Local New Paltz leaders collaborate on Downtown Revitalization

Pictured from left to right: New Paltz Village Mayor Tim Rogers, New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez, Rich Winters and Shelly Wright of SUNY New Paltz and New Paltz Village Planner David Gilmour. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Pictured from left to right: New Paltz Village Mayor Tim Rogers, New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez, Rich Winters and Shelly Wright of SUNY New Paltz and New Paltz Village Planner David Gilmour. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Governor Andrew Cuomo has released the latest in his competition-based municipal aid packages, and it’s gotten some heads turning in New Paltz. The so-called Downtown Revitalization Initiative, or DRI, will award $10 million to one and only one applicant in each of the state’s ten regional economic development councils (REDC). That structure differs from the annual round of funding, which pits the ideas put forth by each of the REDCs against the others; in this case, it’s communities in each region vying for the dollars. New Paltz the village will be making such an application, but it will be with the full and unambiguous support of both the town government and the administration of SUNY New Paltz, as well. Representatives of all three recently gathered at the Mudd Puddle to discuss how they’re working together, and what a revitalized downtown in New Paltz might look like.

Village Mayor Tim Rogers called it a “Hunger Games” approach to providing funding, because it pits communities in the region against each other, and he knows that there’s a lot of competition. Yonkers, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie are all in the region, and compelling proposals may be submitted for any or all of those cities. What might work in favor of the New Paltz bid is the incredibly short time frame: a draft of the application will be discussed at the joint town-village board meeting on May 19, with a public hearing scheduled for May 25, and the deadline for submission just two days later. The decision will be made during June, and the money will start flowing in July. It could be that a smaller community such as New Paltz is more nimble, thus leading to a stronger application in the short time allowed for submissions.


The New Paltz community has ways to address the various criteria laid out in the DRI application. Among others, the winning community will have a “vibrant, year-round downtown” that is “compact, with well-defined boundaries,” and “that are able to capitalize on prior, or catalyze future, private and public investment in the neighborhood and its surrounding areas. Local leaders believe that New Paltz fits well into these requirements, and have crafted a proposal that defines the target area for investment as being the village-owned properties which are now the sites of the Village Hall complex and municipal parking, the so-called “pit” property adjacent to both, and the stretch of Plattekill Avenue between the Village Hall and municipal parking entrance.

In broad strokes, the vision would achieve goals such as walkability and job creation by transforming how those properties are used, along the way addressing a number of community needs. It begins with the pit, where the principals of Lalo Group have already proposed condominiums and a hotel. Recent modifications to that proposal would keep both buildings to six stories, and reorient them to allow for a pedestrian concourse between downtown and the college. That project is one college administrators think is a good fit with the university because not only will there still be demand for hotel space after the Hampton Inn opens near the Thruway, there’s also a need for convenient faculty housing which the condo units might meet.

According to Shelly Wright, SUNY’s Chief of Staff and Vice President for Communication, college administrators immediately recognized how the opportunity to make a more vibrant, year-round destination out of New Paltz would be important for the college’s long-term goals. As evidence of that interest, it’s SUNY money that is paying the outside planner who is assisting with the DRI application. Getting buy-in from university officials is also important because it shows that the plans are anchored by a regional institution.

Talks about a joint municipal center to house town and village offices have stalled largely because the price tag is more than taxpayers can afford. That would be resolved quite easily if that $10 million is awarded: Village Hall would be replaced with a two-story structure, the first floor of which could be rented to businesses and the second story — all 20,000 square feet of it — would have all the local government offices in one place. An ideal tenant for the first floor would be a grocery store, further reducing the need for car trips by nearby residents.

That’s made possible in part because fire station 1 would become a thing of the past. NY Rising money is already committed to building a new station west of the Wallkill, on the land of the village’s water treatment plant, and station 2 on Henry Dubois Drive will be improved to become the main station. It’s a better location for accessing more of the town, and it’s easier to reach for the volunteers, as well.

Supervisor Neil Bettez, who estimates nine out of ten of his own car trips are to the nearest supermarket, sees benefits for the entire town that go beyond reducing traffic congestion. This plan would fill in empty space that’s been targeted unsuccessfully for development since the 1960s or earlier. That increase in density, he said, is what’s needed to ensure efforts to protect open space in New Paltz are successful. “People have to live somewhere,” he said. “There’s a lot of people within walking distance,” he said, and once fully implemented, the plan could lead to the creation of over 100 jobs.

