The Beginnings of Spending $10 Million

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Hudson residents hash over ideas for a $10 million state grant at a community forum Oct. 26.

Hudson received a $10 million grant from New York in August, one of ten cities in the state to receive funds to revitalize their downtowns and spur economic development. But now comes the complicated part — deciding exactly how this chunk of change will be spent.

The grant is not a blank check. Projects must follow criteria set up by the state and can’t be used for certain things like staff costs, training and program expenses. To receive the grant, Hudson submitted a 57-page proposal to the state in June outlining potential projects fulfilling the state’s goals of leveraging private investment, stimulating the local economy and being “shovel-ready” by Spring 2018.

However, the proposal and its 17 suggested projects are only the starting point, and now the city government, Hudson residents and the state have about five months to cobble together a plan.

The Downtown Revitalization Initiative was first launched by the state in 2016. It awarded about $10 million each to ten different cities in the state, one from each region. Hudson submitted a proposal for the Capital Region grant, but was bested by Glens Falls, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

Not to be wiped out by a single fight, Hudson submitted a proposal for the second round of grants this year. The proposal for the $10 million was written in two months and submitted on June 14, 2017.

The city, led by Hudson Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton, held a series of meetings to identify projects for the proposal, Hamilton said.

“The projects in the [grant] application were developed basically through stakeholder meetings,” she said. “We did a series of community and stakeholder meetings in the four-and-a-half weeks — I believe it was a total of eight meetings —  and from those meetings we developed the priority projects list.”

The Initial Projects

Much of the money in the proposal would be spent assisting private companies to build in Hudson, which the proposal said will stimulate the local economy and produce new jobs. The projects were split into two sections in the city’s grant application: priority projects and secondary projects. The primary projects are as follows:

Basilica Hudson Phase 2 (South Front Street)-

This 19th-century factory, which re-opened in 2010 as an arts and events space, gets $250,000 under the proposal, adding to $1.5 million in private investment. The funds would “continue renovation of the structure to improve the interior and exterior infrastructure for year-round use, as well as incorporating accessibility,” according to the grant proposal.

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The Basilica

Digifab Expansion and Façade Improvements at The Warehouse (South Front Street)-

DigiFab, which employs 60 people manufacturing custom architectural interiors and other items, would get $250,000 to help expand its operation in the Warehouse, a giant former furniture factory that houses 48 business. The expansion would “conservatively” add 6 new full-time positions and 1 part-time position, according to the grant proposal.

Demolition of KAZ Building and Project Beginnings (Cross Street)-

The former warehouse would be demolished and proposals for a mixed-use building would be sought under this plan, which requests $675,000 of the grant. The proposal imagines the site eventually featuring a building housing a public transportation hub and housing for Columbia-Greene Community College students, and proposes a list of other concepts, including a “trades and apprenticeship hub” connected to the college, a maker space, a state workforce assistance office, and an “urban-scaled” grocery store, according to the grant proposal, though the grant does not include funding for these initiatives, which the city hopes would be eventually funded by other private and public investment.

Pedestrian and Vehicular Traffic Improvements

A list of proposals connecting different parts of the waterfront and connecting the district to other parts of the city requests $2.8 million under the proposal. The connectivity would create “a unified streetscape with consistent, ADA-accessible curbing, sidewalks, lighting, and bike paths (that) will establish a strong and unifying identity in the [southern waterfront] — one that can be readily felt by Hudsonsites and visitors alike,” according to the proposal. The money would also be used for a solar-powered short bus for public transportation.

Wick Hotel (Cross Street) –

This boutique hotel, currently in its construction phase, would get $250,000 under the proposal. The money would aid the rehabilitation of the structure, as well as constructing a staircase connecting the hotel to Warren Street and the Amtrak Station, according to the grant proposal. The 55-room hotel would “use local vendors whenever possible, adding further job growth with the hotel’s opening, as well as creating a ripple effect in the local economy,” according to the proposal.

