In September, Kingston was a winner: it beat out more than two dozen other cities in the Mid-Hudson region for a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) grant, one of 10 such grants awarded in the state this year. It was the second annual round for the DRI, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in 2016. After applying for Midtown in that first round and losing, this time the City of Kingston focused on the Stockade business district in its application. Next March, the city must submit a strategic plan as to how the money will be spent. It has appointed an 18-member local planning committee representing a broad sampling of the region’s cultural, business, nonprofit, educational and environmental sectors to oversee the review process.
As part of that process, the city held a second public meeting last Tuesday evening, Dec. 19, at the Kirkland Hotel to get input from city residents and businesspeople on its various proposals. The state is particularly “eager to fund easily implemented projects that are shovel ready” within the next two years, noted Megan Weiss-Rowe, the city’s director of communications and community engagement.
Weiss-Rowe attended the meeting along with Mayor Steve Noble, several other city officials and representatives from the state-appointed planning consultancy VHB, whose staff supplied the maps, information sheets and digitally projected Power Points that were positioned around the room. Weiss-Rowe said the Stockade business district had met the state criteria for a geographically compact area that was experiencing economic revitalization with numerous opportunities to capitalize on private and public investment.
Members of the public were encouraged to review the plethora of projects, all vying for the pool of state money, that were outlined in the printed and digital materials organized around four tables before filling out a form with a checklist and space for comments on each of the proposed funding initiatives.
At Table One:
• An Uptown Stockade Transportation Plan to improve traffic circulation and bicycle, vehicular and pedestrian safety as well as access to Kingston Plaza from Wall Street by reversing some street directions, better coordinating traffic signals, completing a parking study, installing new street amenities such as plantings, benches and decorative pavement as well as improved crosswalks, on-street bicycle signage and new sidewalks, and decommissioning I-587to provide better access to Kingston Plaza from Albany Avenue and Broadway.
• Stabilizing Frog Alley’s stone ruin dating back to back to the 1600s, which is owned by Friends of Historic Kingston, including the addition of lighting, benches and other amenities, as well as interpretative signage.
• Creating a Midtown Linear Park along the abandoned rail line running from Kingston Plaza to Midtown which could consist of both a trail and rail for use by the Catskill Mountain Railroad. It would connect rail trails already under development that are referred to as the Kingston Greenline.
• New plantings and lighting, repairs to the bluestone infrastructure and better overall maintenance of Academy Green Park, for increased attendance as an event space.
At Table Two:
• Upgrading the Volunteer Fireman’s Hall and Museum.
• Contributing to the Kingstonian, the mixed-use commercial and residential development at North Front and Wall Street proposed by the Bonura Hospitality Group, which plans to invest $30-$32 million; the project includes the city-owned parking lot and involves city planning for 400 or more parking spaces.
• Implementing an intermodal transportation facility, which would be located at the Adirondack Trailways terminal and integrate bus service with a taxi waiting area and bicycle and Zipcar parking. (An analysis was completed in 2009; DRI funds could be used to upgrade the terminal and acquire adjacent properties.)
• Upgrading the Kingston Uptown Levee, a 10- to 12-foot berm and wall between the Kingston Plaza and Esopus Creek built in the 1970s, to current FEMA standards, which would better protect against flooding and most likely reduce the cost of flood insurance premiums for the plaza and other adjacent properties.
At Table 3:
• Implementing the Kingston Wayfinding Plan in the Stockade, a county-funded initiative that with additional funding would install attractive signage enabling visitors and residents to better navigate the city and create a visual identity for Kingston.
• Creating a Community Land Trust, which would enable the city, working with affordable housing partners and private foundations, to develop affordable housing and commercial buildings by acquiring vacant properties; DRI funds could also be used to create a revolving loan fund to support these efforts.
• Increased tourism marketing for Kingston, enabling the SBC to better capitalize on its proximity to the Thruway and Trailways bus terminal and serve as the historic gateway to the city.
At Table 4:
• Upgrading Dietz Stadium with new benches, water fountains, fencing, lighting and other amenities plus renovate the bathrooms and food vending facility, which with DRI funding could be completed within two years.
• Installing a public WiFi system, with access points in the Stockade business district.
After receiving the public comments, the Local Planning Committee will review each of the initiatives and do a cost benefit analysis, according to Noble. “They’ll look at how much each project costs and what are the benefits,” he said. “If a project meets three or four of the overall goals, it’ll have a higher priority. We will then work on a plan endorsed by the committee,” which he said could exceed the $10 million; yet another goal is to choose projects that would attract more funding.
To help with the review, the city and the state-assigned planners are collecting data, such as the usage numbers for Dietz Stadium. In essence, “this is developing a mini master plan, given its detail and depth,” said Noble. He noted that the city is currently managing $20 million in grant money, expected to be spent over the next few years.
Of the $10 million, $300,000 is paying for planning by the state-appointed consultancies. It includes an economic analysis by land use and economic consultant Kevin Dwarka, who is a senior fellow at Pace’s Land Use Law Center. Brenna Robinson, director of Kingston’s Office of Economic and Community Development, said she was “thrilled” to have the city receive this expertise. Kingston’s grants manager Kristen Wilson (who made introductory remarks at the meeting in Spanish) noted that Dwarka’s analysis might ultimately be grafted onto the city’s comprehensive plan, which became law in 2016—and some said is already dated, given the extensive investment in the city over the last two years.
Robinson added that beside job creation and housing availability, the goal of the funding is “to look after as many interests as we can.” Wilson noted that “one of the biggest challenges for the city is making the community a better place for everyone. Government forces don’t move as fast as the market, but we want to ensure we make improvements in an equitable manner.”
What was the reaction from the public? “I think it’s great,” said Angel Gates, a 33-year-old who played with the Hudson Valley Buccaneers semi-pro football team. “I’m fixated on Dietz Stadium. If there were more events, we could create more jobs and help the nearby businesses. Imagine if Bob Dylan had played there rather than at Smorgasburg.”
But Victory Snow, 29, who lives on Broadway across from the Anchor, said she found the displays “terribly disappointing. So many of these spaces and projects are not inclusive of the entire community.” Frog Alley, for example, is about “preserving a violent colonial history with no inclusion of slavery.” She acknowledged that preservation of such places would be valuable if the conversation was changed. “I would love to see Kingston become the Colonial Williamsburg of the Hudson Valley focusing on an inclusive history.”
Snow also objected to installing public WiFi only in the Stockade District, which she said smacked of “segregation.” She and Rachel Ritter, a 27-year-old practicing midwife, said public bus service needed to be improved. “Deaccessioning 587 is a bad idea. It would be terrible to get from the Thruway to Midtown,” said Ritter, who also suggested implementing bike rentals.
Barbara Scott, a 63-year-old resident of the Rondout district, said she likes the proposal for Frog Alley and creating a walkway to Kingston Plaza. “I would love to see Academy Green and Midtown Linear Park happen. It would be great to de-congest some of those areas, and I would bike there,” she said, noting that one reason she moved to Kingston from New York City is that “it’s bikeable.”