Uptown Kingston canopy survey results scrutinized

One of the buildings on North Front Street in the Pike Plan has a suggestion for use of state funds.

A city-sponsored survey shows broad support for maintaining the Pike Plan canopies among those who live, work and shop in Uptown Kingston. But a majority of property owners whose buildings abut the network of covered sidewalks on Wall and North Front streets want to see them removed. The survey comes as the Kingston Common Council’s finance committee weighs whether to continue repairs on the canopy or tear it down and restore the underlying building facades.

The Pike Plan, named for its designer, Woodstock artist John Pike, was built in the mid-1970s as Kingston’s Uptown business district was struggling to compete with new suburban malls and shopping plazas. Supporters hoped a system of weather-protected sidewalks would help draw shoppers back to the neighborhood. In 2011, after years of delays, the city completed a $1.8-million refurbishment project on the badly deteriorated canopies. 

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Problems became apparent almost immediately. Rotted and wood and cracked concrete, chipped curbing and drainage issues that property owners blamed for causing damage to their buildings continue to plague the canopies. The city recovered $315,000 in a settlement with the contractors who carried out the work but missed a filing deadline to sue the refurbishment plan’s designers. 

Besides the structural issues, some detractors of the canopies cite aesthetic reasons for their removal, calling them an unsightly and ill-conceived blight in a historic neighborhood. Last month, the common council finance committee took up the question of whether to continue making repairs to the most problematic sections of the canopy, or to remove the system entirely. City officials say that it will cost about $450,000 to repair the canopy in addition to ongoing maintenance and upkeep. Demolition of the structure is estimated to cost about $868,000.

(Photo by Will Dendis)

Last month, the city launched an online poll soliciting opinions on the Pike Plan from city residents, city business owners and owners of property abutting the canopies. In addition, property owners were contacted by mail with paper copies of the survey. The survey found a wide disparity of opinions between property owners adjacent to the Pike Plan and the public at large. Out of 682 people who took the survey, 77 percent favored keeping and repairing the canopies rather than removing them and restoring the underlying facades. Of the 45 property owners contacted for the survey, just 19 responded. Of those, 14 favored removing the canopies and five wanted to keep them. 

According to a city press release, those in favor of keeping the canopies cited issues like snow removal, sidewalk maintenance, protection from the elements and a sense that the Pike Plan lent a kind of unique charm to the business district. Those seeking to remove the canopies argued that their removal would provide more natural light, a more pleasing visual aspect and would eliminate ongoing structural issues. 

At a March 13 meeting of the finance committee, mayor Steve Noble presented the results of the survey. Noble said that while only a minority of Pike Plan property owners responded to the survey, he believed their views were fairly representative of the whole. “Our sense is that the owners who active businesses there responded,” Noble told the committee. “While those that are vacant or have owners from outside of Kingston generally did not respond.”

The city survey was not the only recent effort to gauge support for the Pike Plan. Travis Myers, who owns 59 North Front Street, home of Snapper Magee’s tavern, went door to door to 49 businesses adjacent to the canopies last month with a petition entitled “Friends of the Pike Plan.” Myers said that he skipped two businesses whose owners are well known opponents of the canopy and did not distinguish between those who leased commercial space in the buildings and actual owners. Of the 49 businesses under the canopy, Myers said, 25 owners signed the petition.

In some cases, Myers said, business owners were not present. In others owners expressed support for the canopies but declined to sign. In one case, family members who own a business together declined to sign because there was a difference of opinion, Myers said. Myers also obtained signatures from 124 people walking the streets on the day he carried out the petition drive.

“Not one citizen said no,” said Myers. “And just about every business owner I spoke to wants it up.” 

The finance committee has set a special meeting for April 1 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the issue and possibly take a vote in an advance of an April 2 meeting of the full council. Aldermen Doug Koop, who chairs the finance committee and represents the Stockade District, said that the survey results argued in favor of maintaining the Pike Plan. Koop said that the cost difference between repair and removal could be used to fund maintenance and upkeep on the canopies for the decade. 