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The Wick Hotel

Workforce Development Hub

The proposal doesn’t give much detail on this item, but $250,000 is suggested for its development,

Dunn Warehouse (South Front Street)-

This vacant brick structure, located a short stroll from the Amtrak Station, would receive $2.8 million under the proposal, seeking to stabilize the structure and allowing the city to request proposals from private companies wanting to develop the site.

Pubic Pier

The pier, to be located off Henry Hudson Park, would be used by personal craft, fishers and pedestrians. The $1.2 million requested would also be used to make improvements to the park.

River House Phase 2 (Allen Street)-

The shuttered schoolhouse is already being renovated into a “studio and workspace for creative professionals,” and will eventually house 114 of them, most of whom will work in the film and media industry, according to the grant proposal. The proposal sets aside $250,000 to match the $1.3 million already privately invested, seeking to help make Hudson a regional center for the film industry.

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The River House

The secondary projects in the proposal include asbestos removal and structural remediation for the Furgary shacks, city-wide WiFi, and a community food hub at the KAZ warehouse site.

All the projects are in the “BRIDGE district” (an acronym for Build, Renew, Invent, Develop, Grow, Empower), a district fabricated for the purposes of the proposal, which essentially includes the area from Second Street down to the Hudson River.

Hudson was originally considering non-contiguous zones for the BRIDGE district, but Mayor Hamilton said having one unified district for all the investments was more appealing to the state.

“There’s a lot of interest from the state right now on waterfront development, and it made more sense considering that part of the First Ward, and the Second Ward, have each not progressed at the same pace as the rest of Hudson, and this really gives us a chance to do some catching up and some really innovative things,” she said.

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The Bridge District Courtesy City of Hudson

The Committee

Hudson’s proposal was accepted on Aug. 1, according to the Governor’s Office. It was then up to the city to select a Local Planning Committee made up of community members to guide the project, gather the opinions of Hudsonites, and come up with a final list of projects.

The committee has 23 members, including business owners, leaders of non-profits and community organizers. No elected officials sit on the committee, though several advise the board. The committee was selected by Mayor Hamilton.

The committee met Oct. 19 with representatives from the state and Stantec Consulting Services — a private development company contracted by the state to lead to project.

Stantec Associate Steve Kearney told the committee at the meeting they would be representing the city during the process, according to video of the meeting.

“You’ll be the ones bringing it to the community,” he said.

Kearney emphasized at the meeting the grant should be used to attract additional private and public funding for projects, and a major part of the grant was job creation. He also talked about the flexibility of the potential projects at this point in the process.

“This planning process will fully determine what the priority projects are,” he said.

“This is flexible,” he said of the city’s initial proposal. “This can completely change.”

The flexibility goes all the way to the city’s zoning, which could be altered “to create more developmental opportunities,” Kearney said.

Michelle Hughes, director of investments and partnerships at the Young Farmer’s Coalition and a member of the Local Planning Committee, said she wanted the final list of projects to benefit everyone in Hudson, adding she wanted to hear more from the community before she voiced her opinion on what projects she would prefer.

“A lot of resources are coming in (to Hudson), but I see that there are a lot of people in the community who are feeling forgotten about and left behind and not included, people whose families lived here for generations, and I don’t think that’s fair,” she said.

“We have to be very careful to not forget about the people who — people who have historically been marginalized,” she added.

Hughes was concerned the timeline for coming up with a final list of projects was rushed, and wanted the money to be spent in both the southern and northern parts of the BRIDGE district — the First and Second Wards, she said.

The projects in the city’s proposal are clustered in the First Ward.

Elena Mosley, the director of Operation UNITE and a Local Planning Committee member, said her priorities for the grant were projects concerning food accessibility and job creation.

Hudson has one grocery store — the boutique specialty shop Olde Hudson, outside the means of many Hudson residents, 25 percent of whom live below the poverty line, according to census figures. The closest reasonably priced grocery store, Shop Rite, is a four-and-a-half-mile round trip from Hudson’s lower-income areas, forcing people to either pay for a cab or shop at bodegas due to a lack of public transportation in the city.

On jobs, Mosley was concerned the positions created would not benefit Hudson residents.

