Aug. 28). A map showing the Riverport Vision can be viewed on the city website (click on “Economic Development”).
In his presentation, Daniel Windsor, associate urban designer at Perkins + Will, said his firm was two thirds into the 20-month project, which focuses on 609.5 acres, 192.3 acres of which consists of land, along the waterfront. Besides trying to formulate a “cohesive waterfront” consisting of residences, commercial properties, cultural activities, and green spaces, the plan also seeks to connect it with the upland areas and existing businesses, cultural institutions and residences. Environmental issues, namely flooding from the surrounding hills, as well as from the river, are being taken into account.
Windsor said the vision was for an active waterfront all year long — currently, activity tends to be limited to the warm weather months. It also seeks to come up with uses and development that’s “achievable and realistic” (although the proposal to move the wastewater treatment facility, which he alluded to, is not currently realistic). It seeks to maximize the potential for water-based activities, such as a recreational boathouse near the mouth of the creek and “community water activity,” geared to families, at the far end of the project area, just beyond the Hideaway marina. It eschews high-rises for two-to-four-story residences, artist workspaces and, across from West Strand, small-scale shops. A pedestrian bridge would connect the waterfront to Island Dock, which would function as a community park and outdoor art space.
The plan also addresses the commercial limitations along lower Broadway. The condos on the east side would be converted to commercial use on the first floor, and a large structure built on the empty lot along Garraghan Drive would house retail outfits.
Emily Crutcher, associate director of public institutions at real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, retained by Perkins + Will to advise on the real estate market, noted that the “office retail hospitality market” proposed in the Riverport plan would cater to a region of 46,400 people. She said there was high demand for waterfront housing, such as may one day be built by developer AVR in its Hudson Landing project, and she predicated that in addition to the new development proposed on the Hudson River waterfront, Riverport could support 75 to 150 units of housing.
Crutcher acknowledged the lackluster 1.8 percent annual growth rate projected for retail in the region makes for a “tough market” but added “we believe in the entrepreneurship of Kingston.” The Riverport mix of retail would be predicated on “artisanal producers.” Certain successful businesses in the Stockade District could establish “satellite locations” on the waterfront, she suggested. An 8,000-to-10,000-square-foot food market would create flexible space for retailers and entrepreneurs, and an urban grocery store, significantly smaller than the standard supermarket, would cater to residents and visitors.
On the hospitality side, Crutcher said Riverport could absorb “200 new keys” over the next several years, consisting of an upscale hotel with amenities such as a spa and ballroom that would have an “ecotourism slant,” thanks to its location on the water adjacent to Kingston Point, and a smaller, funkier boutique hotel in Ponckhockie.