Koop said that his impression was strengthened by discussions with Uptown business owners which showed strong support for keeping the canopies. “It seems to me that the momentum is moving in favor of maintaining them,” said Koop. “I don’t get the sense that a lot of council members are opposed to keeping them.” 

There are 4 comments

  1. Samuel

    Truth: When the canopies are gone those business owners will see a 25-30% decline in pedestrian traffic and sales. Just letting you know now. Once their torn down there is no turning back…and I know for a fact you won’t like the outcome.

    1. Samuel

      Fact one, US Business administration stats show that in inclement weather there is a general trend of 30-40% reduction in exposed (meaning outdoor) pedestrian traffic in commercial areas across the board. That was the rise of the indoor shopping mall that now, due to online shopping, are themselves in decline as we all know. I know you don’t want to hear facts, but here’s one example that’s documented and based on data, not opinion.

      From a recent Eater Research Study on the imapct of exposure to weather on restaurants:
      “Even for restaurants specializing in cold weather-ready comfort food, the snow presents major hard
      ships. For popular ramen spot Boke Bowl, which has two locations on opposite sides of the city, winter
      is typically its busiest season — but owner Patrick Fleming says business is down as much as 35 per
      cent compared to prior years, largely thanks to the week or so worth of snow days the restaurant has
      had to take over the last month.

      The city’s most famous chefs aren’t immune, either: Chef Naomi Pomeroy, who owns two restaurants,
      tells Eater PDX that one snow day can result in losses of $3,000 to $6,000.”

      Now, I’m more than happy to give you a report on more data, but I suspect you don’t really want to see more facts. Uptown’s advantage over any business area in the region, is that shoppers, the one’s who spend the money that allow the building owners to reap profits, out of human nature, will opt not to walk the streets of
      Uptown in bad weather to shop or dine. You can argue with me, but I’m right and your can find plenty of stats
      to back it up.

      Fact two: and the thing no one wants to own up to, once the canopies are removed, the glaring bad conditon of many of these buildings will be harshly revealed. Kingston building owners in Uptown are taking in the highest rents and making the highest real estate sales/profits in the history of Kingston. They are taking in the ca$h hand over fist and they are NOT re-investing in their properties. I can walk the street and make a list of all addresses if you need…but you can walk the streets for yourself and see them clearly. The Canopies are hiding a lot of lazy landlord conduct. If they are removed, I’d turn right around and based on the “historic” outcry that people are using as reason to remove them, would require every buidling owner to fix up their property. New Windows, new paint, repair mortar, cracks, return trim and cornices to historic quality…the cost to building owners once the canopies are gone will be more than the cost to repair them. So, go for it! If you’re going to argue historic preservation then you have to step up and put your own money where your mouth is. This isn’t a lazy fix about tearing them down and walking away.

      Lastly, the time spent to make the stupid banner in the article photo could have been used to buy some plywood, sealent and white paint and fix that section of canopy. Point being, from residential landlords to commercial landlords in Kingston, and this issue is regularly reported in the local media, scroll the Daily Freeman, their are bad landlord articles every couple of days, the desire to not spend money on their properties is what’s driving the anti-canopy movement among them, and to their horror, once those canopies are gone, we will all see just how truly bad the upkeep of their properties is, and it has nothing to do with the canopies.

      It has a lot to do with greed.
      Have at it kids.

  2. Aphrodite

    Kind of a no-brainer – the building owners strongly support removing the hideous structures that are damaging their buildings, while the people who don’t have any real skin in the game favor keeping them. The structures will deteriorate for years, requiring constant upkeep – that cost will eventually far outstrip the cost of removal and repairs. Sidewalks will be cleaner, second-hand smoke will no longer be trapped under the Pike by the smokers who refuse to comply with the unenforced City ordinance, and the architectural features of these wonderful buildings will once again be revealed.

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