Kingston is becoming a hothouse for the interplay of past and future. How does a small city justifiably proud of its long and illustrious history negotiate its route to a prosperous future? How should it evolve?
It’s not easy. Every community in Ulster County seems to have its own pathway in regard to change, and each seems intent to march there to a different drummer.
Agreement on a $658,375 contract was reached last week on an arrangement to stabilize the remnants of the venerable Louw-Bogardus House on Frog Alley on lower Green Street. The historic structure, built 1665-1669, is on the boundary of the Stockade area of uptown Kingston. It has been described in an archeological assessment as “a rare survivor of the earliest period of construction within the district.”
This stabilization project will be a collaborative partnership between two non-profit organizations: Friends of Historic Kingston (FOHK), the historic preservation organization established in 1965, and Rupco (formerly Rural Ulster Preservation Company), the regional affordable housing and community development agency currently celebrating its 37th year. FOHK, which held its annual meeting last Saturday afternoon at the Old Dutch Church, will open the stabilized ruins on the site after interpretive signage, paving, lighting and park amenities are added.
Pursuant to a memorandum of understanding between the two agencies, the contract will be funded from three sources. The biggest piece by far, $472,500, will come from Kingston’s $10-million Downtown Revitalization Initiative award from the state two years ago.
FOHK will provide $100,000 of its funds for the Frog Alley project. The memorandum of understanding between the agencies indicates that Rupco is contributing in-kind services valued at $85,875. Rupco’s services include assisting FOHK with the design and construction phase of the project and being the fiscal agent for it.
Rupco CEO Kevin O’Connor said last week he expected construction on Frog Alley to be completed by late October. According to Rupco vice-president of community development Guy Kempe, the cyclone fence that has protected the decaying structure from the public (like a tame animal in a zoo) can then be removed.
“The goal is to arrest any further decay of the site and create a stable structure suitable for visitation by the public,” Rupco explained in a recent press release. “The intent is to use stabilization techniques that are minimally visible so as to create the least interference with the visitor’s ability to see the surviving structure and visualize the earlier more complete state of the building during its useful lifetime.”
Five other projects have been earmarked for state DRI funds: $3.8 million for public amenities within The Kingstonian, the much-discussed $52-million mixed-use development proposed for the Stockade area; $2.5 million for a substantial upgrade to Dietz Stadium; $1.34 million for traffic circulation improvements of various kinds in or near the Stockade district; $987,000 for a reconfiguration of Schwenk Drive immediately north of the Stockade; and $600,000 in a targeted small grant and loan program for the neighborhood.
It’s a compact neighborhood. Frog Alley is on one end of a long city block. The proposed Kingstonian is on the other end of the same block.
There was a loud buzz in the room prior to the start of the Kingston Business Alliance luncheon meeting at the Kirkland Hotel last Wednesday, April 23. This particular group of people had things to say to each other. Almost 50 members and guests had gathered by the time the two speakers, Julia Farr of the Kingston Land Trust and O’Connor of Rupco, made their presentations.
O’Connor, who spoke second, listed Rupco’s many accomplishments, involving substantial development projects as far north as Prattsville and as far south as Newburgh. A project in Sullivan County was now in the works. O’Connor said he had heard that the organization was the second largest payer of property taxes in Kingston after Central Hudson. Among many other things, it manages to manage 588 housing units.
The lion’s share of the organization’s projects have been and continue to be in Kingston, however. Rupco employs 60 people. Its major Kingston projects have included the Stuyvesant Hotel (where its offices are located), the Kirkland Hotel, the Lace Mill, Energy Square (under construction now), and Landmark Place (where it has just won planning board approval for 66 units at the 1874 county poorhouse site), and The Metro, a 77,000-square-foot ex-factory where construction of a million-dollar roof replacement is scheduled to begin this month.
The audience was enthusiastic about Rupco’s work. The Kingston Business Alliance is an amalgam of businesspeople from the three major neighborhoods in Kingston. It meets every other month on the third Wednesdays, alternating between breakfast and luncheon meetings. At this time, it has no staff and no membership dues.
O’Connor barely mentioned Rupco’s role as partner with FOHK in the Frog Alley project. His agency’s role seemed analogous to what something one neighbor in a small community does with and for another. But of course Rupco’s participation has played a constructive major part in moving the project forward expeditiously.
Financially, Rupco is by far the larger non-profit, with a three-million-dollar annual payroll in comparison to FOHK’s single employee, Jane Kellar, and a $50,000 payroll. Rupco’s 2017 federal tax return showed $16.8 million in total assets and $11.4 million in assets minus liabilities. According to its 2017 federal tax filing, FOHK has about $800,000 in assets and earns about $150,000 in annual support.
Spring flowers have been blooming this past week on the outer perimeter of the graveyard of the Old Dutch Church in what was once the southern end of the 17th-century Stockade. For several years previously the planting had consisted only of stately red tulips. This year the tulips had been joined by a cheerful mix of yellow and cream daffodils that added a less formal air to the setting. The only row of single tulips that remained was on a path from Fair Street to the church. Near the Main Street entrance stood a small handful of grape hyacinths.
Some people were happy with the floral change. Others, not quite so much. But overall the change of landscaping seemed a gesture that was appreciated. It provided an acceptable interplay between past and present, incorporating continuity, respect and a sense of playfulness in this unique and remarkable setting.
From the quietude of the graveyard one could look past the statue dedicated in 1892 to the men of the 120th New York Volunteer Infantry over to the county office building on the opposite street corner. I found that contrast jarring. That undistinguished structure wasn’t improved by the sea of parking on the interior of the block, leaving the structures on the perimeter looking like remaining teeth in the maw of a semi-empty, mostly vehicular space. Surely the opportunity for a better and more thoughtful design solution must have been missed, and is being missed still.
Change in the Stockade, particularly change likely to be irreversible, should be seen through a careful lens. In such a setting, it seems to me important for major change to be thoughtful. Very thoughtful.