“There are several [proposed projects] that have the job creation component that would bring people in from outside, because they have the skill set either to do construction or [have another] area of expertise — how does it trickle down into local employment?” she asked.

Second Ward Supervisor Sarah Sterling, who is not part of the committee but has a vested interest as the county representative of half of the BRIDGE district, said she was not yet ready to say what projects she would prefer.

“I think right now it’s a building process for all of the proposed projects, and some of them aren’t going to work and some are, so I think we’re just right in the middle of the process right now, right at the beginning,” she said.

The Public Meets the Grant

On Thursday, Oct. 26, the Local Planning Committee and representatives from the state and Stantec held the first of at least three community forums to glean ideas from the public. About 100 people attended the forum at John L. Edwards Primary school.

The community members sat at lunch tables with large maps of the city in front of them, placards with data from the district rimming the room. After a description of the grant process and the laying out of a timeline by Steve Kearny of Stantec, the tables split off to discuss what they wanted the money to be used for.

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Steve Kearney (center) of Stantec Consulting Services speaks to Hudson residents during a public forum Oct. 26.

The public’s focus came off as drastically different than the city’s initial proposals. The number one priority was clearly affordable housing, which is only briefly mentioned in the city’s proposal as an option down the road after the KAZ Building is demolished and a new structure is built.

The public also focused on food access — ideas included a year-round farmer’s market at the Dunn Warehouse and a community food hub at the KAZ Building — as well as supporting the city’s concept of creating a public pier.

The public also suggested expanding the BRIDGE District east to Third Street — a possibility at this stage in the process, Kearney said — and focusing more on the Second Ward on the northern end of the district, though the two alderpeople representing the Second Ward were not present at the meeting.

Affordable housing was “the big theme” in the suggestions, Kearney said.

However, getting grant money for affordable housing might not be possible.

“Anything that [the grant money] gets used for has to fall under economic development, so there isn’t any — it isn’t open to discussion to talk about public housing,” committee member Elena Mosley said.

Mayor Hamilton said there were “misconceptions” about what the grant money could be used for.

“I think that there’s misconceptions that we can say, ‘we’re going to take 5 million dollars or $8 million and build an affordable housing project. That we can’t do, that’s not what the money is intended to do,” she said.

However, the money could be used to lay the basis for future housing, Hamilton said.

“If a developer stepped up and said, ‘I’m looking at doing a mixed-use development that incorporates retail space or commercial space and multi-level housing, or affordable housing, or however they wanted to structure it, we could help support that through our [grant] process,” she said.

For instance, the KAZ Building could be demolished (one of the proposals under the city’s grant application) and tax credits or other incentives could be offered to a developer to include lower-cost housing in the new structure, Hamilton said.

Another possibility for achieving affordable housing, Hamilton said, would be to set aside some of the grant money for a revolving loan program or a grant managed by the city to be offered to developers promising to build low-cost housing, she said. However, these programs were not suggested in the city’s proposal.

Peter Jung, the proprietor of Peter Jung Fine Art and a committee member, said he was enthused and reassured by the community forum.

“I have been feeling since the beginning of this that the pressures on…it’s way too urgent, and way too rushed, and the agenda is being pushed by Albany,” he said. I have to say, however, we got a lot done tonight.

“I’m also happy that almost everyone spoke…of keeping [the grant money] in the public realm,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of dumping money into existing businesses — corporate welfare is not my favorite topic and, so, as much as I want to be helpful to businesses, I’m not keen to see money injected directly into a business,” he said, contrasting the community’s suggestions with the city’s proposal.

It would also be a drain to devote the money to private projects, since the city’s Hudson Development Corporation would have to constantly monitor their development, Jung said.

The best thing Jung said he ever heard about economic development was voiced by a former Beacon Mayor during a seminar he attended at the Hudson Opera House.

“She said, ‘If you want economic development in your community, make it a nice place to live,’” Jung said. “So, forget about all these tax abatements and corporate welfare deals and sweetheart financial arrangements, just make your community so attractive that everyone, including businesses, would want to be there.”

Notices of future community meetings can be seen here.

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