Kingston officials wrestle with Pike Plan’s fate, but this time it could be the canopy’s end

(Photo by Will Dendis)

Eight years after a problem-plagued refurbishment project, city officials are giving serious consideration to tearing down the system of porticos covering sidewalks in the Uptown business district. They say removal of the canopies — called the Pike Plan after original designer John Pike — could be more cost-effective than having to keep paying to fix recurring problems with drainage, wood rot and other structural issues.

“The question is, if we’re going to have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to inspect and renovate it, what would be the cost to just take it down,” said Common Council Majority Leader Rennie Scott-Childress, who is examining the issue for the council’s Finance Committee.

The Pike Plan canopies, which cover portions of Wall and North Front streets, were built in the 1970s as the business district struggled to compete with a new generation of suburban strip malls. By the mid-2000s, the canopies were badly deteriorated. A refurbishment project was conceived in 2006 and funded with $1.8 million, the bulk made up of federal highway funds, in 2008. Following a series of delays and setbacks, the project was finally completed in November 2011. The project included replacing canopy roofs with new angled ones, installing skylights and replacing deteriorated support columns.

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Problems with the refurbishment project became apparent almost immediately. Property owners complained of water seeping into buildings through the canopies, unsightly concrete work and crumbling masonry. The city filed a lawsuit against several contractors involved in the project, alleging shoddy workmanship and eventually recouped $315,000 in a settlement.

But problems with the canopy persist. The issue of removing them altogether came up earlier this month when the Finance Committee approved design work for repairing a particularly bad section of the structure on North Front Street. The estimate for the work ran to $125,000. 

“That brought up the question, if this one section is going to cost us $125,000, what are the other 40 or so sections going to cost us,” said Mayor Steve Noble.

Support for removing the Pike Plan predates the restoration project. Indeed, during the planning and design phase, many owners of property adjacent to the canopies objected strenuously to the refurbishment. Eventually a wide majority of the 39 Pike Plan property owners signed a petition calling for the canopies to be removed rather than renovated. Many business owners complained that the canopies detracted from their storefronts and made it difficult to create an alluring environment for shoppers. Others worried about damage to their buildings and other ongoing problems related to the Pike Plan. For Pike Plan critics, the situation was made even more galling by the fact that, at the time of the renovation project, owners of canopy-adjacent buildings were charged a special assessment for their maintenance and upkeep and a $100,000 bond was issued in their name for initial design work on the renovation. The city has since dissolved the quasi-governmental Pike Plan Commission and assumed all costs related to the canopies. 

“The people who were raising these issues back then are in a position to say, ‘I told you so,” said Noble.

While the city engineer’s office works up estimates for additional repairs or removal of the canopies, Noble said he plans to start a conversation with community stakeholders about whether the city should invest in repair or removal.

“I want to be able to talk to the business owners about the Pike Plan,” said Noble. “It’s city infrastructure that is attached to their properties, so the conversation really starts with them.”

There are 5 comments

  1. It's not that hard to figure out

    If it is not corruption, it is criminally incompetent to waste 2 million dollars in a city as destitute as ours. Tear it down, and next time you do any sort of building project, make sure you have a few local carpenters helping you with the decisions. Thirty nine canopies into 1.7 million is 43k per canopy. I don’t know how anyone could be so unaware that that seemed reasonable. Not unlike our library improvement project, which is impossibly expensive no matter what extras are thrown in. This is money that people who struggle to buy winter boots for their children could use in any number of better ways.

    Maybe what Mayor Noble should consider doing is taking that paltry 125,000 and distributing it to business owners on Broadway to beautify their storefronts.

  2. Victor Murdock

    The canopies give the uptown area some character. Keep them. Get some private funding. It would be a shame to see them go.

  3. Lawrence Godfried

    I agree with Victor M. above. I don’t like the way this article is titled, as it makes one possible outcome seem like a forgone conclusion. I have always liked the Pike Plan. The superstructures are variegated (different), and create the impression that they were put up by individual building owners over time. They are not one-size fits-all type of facades that you commonly see in soulless malls. They are charming, and well-done, design-wise. They offer valuable shelter from sun, rain and snow. The Stockade seems like the most energized part of town. It was not so very long ago that 40-50% of stores in that area were vacant. It now is thriving, by comparison, in my view. Let’s try to find a way to preserve these structures. Look at the successful towns in our area. Tourists and shoppers flock to them as they generally did not destroy the older/historic buildings in their hamlets. They have walkable core districts . I think there is a certain Charm Factor at work that is difficult to quantify on any metric, but the result is a healthy commercial district with lots of quaint shops and eateries, along with basic service industries such as cobblers and computer repair. Diversity is an asset, as is the Pike Plan itself.

  4. Mary Andrews

    My view is not a popular one, I like the Pike Plan Canopy. I like being dry and shaded when strolling around uptown window shopping. When I bring friends from out of town, they have commented on how comfortable it is to shop in uptown. I also like the look. I hope a way can be found to keep them.

  5. Tracy David

    The ‘news’ on this site tends to lean one way…and this is not a one-way conversation. (I mean, come on people,
    Target is leaking! And closed for several days…it happens!!!)

    All that aside, the canopies, as a shopper, a local, a tax payer, and someone who visits the businesses in the Stockade every single day I actually like the canopies. The obvious – when it pours rain or dumps snow I can
    actually get from store to bank to restaurant to office without being soaked.

    This should be a two-way conversation where building owners, many of whom are long-overdue for exterior racade renovations just to be really, really, really clear do the correct kind of evaluation because I can guarantee you that probably half of the leak complaints aren’t due to the canopies but to the buildings themselves.

    So let’s at least let proper inspection be done…and also not let local contractors bid the heck out of this because they see this as a cash cow! We all know that happens here, too.

    As an added layer, start a Go Fund Me page today and let’s get grasss roots $ support for repairs. I’m pretty sure you can get at least 6-figures raised to do this.

    In short – can everyone stop being so negative??!?!?!? Who are you, Mitch McConnell?

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