Kingston’s bid for $10 million in state money fell short following a secretive and fast-paced competition with dozens of Mid-Hudson communities orchestrated by state economic development officials. But Mayor Steve Noble said this week that the surprise scramble for state aid has helped bring new focus to efforts to revitalize Midtown Kingston.
Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Middletown would receive $10 million slated for the Mid-Hudson region under the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. The program was a “special funding opportunity” — a one-time chance for communities across the state to receive a share of a $100 million pot set aside for downtown revitalization efforts.
The application process was an unusual one for grant writers accustomed to spending months generating reams of charts and statistics to make their case. But the process laid out by Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council allowed participants just a few weeks between a May 13 deadline to indicate interest and a May 27 deadline to submit the application. The applications themselves could be no longer than eight pages, with no supporting documentation. Applicants were also forbidden to publicize or share their applications. To meet the deadline and make the best case for Midtown, Noble convened a small group of grant experts, including the city’s chief grant writer, Kristen Wilson, Rondout Consulting principal Tim Weidemann, Rupco community development specialist Guy Thomas Kempe and a larger group of about 35 community stakeholders who presented ideas at a City Hall meeting.
“It was a very unusual process,” said Kempe. “There were just a few questions on the application and the narrative responses needed to be very tight and very on-point.”
A document laying out criteria for the grant emphasizes compact, walkable urban neighborhoods with enough developable property to accommodate revitalization efforts and an existing vision for revitalization. The criteria also lists mixed-use and mixed-income development, environmentally friendly building, job creation and a diverse job market as goals.
The city’s application described revitalization efforts in a 0.75-square mile section of Midtown Kingston that is home to City Hall, the Ulster Performing Arts Center and a growing arts district, as well as some of the city’s poorest census tracts. The document pointed to emerging media, technology, arts and food sectors in Midtown as an example of economic development that could have been nurtured with the state money. The application also highlighted efforts to make the neighborhood more attractive with the development of a walking and biking trail through Midtown and bike lanes along Broadway. The application estimates that there has been some $259 million of recent or pending public in private investment in the revitalization zone. The bulk of the investment cited comes from Kingston High school’s proposed $137.5 million reconstruction plan and $88 million in state funds slated to redevelop the former Kingston Hospital into a “medical village.”
The application also raised the issue of gentrification by pointing out that one of the city’s goals is to revitalize the neighborhood without pricing out current residents. In a section titled “Our Vision,” city officials make the case that the infusion of money would allow the city to maintain a measure of control over the process and buffer residents from the accompanying rising rents.
“The [Downtown Revitalization Initiative] planning process will assist the city to be in the driver’s seat for an equitable and sustainable revitalization that might otherwise be simply driven by market forces resulting in gentrification,” the application reads.
Noble said this week he was disappointed by the city’s failure to get the grant. But, he said, he was proud of the team that put the application together, noting that Kingston was one of just three top applicants invited (on 72 hours notice) to make a short presentation to the regional council. Noble said he hoped the face-to-face meeting with the state officials and opportunity to familiarize them with Kingston’s Midtown project would give the city an edge later this year when the same council weighs grant awards under the state’s Consolidated Funding Application process.
“I can’t say enough about the team responsible for putting this together,” said Noble. “Anytime you pull major players in the community together and get everyone on the same page, the community benefits.”