With the return of a popular food festival and a pair of sold-out Bob Dylan concerts, it’s shaping up to be a busy summer at the former Hutton Brickyard. But questions remain — about the future of the site and how its emergence as a large-scale event venue will impact quality of life in the residential neighborhoods that surround it.
The Hutton brickyard was a mainstay of Kingston’s economy for more than a century before shutting down in 1980. The former industrial site on the Hudson lay vacant and crumbling for decades; a plan to build nearly 400 units of condominium housing around the site fizzled and eventually crashed with the 2008 housing meltdown. Two years ago Los Angeles based developer MWest Holdings purchased the site. Last year marked the waterfront property’s debut as an event venue when it played host to the weekly Smorgasburg food festival. This summer, Smorgasburg will return along with the Dylan concerts scheduled for June 23 and 24.
The concerts, and promoter Bardavon 1869 Opera House’s hope that the site will become a regular venue for major music acts, have brought renewed focus to a forgotten corner of the city. Concerns over the new venue’s impact on the neighborhood have led some area residents to demand a clearer picture of what is — and is not — covered by a temporary special use permit issued by the city in November 2015 and extended for another year in November 2016. The city’s chief attorney has said that the special event permit allows for musical performances, even though such a use was not mentioned in the plan for operations at the site that was used by the planning board in considering whether to grant the special permit.
Among the major concerns are traffic and parking. The site is only accessible by a North Street, a two-lane road that runs through Ponckhockie and dead ends at the brickyard. Last year, the opening weekend of Smorgasburg was marred by traffic jams — an observer at last season’s opening day likened the density to what occurs at the Dutchess County Fair every August — and a lack of on-site parking. Since then, MWest has worked to create additional parking at the site and, according to Slovin, held a series of meetings with city public safety officials to address concerns about emergency access and other issues.
Bardavon, meanwhile, said its taken steps to ensure orderly access to the site, including reserved-in-advance on-site parking and designated offsite parking areas which will be served by shuttle busses to the concert site. Slovin said that the Dylan concerts would also be paired with Smorgasburg to encourage people to arrive early and linger after the show, hopefully avoid a post show crush of attendees exiting the venue on North Street.
“We’ve had meetings with public safety people and we anticipate many, many more meetings,” said Slovin of planning for the Dylan shows. “This is the first time we’ve done this and we want it to be perfect.”
Regardless of how the concert plays out, questions remain about how the venue will be used in the future. Slovin said that he was attracted to the site by its riverfront location and the Hudson Valley’s status as an increasingly popular scenic getaway for the “Instagram generation.” Slovin said that he initially envisioned the site as a destination for weddings, corporate retreats festivals like Smorgasburg and the high-style outdoor experience called “glamping.” The partnership with Bardavon and the site emergence as a concert venue, Slovin said, came later.
“In January we had no idea that we would be talking to Bob Dylan about doing a show there,” said Slovin. “That was just a matter of trying to capture the energy directed our way.”
Slovin sees that kind of a spontaneous flexibility as key to developing the Hutton brickyard project in an era of rapidly changing tastes and market conditions. But he acknowledged that it posed a challenge when it comes to complying with planning board mandates and the state’s environmental review process. Typically planners want to see long-range plans for development while state law demands detailed accounting for potential environmental impacts on everything from school taxes to endangered plant species.
“They don’t have a crystal ball, but [the State Environmental Quality Review Act] kind of requires you to have one,” said Kingston Mayor Steve Noble. “You have to present a full site plan that shows what it’s going to look like five, 10, 15 years down the line when everything is built out.”
In response to the need for detailed plans to move beyond the special use permit, MWest has produced them for the initial phase of the project, which include refurbishing two existing brick buildings and improving on-site infrastructure. The company is also working on what Slovin called a “narrative” laying out potential uses and new construction that could come later.
Slovin said his first priority was transforming the existing brickyard buildings into some type of short-stay accommodations to serve as lodging for events.
“The first thing we want to work on is the hospitality piece,” said Slovin. “Right now we’re only working with existing structures getting them stabilized and refurbished.”
Noble said the company’s plans for the site would benefit from the work done by the would-be developers of Sailor’s Cove and a larger adjacent parcel owned by the AVR group. Both developers went through lengthy and expensive environmental review processes at the height of the mid-2000’s housing boom. If their plans had come to fruition, the two developments would have comprised an entirely new neighborhood of the city with thousands of residents and new retail locations. Both projects crashed on the shoals of the housing crisis, though AVR eventually won planning board approval and retains the land. But they left behind detailed studies on traffic, environmental impacts and other issues that Noble said could help MWest guide development at the brickyard.
“They’ve got a leg up because there’s a lot of publicly available information out there,” said Noble. “Some things will have to be updated, some things have changed, but they may not have to do as much work on the SEQRA because so much has already been done there.”