Two Kingston projects years in the making marked significant milestones this week, taking important steps toward their larger ambitions. In doing so, they provided clues about the new directions toward which the Ulster County economy is evolving. They are harbingers of change.
On Monday, architect Scott Dutton’s 68,944-square-foot Fuller building at 45 Pine Grove Avenue hosted mayor Steve Noble’s announcement of the expansion of software company Exago. A longtime occupant of office space on the corner of Wall and John streets, Connecticut-headquartered Exago is moving its Kingston jobs to the Fuller building. It will occupy 8800 square feet on the third floor of the totally renovated former historic needle-trades and hat-making plant, formerly one of Kingston’s largest factories employing hundreds of people. Exago, which currently employs 63 people between its two locations, said it will employ 40 people in its new Kingston space and expects to add 25 more in the next two years.
On Tuesday, developer Charles Blaichman formally opened the Hotel Kinsley, Kingston’s first boutique hotel, at the former bank building at 301 Wall Street in the Stockade — directly across John Street from the space Exago will now be vacating. The hotel portion of the Kinsley will be opening in the coming weeks and is now accepting reservations. The vision behind the place is in diametric contrast to the now-numerous standard cookie-cutter chain hotels in the Kingston-Saugerties corridor, where all the guest rooms are almost identical. Blaichman said that the Kinsley room rates start at $250 per night. Later in the summer Fare & Main, a take-out and provisions market, and a wood-fired pizza restaurant called Lola’s, is expected to open opposite the county office building on Fair and Main streets.
While patiently fixing the distressed, cavernous, more-than-century-old Fuller building for the past two years, Dutton and his staff have been seeking tenants, mostly using word of mouth. Working without real-estate professional help, they have succeeded in signing up a mix of Kingston businesses, individual entrepreneurs, and people relocating from other places around the country.
All the space is now spoken for. Dutton estimates that it’ll take another half-year for the first- and third-floor spaces to be fitted out and all the tenant operations to be in place. At the Monday press conference, he said the increase in the number of creative people in midtown Kingston in the past three years “has just astounded me.”
The 49-seat restaurant on the ground floor of the Hotel Kinsley was very busy last Saturday night, though the place wasn’t formally open yet. Newly hired waitstaff hurried around the informal-looking but carefully designed space.
The restaurant entrance is on Wall Street, while the hotel guests can enter through a door around the corner on John Street. There are four guest rooms on the second floor, including a luxurious multi-room suite, and six on the third floor. The rooms have been appointed with the help of an interior designer, and each is quite distinctively appointed. Blaichman said that several Ulster County people had recently expressed interest to him in renting rooms for staycations.
For both Dutton and Blaichman, what has been accomplished to date is part of a broader scheme. Nearly a quarter of the Fuller building is common space. The renters will get to know each other. Dutton’s ambition was as much to create a work community as to rent space. As New York City-born colossus WeWork expresses it, co-working businesses are enticed “to join our brilliant community of creators.” Some co-working spaces have thrived, while others seem never to have gotten off the ground. Dutton’s feeling seems to be that his well-designed space and supportive landlord services can make a big difference at the Fuller building.
Exago co-founder and chief technical officer Stew Meyers said working with Dutton had been “more a coming together than a negotiation.” Touching an optimistic note, he said he “looked forward to running out of space and having Scott provide us another building.”
Blaichman and his longtime real-estate partners have substantial operations in New York City. For the most part, they’ve been successful in anticipating market trends, and have accumulated a substantial portfolio. Blaichman, who has owned a house in Woodstock for close to 45 years, bought the Forst meat-packing plant on Abeel Street about 20 years ago. He tried to build the Noah Hotel on it, but the financing dried up. But he never lost sight of Kingston’s potential.
