On a frigid Martin Luther King Day this week, Durrell Harris is behind the counter at Caribbean Taste deli on Franklin Street. A steady trickle of customers, bundled against the chill, come in for drinks, snacks, smokes and other sundries. Harris’ uncle owns the deli; Harris has worked there and called an upstairs apartment home for more than a decade. “This is a quiet street, we don’t have too many problems here,” says the Bronx native. “We did back in the day, like five years ago, but now it’s quiet.”
Lorraine Burke agrees with his assessment of Franklin Street as a quiet and safe street in an increasingly quiet and safe city. She mentions a large trash pile in front of one neighborhood building, but assures Harris that a city employee has already been out to photograph the mess and she anticipates it will be removed before too long. Despite some improvement in recent years, Burke, who has lived on Franklin Street for 20 years, laments what she sees as a lack of good jobs for locals who have to travel outside city limits for a decent paycheck, and a lack of thriving black-owned businesses.
“There’s no jobs, no opportunities right here in Kingston,” said Burke. “People have to go out to find that.”
Franklin Street runs between Broadway and Wall Street along the northern edge of a Midtown neighborhood where city officials and residents alike have long struggled to overcome issues of crime, blight and poverty. The street is also home to community resources like the Everette Hodge Community Center and the Kingston Library, as well as small businesses like Caribbean Taste. It’s the kind of street, residents say, where people know each other’s names and look out for elderly neighbors.
“This block is really good with the older folks,” says Harris.
Franklin Street is also set to become the first in what Mayor Steve Noble hopes will be an ongoing and successful series of neighborhood revitalization efforts. The Franklin Street plan envisioned by Noble would pull together public and private investment, previously planned improvements and newly conceived ones to create a more attractive, more stable and more user-friendly street. The proposal calls for replacing more than a mile of sidewalk on the street, a major exterior improvement project at Kingston Library, a new kitchen, bathrooms and other improvements at the Hodge center and new street trees. Noble added that the project was still in development and he was still looking for new ideas and new partners, like churches and the newly launched Radio Kingston — which is currently headquartered nearby — to assist in the effort.
“People want a walkable neighborhood with services, good quality housing and jobs,” said Noble. “We want to bring in partners on the block who can use their skills and assets to help improve the neighborhood.”
Fixing up vacant homes
Cities routinely replace sidewalks and plant new trees, but the proposed Franklin Street plan also calls for a focus on developing owner-occupied housing in a neighborhood dominated by former single-family homes that over the years have been converted into multi-unit rentals. Noble’s plan would use $199,000 from a “Restore New York” grant to renovate three vacant houses held by the city for back taxes. Once rehabbed, the homes would be sold at below market rates to first-time home buyers. Noble said he had begun talks with Ulster Savings Bank about a partnership to help connect potential homebuyers with financing and incentive programs to help get them into the rehabbed properties. Housing nonprofit Rupco, meanwhile, would contribute by running its financial literacy and first-time homebuyer programs from the Hodge center.
“We can use the Hodge center to do outreach and introduce the program,” said Noble. “Then you can literally walk down the street to see your potential new home.”
Financing for the Franklin Street project will come from a variety of sources. In addition to the Restore New York Grant, another $750,000 in state funding will provide matching funds for the sidewalk replacement. (The city will need to come up with $750,000 of its own money for the project). The library improvements, which include a new, more welcoming entryway and exterior upgrades, will be funded by $20,000 from the city’s annual Community Development Block Grant awarded through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency with additional funding from the library’s own capital fund. CDBG funds will also pay for the Hodge center improvements.
Noble said that he was hopeful that Ulster Savings and bank and Rupco could provide additional resources for the housing plan. “This is really just a lot of things that have been in the pipeline gelling,” said Noble. “And us trying to capitalize on that.”
Alderwoman Rita Worthington (D-Ward 4), who represents Franklin Street and the surrounding neighborhood, called the proposal “an aggressive plan” that represented much-needed investment in the neighborhood.
“Midtown needs revitalization, I’m hoping that it doesn’t just end on Franklin Street,” said Worthington. “We’d like to see it expand to some of the other streets in the neighborhood.”