For over a month, a chain-link fence, scaffolding, dumpster and portable toilet have formed a barricade in front of 43-45 North Front Street in Kingston. Workers have been rebuilding a section of the wooden colonnade in Uptown Kingston known as the Pike Plan.
Despite a $1.8-million reconstruction less than a decade ago, the canopied structure, which covers two blocks of sidewalk on North Front and Wall streets, has deteriorated, posing a difficult dilemma for city officials. Should the Pike Plan, which was constructed in the mid-1970s as a way to revitalize Kingston’s moribund shopping district, be preserved, necessitating more repairs and on-going maintenance, or should it be taken down? Both options carry significant costs.
The latest figures — still being firmed up by the city engineer — say that keeping the Pike Plan would entail approximately $500,000 in deferred maintenance and an estimated $105,000 a year for maintenance. Demolishing the Pike Plan and doing repairs to the building facades to ensure they are structurally sound and watertight would cost $1 million. In the latter scenario, Don Tallerman, alderman of Ward 5, who provided the figures, said that building owners would be responsible for any further work to make the façades aesthetically appealing.
Before the Common Council makes a decision on either option, Tallerman suggested two surveys. One would ask the general public whether they would support keeping the Pike Plan and pay more in taxes to fund the annual maintenance. The other would query the building owners and their retail tenants whose daily lives and livelihoods are most affected by the structure.
Love it or hate it
Last year, the city conducted a survey that indicated many Kingstonians like the Pike Plan: 77 percent of the 628 respondents wanted to keep it. However, they weren’t asked whether they were willing to pay for the annual maintenance, Tallerman said. Of the 44 business and building owners who received the survey, 14 of the 19 who replied wanted it torn down.
Among the benefits cited by supporters are shelter from the rain and snow, precluding the need for building owners to shovel the sidewalk, and what supporters claim is the unique charm of the Victorian-style colonnade, which hosts whimsical decorative details and columns of varying styles.
Many of the building owners and retailers want the Pike Plan torn down. They claim it diminishes the visibility of their businesses, discourages shoppers, and is a continuing maintenance nightmare.
“Businesses either love it or hate it,” said Douglas Koop, alderman for Ward 2, which includes North Front and Wall streets.
Maria Philippis, owner of the brick building at 43-45 North Front Street, one of whose three storefronts is occupied by her restaurant, Boitson’s, has been lobbying the city to tear the colonnade down for several years. The section in front of her building was badly deteriorated. “Literally chunks of wood were falling,” she recalled. “It was an eyesore and dangerous. I wrote letters to and called the mayor and alderman, but nothing was done.”
After Kingston received a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant from the state, she hung a barrier over her portion of canopy that read “Hey Kingston, Congrats on the $10,000,000 grant; Now Can You Fix This Thing or Tear It down.”
The costs of choices
After a car hit one of the columns in front of her building, the city took action. “Sufficient deficiencies such as deficient timber member sizing, uplift connectors and lack of proper footings,” city engineer John Schultheis described the damage in an email.
The city government decided to remove and replace the section rather than make repairs. The Common Council, which ultimately approves the money spent on the Pike Plan, authorized $165,000 for the replacement, and the city signed a contract with Friedlander Construction for a bid of $148,000, according to Schultheis.
The money was paid out of the $315,000 settlement the city received from the engineering firm that worked on the 2011-13 reconstruction, after the city sued that firm in 2015, due to many problems with the new colonnade. (Although the design was also blamed for the leaking skylights and rotted soffits and fascias, the city’s suit against the architectural firm on the project was thrown out because the statue of limitations had expired. Its suit against the construction firm was also dismissed.)
After the entire section of damaged canopy was removed, Philippis admired the exposed façade of her building so much she asked the city if it could halt the construction and not build the replacement colonnade. Alderman Koop met with mayor Steve Noble and Schultheis to discuss that option. The Common Council’s Finance and Audit Committee, which Koop chairs, on May 12 voted in favor of suspending the planned construction of the replacement section.
However, after learning from the city engineer that the cost of suspending the work could be $50,000 for a two-week suspension to $90,000 for a ten-week suspension, in addition to the $148,000 the city was obligated to pay Friedlander Construction, according to Schultheis, the committee voted in favor of continuing the work.
Schultheis wrote in an email that the city had also determined that not replacing the canopy section in front of 43-45 North Front would require the demolition of 140 feet of canopy on North Front, from numbers 31 to 41 “to avoid creating an unsightly gap in the canopy.” The cost of not building the replacement colonnade was $345,000, which seems like a very high number for demolition; asked about this, Schultheis responded, “It is possible that this figure was an estimate [for] the cost of re-building that 140-ft section following complete demolition if the Council had opted for that direction and then later decided to re-build the canopy from 41-31 instead of leaving it unreconstructed.”
Philippis, who claims the contractor has hardly showed up in the past couple of weeks — the contract requires the job to be completed by July 3, according to Schultheis — is anxious to have the work done so she can open up a grocery store in the storefront.
“I want people to be able to access it,” she said, adding that she feels like she’s “being held hostage” as long as the windows are boarded up and the scaffolding and chain link fence covering the entrance. Despite the pandemic and the construction, both Boitson’s and her tenant Kingston Bread & Bar have been open, doing curbside pick-up.
Making it beautiful
Walking down North Front and Wall, one notices many areas of deterioration in the Pike Plan. The twin arched decorative panels bordering the roof over Market Basket on Wall Street look like they’ve been nibbled by rats, and problems with drainage have rotted out sections of the canopy ceiling, soffits and columns.
Everyone agrees action is needed. “I would hope the mayor would include a request for funding at some level to deal with the Pike Plan, including fixing certain portions of it and annual maintenance and repair,” Koop said. “Then we [the Finance and Audit Committee] can discuss it and possibly approve.”
The alderman added that his personal opinion was to deal with the issues of the Pike Plan that have immediate problems, such as over Market Basket, and come up with a budget for repair and maintenance. “It’s an ongoing cost,” said Koop, “and my committee and the Common Council and our successors have to deal with it.”
Tallerman favors new surveys before the Common Council decides which course to take. “I’m for no more kicking the can down the road,” said Tallerman. If the city decides to “suck it up and say ‘yes, we’ll maintain it’,” the city should also make it beautiful: “Let’s go to a higher level by cleaning it up, repainting it in interesting colors, and improving the lighting and adding more trash cans.”
How would the city fund either the $500,000 in deferred maintenance or $1 million tearing the Pike Plan down? Tallerman’s not sure, but he said sources of state and federal money would certainly be explored (the $1.8-million reconstruction, completed in 2013, was mostly funded with state and federal money).
If the city does decide to remove the Pike Plan, building owners could tap into $190,000 of Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant money the city has obtained to beautify the facades. It could also apply for a low-interest loan from the Kingston Local Development Corp. (“They could do [the work] by obtaining $5000 from each, paying only two percent interest on the loan,” he said.)
Either way, “we want our downtown areas to thrive, post-Covid ,” Tallerman said.