Where the municipal lot is now, there would be a row of buildings Rogers envisions as a “tech village” that could attract tenants suitable for the Start-Up NY program, which offers ten years without state taxes of any kind — including property, sales and income — to eligible businesses. To qualify, the company must partner with SUNY New Paltz, something which is challenging without any new spaces in which to house these firms. The lost parking would only be moving a short distance; 700 spaces would be available underneath the hotel and condo project. With walking, biking and stops on the already-existing Loop Bus in the mix, theoretically cars could stay in those spots much longer than people park their vehicles between trips now.

Village planner David Gilmour sees the DRI application as an opportunity to create a sense of place where none presently exists, and he’s confident the exercise will be hugely beneficial even if New Paltz isn’t awarded the money. If the community does win, however, up to $300,000 of the total $10 million will be reserved for strategic planning, to work out the specifics of a plan which at first pass will be just seven pages long. Richard Winters, Community and Government Relations Associate at the college, is optimistic because the proposal shows that New Paltz is “ripe for opportunity.”

This grand plan, however, is really just intended to be an anchor itself. DRI funds are intended to stimulate and leverage other funding sources, public and private, and Bettez said that the entire downtown area of the village would benefit in time from those improvements. Rogers stressed that the idea is “not growth for the sake of growth,” but a plan to reduce congestion while improving accessibility and opportunity for residents. Local arts and historical resources could easily be woven in as those additional funding sources are identified. That’s something which will require significant public input, something that has been precluded thus far by the short application deadline.

Rogers said that feedback is encouraged, and opportunities to invite it will begin with the public hearing on May 25. Should the money be awarded, he hopes to include representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, non-profits, arts groups and other entities into the process of creating this revitalized downtown area, and building upon it going forward. That will include, added planner Gilmour, consideration of such things as green infrastructure, complete streets, resilience to flooding and other ways to improve connectivity and job creation. It might even spur the push towards joint comprehensive planning which is now in its earliest stages.

This summer will either be the start of some very significant changes in downtown New Paltz, or at the very least will be the start of important conversations including stakeholders not obligated to work together. Bettez believes that this collaboration might continue regardless, because momentum behind the right ideas will carry along future elected and college officials, even if they aren’t as warm to working together as the present batch.



There are 2 comments

  1. NPZer

    The TEN POINTS for New Paltz to consider.
    These are not ‘opinion based’ these are grounded in actual, successful projects
    completed in the past 5-years in college/tourism-based communities of similar
    size. Here we go.

    1. Mixed-use Building on Plattekill Avenue at the current site of the public parking surface lot.
    (Generally described, this building would sit on the existing footprint, reduce run-off, increase
    downtown public parking by approximately 250 spaces. Should be developed as a public-private
    partnership; Town retains ownership and revenue from parking, retail and residential leasing goes
    to private developer. Plattekil Ave. facing structure would consist of one-level, street-facing retail
    of 2-3 leased spaces. Second story facing would be either office leased or live-work lofts for
    commercial/artist loft space. Third and fourth story street-facing would be residential leased OR
    condo-loft for purchase which generates a higher revenue through sales. The rear portion of the site
    which sits below-grade for most of it’s present slope would be dug and leveled presenting a footprint
    to support a total of 4-levels of public parking. Due to retail/residential facing Plattekill the Parking
    Garage portion is not visible to frontage and fits into local street-scape. Garage entrance shares entrance
    right-of-way that currently services the retail buildings that currently sit behind the site.)

    2. New Bus Station Downtown—Having the primary bus station downtown is critical to maintaining much of
    the walkable/pedestrian friendly access the tens of thousands of daily riders have to downtown New Paltz.
    (Moving the bus station out of downtown and creating a car access only station defeats the purpose and
    takes the economic benefits of a walkable bus station out of town. Not a good idea.) A lot of tourism $ comes
    walking off those buses and right down Main Street- let’s not kill that. I would absolutely close the current
    bus station, sell that property and move on. We should locate a new, modern facility designed to reflect our
    Hudson Valley ‘Farmhouse’ Vernacular – metal roof, covered boarding bays, street-facing entrance vs. being
    set back behind parking as the current location is. The most logical place for a new, modern, well-designed,
    landscaped facility would be on 32 in the vicinity of Zero Place or alternately on of the other abandoned/
    under-used old retail sites in that area. There is an ENORMOUS catalog of poorly designed, closed, and
    under-utilized out dated development space on 32 running from Old Kingston Road south to Mulberry Street.