In the past few years Blaichman has spent about $10 million buying and fixing nine Stockade properties, some for rent as office space and others for conversion into a decentralized boutique hotel with about 40 units of accommodations in all. The Kinsley is the first completed part his plan. What percentage occupancy did he anticipate from the boutique hotel? “As much as we can get,” he responded quickly. He added that he expected at least 65 or 70 percent.
Dutton and Blaichman both have considerable experience in the management of development. Dutton’s is more local. He came to Kingston about 20 years ago. He knows who’s reliable in the Hudson Valley construction industry and who isn’t. He’s worked with the same crew of people on different projects.
Blaichman is more familiar with the complex and highly specialized agglomerations of New York City. Many of the ex-Manhattanites in the food, design and building worlds he now works with were burnt out with city life. They wanted out. It’s one of the charms of the Hudson Valley to be the place to which many of them look to move. Some of them are Dutton’s tenants and will be guests at Blaichman’s hotel.
Taavo Somer, a partner in the restaurant at the Hotel Kinsley and a well-known restaurant designer in New York City, was one of those who found the constant driving back and forth from Ulster County and New York City grueling. In partnership with Blaichman and his colleagues, he’s now developing an upscale resort at the site of the former Rondout Country Club and golf course in Accord.
Last Wednesday the Ulster County IDA restructured its tax-exempt bonding for Inness NY, LLC by $2.9 million because the Somer team had been working on the golf course prior to receiving final IDA approval. Somer, who owns and lives in a stone house in Marbletown, accepted the need for an amended application with relatively good grace.
Zak Pelaccio, who several years ago decamped from New York City to Hudson, had similar experiences. Pelaccio, a well-known chef who’s a consultant on the menu at the Kinsley restaurant, told a Vice food reporter a year ago that he needed a change of pace from a city life where he had found himself “stuck in that hamster wheel of working, staying out late, having to get up early, working.” His family started weekending in the Hudson Valley in 2005, and kept extending his weekends. “And then when we came up here, everything just clicked,” he told the reporter. The region, the Old Chatham resident continued, was “full of people who left the city for a more rural life, to take the pay cut and want to slow down.”
Taavo Somer and his wife Courtney have two children whose middle names are Lake and Skye.
A design and aromatherapy business called Lake & Skye has signed up for 900 square feet in the Fuller building. Courtney Somer’s a designer, an entrepreneur, a student of alternative healing and wellness, a writer, and a seller of aromatherapy products.
The search for greener pastures has been a part of New York City life for at least two centuries. It has taken on different forms depending on social, economic and technological linkages. In the 1960s and 1970s, many of these refugees were willing to be local shopkeepers or long-distance commuters. Their contemporary counterparts see their knowledge and contacts providing them the hope of a more moneyed future. They’re more likely to expect to make a living through the Internet or to retain consulting gigs in the Big Apple.
Some of them will succeed. Others won’t.
Almost a quarter of the 68,944 square feet of total space in the Fuller building at 45 Pine Grove Avenue in Midtown Kingston is devoted to common areas. Here’s a list of the tenants and the amount of space they occupy.
- River Radiology, 25,327 square feet
- Bethany Obrecht, I Found My Animal, 3585 square feet
- Rebecca Miller Ffrench, Upstate Table, 1531 square feet
- Andrew Moore, photographer, 2500 square feet
- Eleven Six Storage (studio space), 900 square feet.
- Francis P. Flynn, CPA, 2631 square feet
- Eleven Six Storage (storage space), 700 square feet
- Courtney Somer, Lake & Sky, 900 square feet
- Kat Hammill, River Mint Finery, 521 square feet
- Nora Machione-Weiss, Pilates of Kingston, 933 square feet
- William van Roden, 726 square feet
- Jason O’Malley of The Rural Modernist shares space with van Roden but has a separate entrance
- Sari Botton, Kingston Writers’ Workshop, 269 square feet.
- Exago, software analytics and development, 8801 sqare feet
- Sean Dimin, Sea to Table, 690 square feet
- Amara Projansky, Luminary Publishing, 1942 square feet.