Charles Blaichman first set his sights on Kingston’s real estate market back in the late 1990s, when he bought an old meatpacking plant on Abeel Street. He hoped to turn it into a high-end hotel for a waterfront neighborhood that was just beginning to emerge from post-industrial blight and begin its transformation into a bustling tourist district.
The proposed Noah Hotel never came to fruition. The Manhattan-based developer walked away amid a slowing economy and construction costs that rivaled his downstate projects, but his faith in Kingston’s potential as a destination never wavered.
Two decades later, Blaichman is embarking on a new effort to bring high-quality accommodations to another newly hot Kingston neighborhood — the Stockade District.
“When you like a place there’s a natural tendency to think, ‘It’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,” said Blaichman in an interview last week at Ulster Publishing’s Wall Street office. “It just sometimes it takes longer than you think.”
Blaichman knows about urban revitalization and transformation. Around the same time as the Noah Hotel proposal, the former meat industry executive began his transition into a real estate developer by investing in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. At the time, the riverfront neighborhood was a gritty industrial area of massive long-vacant factory buildings where scenic cobblestone streets were slick with animal fat from the meatpacking plants during the day, and served as a busy stroll for transgender prostitutes at night.
Today, the Meatpacking District is home to high-fashion retail outlets, the Whitney Museum of American Art and some of the most valuable real estate in America. In Uptown Kingston, Blaichman is planning a smaller-scale revival, but one rooted in the same sense of a neighborhood with untapped potential.
“It used to be that when I said “Kingston,” people said, ‘Where’s that?’ Now it’s, ‘I have a cousin who just bought a house there,’” said Blaichman, who has owned a home in Woodstock since the early ’70s. “It’s not an explosion, but it is a movement.”
To capitalize on that movement, Blaichman has hatched a plan to convert four historic buildings in the heart of the Stockade District into a network of boutique hotels. The headquarters for the venture is a former bank building at corner of Wall and John streets which will feature a lobby, café and central check-in desk. Three satellite locations — 41 Pearl, 270 Fair and 24 John — will round out the operation. All told, the mini-hotels will have a total of 43 rooms aimed at the upper middle end of the market going for $250-$300 per night.
The draw, he said, will be a more unique experience than what’s available in the large chain hotels that are the mainstay of Kingston’s hospitality industry. The boutique hotels, he said, will give guests a chance to stay in restored historic buildings that each have their own unique qualities.
“I think that there are enough people coming to the city who appreciate history and a different kind of building with a different flavor,” said Blaichman of the hotel project.
Blaichman has also moved into commercial real estate in Kingston in recent years. In addition to the planned hotel sites, there’s the former Bank of America building on the corner of Broadway and Henry Street, which he bought from the Kingston Local Development Corporation in 2016 and converted into office space. Blaichman also recently purchased the Kingston Opera House, a sprawling office space in a historic building on Fair Street and another historic building on the corner of Main and Fair streets. Blaichman was one of two takers on a “Request for Proposals” to redevelop a municipal parking lot on Schwenk Drive into a mixed-use building, but was not chosen by the city.
Blaichman, whose plans for the Schwenk Drive site included retail and condos as well as public parking, said that he was unfazed by the awarding of development rights to a new team who plan to build a hotel on the parcel. The area, he said had plenty of capacity to accommodate his boutique vision and whatever might rise from the parking lot. Blaichman also addressed his plans to seek a Payment in lieu of taxes (Pilot) deal through the county’s Industrial Development Agency for the hotel project. If approved, the Pilot would allow Blaichman and his partners to not pay $632,305 worth of taxes on improvements to the four properties over the next 10 years. The company would still have to pay an estimated $1.12 million in property taxes over the decade that the Pilot is in effect.
Blaichman said he believed any loss to the city and school district in tax revenue would be offset by the addition of an estimated 40 full-time jobs and 25,000 annual visitors to the neighborhood
“What’s going to come in from tourism and jobs is way more than the taxes,” said Blaichman. “But it helps me to create a better product.”