    3. Bus Park and Ride at Thruway Exit. Partner with the Thruway Authority to build a 3-level Parking Deck on the
    current site of the Park and Ride. Again, this vertical solution reduces run-off, can accommodate several
    hundred additional vehicles on the exact same footprint with no new development or sprawl required. It also
    would create a weather-proof covered on and off boarding area which will only draw more users to that Bus
    Access from our suburban areas, helping to reduce some of the vehicle traffic of the Downtown bus access.

    4. Main Street Pedestrian Trail Across NY Thruway. We should partner with a developer/State to build
    pedestrian path on the North side of Main Street from Ohioville Road heading west past the Mobil, and build
    one of the simple truss pedestrian-bike shared bridge parallel to the Main Street bridge and then crosswalks
    at Putt Corners and continue the path to connect to the sidewalks at Stop & Shop Plaza. Pedestrian access in
    this part of town is dismal, and the existing sidewalk on the Thruway bridge is dangerous, not lit, and far too
    narrow for the high volume traffic. Additionally, in winter when roads are plowed people are forced to walk in
    the roadway because the sidewalks are never cleared. Dangerous. Dangerous. Brutal pedestrian environment.
    We can’t only focus our pedestrian attention toward the Walkill and the Ridge. This part of town needs a
    single focused pedestrian effort such as described above.

    5. Overall new development. New Paltz currently suffers the old way of thinking about development – meaning,
    shopping centers and single retail buildings plop surface parking in front, and have the buildings set back. In
    many future-looking towns this has changed. Meaning, the commercial building is built to face the street,
    much as you would in a downtown area, and the parking is developed BEHIND the building. It ties the street
    scape together, generally slows down fast traffic, and creates a unified community vs. a car-focused

    6. New Paltz High School: Again, this is suffering from old thinking. First, remove the old gray house on the
    corner, sell it to a buyer who will repurpose it as commercial or office space then have it moved to a new site.
    Once moved, redesign the parking on this corner – it is a hot mess, ugly, and does not function.

    7. Main Street Parking – in the core, you’ve got to take away the parking on the south side of Main Street.
    Retain the parking on the north side and shift the two-way travel lanes just that little bit – it will cut slow
    downs and jams by up to 50%. Those spaces lost (which actually are only about 10, would be replaced in
    the parking structure discussed for Plattekill.

    8. Cross walks – Education – Enforcement: We have got to train people how to use the crosswalks -that is the
    other 30% of our primary traffic issue downtown. Pedestrians currently walk blindly into traffic without looking
    up from their phones or even looking to see if someone is too close to stop safely. The LAW for crosswalks is
    actually that a pedestrian has to STOP. LOOK. WAIT. THEN CROSS when it is safe and clear. We are operating
    in the direct opposite at the moment and it is causing accidents and jams.

    9. Student, Rental, and New Housing. Again, old New Paltz has a terrible housing stock with 1950s and 60s
    apartment complexes, tons of surface parking and not enough housing units. Work with owners to redevelop
    these, allow slight incremental increases in the density, build UP NOT OUT, and we can achieve new up to
    date housing, more revenue, better aesthetic, and lower rents.

    10. Merge Town and Village, eliminate ALL duplicate services, CONSOLIDATE and we save $$$$$$ tons.

    For a supposedly ‘progressive’ ‘smart’ community – we fail every time with the same old thinking, territorial bickering, extreme views and conflict. We should operate as one community, with one governmental body, and get rid of duplicate services and staffing.

  2. EmperorIsWearingNoClothes

    This is no more than a replacement plan for Park Point; coordinated with the State, dangling a carrot of not-enough-money to transform downtown to benefit the residents, yet enough to get the college the facilities it wants. SUNY provided the planner for this application? No surprise there, although the village has a competent planner with goals aligned to much of this proposal.

    Residents should read the information on this grant program and educate themselves on the following: “Smart Growth” and “Smart Cities.” This plan further urbanizes the village and will lead to the loss of the character of the village. This is not the only, nor the preferable, alternative to no development.

    The inanity of a plan that adds more people and more congestion into an already underserviced village should be prohibited, but this is New York State, where State agenda trumps the lives of its residents every time.

    Do you want to see New Paltz become a “high-rise canyon” with even more cars in it, for the HOPE of attracting jobs that may never materialize? Once these changes take place, you will be required to subsidize them–whether they succeed or not.

    This isn’t a plan for a community: it’s a political and social agenda packaged by the State as one.

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