A local architect chosen to take on the long-awaited effort to redevelop the former site of a city-owned parking garage in the heart of Uptown Kingston said this week that he hopes to build a destination hotel that could serve as an anchor to the neighborhood’s burgeoning tourist sector. The proposal would also include 200 public parking spots, doubling current capacity and helping to address a perennial complaint of area residents and business owners.
“Every time I looked at that site I thought, this is a really good idea,” said Andrew Wright of his concept for the parking lot at the corner of Schwenk Drive and Fair Street Extension. “It works.”
The parking lot, which sits at the base of a steep hill and is connected to North Front Street by a staircase, was once home to the three-level municipal parking garage built during the urban renewal era in the 1970s. In 2008, the badly deteriorated garage was demolished after chunks of concrete began falling off of it and engineers warned that it could be in danger of collapse.
Even before its demolition, city officials had sought to replace and redevelop the garage. The review of a proposal by the New Jersey-based Teicher Organization to build a 12-story luxury condominium tower at the site dragged on for six years before the group pulled the plug on the project amid protests from preservationists over its height and disputes with the city over consultant’s fees. Since then, the parking garage has been replaced with a grade-level lot and efforts to entice a developer to take on the site met with silence.
In August, Mayor Steve Noble took another stab at finding a developer issuing a “request for proposals” soliciting concepts for the project. Noble said that the most recent RFP differed from earlier efforts undertaken by former mayors James Sottile and Shayne Gallo in that that it allowed for more flexibility in terms of design and use.
“It was a relatively open-ended in terms of the type of project and developer we were looking for,” said Noble. “We wanted people to come to us with their ideas and their creativity instead of putting everything in the framework of a rigidly constructed RFP.”
The latest effort drew two takers, Wright and New York City-based developer Charles Blaichman. Blaichman has developed a number of properties in Manhattan and taken on projects in Kingston including a failed effort to redevelop a former meatpacking plant on the Rondout and the successful repurposing of a former bank building at the corner of Broadway and Henry streets. Most recently, Blaichman has proposed converting the Bank of New York building on the corner of Wall and John streets into a boutique hotel.
Noble said that while Blaichman brought an impressive portfolio of completed projects to the table, Wright was chosen, in part, because he had a more fully fleshed out concept for the site.
“He’s been dreaming about developing that site for years,” said Noble.
Wright said his interest in the site dated back to the mid-2000s when he was involved in a proposal to create a bus terminal and “intermodal transportation hub” encompassing the parking garage and adjoining parcels. That project never took off, but Wright said that he’s been developing concepts for the site ever since. His interest, he said, only grew with Kingston’s emergence as a hip destination for downstate vacationers and a home for young professionals who, because of technology and decentralization, are less bound to downstate offices than their predecessors.
“The collapse of the Teicher project was market-driven, the bottom line is there just wasn’t an excess of money around and people willing to risk it here,” said Wright. “The time wasn’t right. But now that’s Kingston has become Brooklyn North, I think that’s changed.”
Wright’s vision for the site includes three levels of parking, all located below the grade of North Front Street. Rising above North Front would be a ground level block of retail space and above that, a hotel catering to the city’s tourist crowd. A rooftop restaurant with views of the Catskills and a terrace level above North Front Street will add touches unlike anything currently available in the area, Wright said.
“If it’s a hotel, people can pull into a covered garage, check in to their room, walk out the door and immediately enjoy everything that’s available in Uptown Kingston,” said Wright.
Whether the hotel concept sticks will depend largely on the investors Wright will need to complete the project. Noble described Wright’s role as a “steward” of the site with wide latitude to alter concepts and uses in line with market conditions and investors’ preferences. A few hard and fast rules will guide the development, though: It must provide a significant amount of public parking (Wright said 200 of 300 parking spots in his concept will be public) and minimal public financing in the form of tax credits, grants or other funds.
Wright will also have to contend with a tight — by urban development standards — timetable imposed by the city. Terms of the deal call for Wright to submit detailed concepts and schematics within six months. He has a year to attract investors and get financing for the plan in place and 18 months to submit the entire project to the city’s planning board for site plan approval.
Noble said the deadlines were intended to avoid a repeat of the Teicher plan, which tied up the site for years only to fizzle out in the end.
“We didn’t want to lock ourselves in to a long process without an end date,” said Noble. “The idea was, ‘We’ll give you 18 months to bring this to fruition and if it doesn’t happen, we’ll go in another direction.’”