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.
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.
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.”