When governor Andrew Cuomo visited New York’s first capital on September 20 to announce that Kingston had won a regional award for ten million dollars under the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), he handed mayor Steve Noble a ceremonial check made out to the city for ten million dollars. Unfortunately, Noble couldn’t cash the check. He has more than a few hurdles to jump first.
The first working meeting to figure out what the city needs to do to get the money is scheduled for the common-council chambers in the city hall on Broadway at 6 p.m. this coming Monday, October 30. State officials and their consultants aplenty will be there. Some $130,000 of the award is earmarked for the planning phase, which has to be finished by the end of February.
“Congratulations, you did it,” said the transcript of the governor’s talk when he visited Kingston a month ago. “You earned it. It’s a smart plan. It’s your effort. It’s your community. You put your heart and soul into it and it showed. And the best days for Kingston lie ahead. I am sure of it, and this is going to be a giant step down that road. So congratulations. Use it well and I’ll be back to see how the money is invested.”
He’ll be back.
Kingston’s dense 14-page DRI application followed a state-devised template. Combining history, shopping, commerce, government, tourism and investment potential, the Stockade is the core of the 540-parcel “targeted neighborhood,” which also includes the Kingston Plaza, Deitz Stadium and residential neighborhoods. The district, the application says, “is the only area that currently supports year-round vibrant economic activity and that can provide the variety and livability features that are increasingly desired by young families, professionals and retirees.”
The Stockade and environs is a happening place. If it continues to thrive, its vitality could well spread to surrounding and nearby neighborhoods in the classic pattern of urban growth. Though the opportunities are obvious, even thoughtful development provides a mixed blessing. Problems stemming from overcrowding, stressed infrastructure and gentrification will need to be dealt with.
Crafting a vision, making a plan
As anyone familiar with how planning in New York State works, the idea of pulling together a practical, integrated neighborhood development plan within four months is, to put it politely, implausible. There are too many moving parts, too many interrelated players, too much state guidance. The mayor’s office and the city planning office say it has to be done.
There’s been a lot of significant private and public investment in a small and attractive physical environment, and there’s momentum for more. Several significant specific projects are in the pipeline. The big commercial and residential project at North Front and Fair streets, the Kingston Food Exchange on Wall Street, the likely development of the Cioni Building on Crown Street, the four-building boutique hotel plan of Hudson Valley Kingston Development, and the recent proliferation of new retail stores and restaurants throughout the Stockade come to mind. These are tentpoles that other enterprises can build around. They are evidences of success. The governor likes those.
Crafting a vision and a direction are possible within a four-month time constraint, or at least plausible. To my mind the relationship between the core Stockade, whose character and scale need to be carefully protected, and the surrounding parts of the neighborhood, which are appropriate for sustainable development, should be the central focus for the Kingston DRI project.
Some 15 generations ago, local settlers under the guidance of Peter Stuyvesant built a stockade, and the immigrants who populated it descended at the beginning of every day to the fields they tilled and ascended to their homes or perhaps a nearby pub at the end of the day
The Stockade street pattern is the same now as it was then. But practically everything else has changed. How can the area that surrounds the Stockade be intelligently changed to bridge the gap between then and now?
Hudson had its meeting
The City of Hudson, also awarded a $10-million jackpot this year, held the first meeting of its local planning committee late last week. The outside planning consultant had changed the list of priority projects listed in the application.
Hudson’s first meeting, like Kingston’s, was scheduled to last two hours. The audience listened for an hour and 45 minutes to the planning consultant and more than a half-dozen state experts. Then there were 45 minutes of public comment. “By December we will be getting pretty close to the final concept,” one official told the audience.
The Gossips of Rivertown reporter summed up her reaction by quoting Albert Einstein: “If you don’t have the time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” In the DRI process, she concluded, there probably can’t be any do-overs.
Mayor Noble’s Facebook page described Kingston’s plans for this coming Monday’s program. “The event will include a summary of the New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative, including goals and expectations of the program, an overview of Kingston’s initial proposal and potential projects in the Stockade District, and an outline of the DRI planning process,” he wrote. “Attendees will also have an opportunity to participate in small-group feedback sessions. These sessions will be interactive and will be facilitated by staff from the City of Kingston and the consulting team assigned by New York State to the city for this project including VHB, WXY, and Arch Street Communications.”
In announcing Kingston’s award last month, the governor had made it sound easy. He said he wanted bottom-up advice. He wanted true community input.
“You came up with a great downtown revitalization plan,” Cuomo told Kingston. “High marks from everyone, using the Stockade district with the history with the restaurants and cafes that are already growing. Commercial, mix-use development. Bringing residential into the downtown area. It was a brilliant, brilliant plan.”