This month, the community attended the first of several meetings held to gather public input on a plan to redevelop three key City of Newburgh properties, including the historic Dutch Reformed Church on Grand Street.
“We call ourselves a double-bottom-line organization,” said Benjamin Warnke of Alembic Community Development. “We hope to make a profit and we hope to make a difference.”
Warnke addressed about 150 at Newburgh City Hall last Wednesday on a project that would see housing built on a 1.8-acre, city-owned property on Montgomery Street, the redevelopment of the former Newburgh City Club property on Grand Street and the rehabilitation of the adjacent Dutch Reformed Church.
Alembic is proposing to work alongside Urban Architectural Initiatives and Hester Street – an urban planning, design and development nonprofit – to begin work on the properties following a public-input period, expected to end in the spring.
However, a group of residents attending a public hearing for the project on Monday night expressed concern over the plans for the Montgomery Street property, slated for apartments, townhouses and first-floor retail spaces. These are expected to be a combination of market-rate, affordable and supportive housing.
This housing is expected to provide the tax revenue needed to support the redevelopment of the two other sites. But, residents told city officials they thought the hillside parcel – cleared during the notorious “Urban Renewal” period of the 1960s, boasting sweeping views of the Hudson River – was worth more to the city at market rate.
“I absolutely appreciate and understand the importance of quality housing,” said city resident Bill Fioravanti, but “not for that hillside. That hillside is our crown jewel. I think we all understand that. It’s our opportunity to bring in much-needed revenue. The city is broke.”
Fioravanti, who is also the director of business attraction at the Orange County Partnership, described the property as a not-to-be-missed opportunity for city tax revenue. “We can’t pass that by,” he said.
Rich Fracasse urged city leaders to think of the property’s potential tax revenue in terms of jobs – jobs that belong to needed fire fighters and police. “Do not do this grant yet,” he said, asking the city to put its application for a state grant to help pay for the project on hold.
Chrissy Amato described the parcel as one of the more “shovel-ready” properties in the city, echoing Fioravanti’s opinion the property could do without affordable housing. “As a city, we need to do the best that we can with that parcel,” she said.
“Our taxes have increased by 32 percent over the last six years,” said Michael Esposito, speaking of his business Orange Packaging. Esposito and other business owners were still smarting from the recent adoption of the city budget, which saw a sizeable increase in the business tax rate. Esposito implored city officials to “start bringing in tax revenue at every opportunity possible.”
Under the plan, the Dutch Reformed Church is expected to be put to community use. Designed in 1835 by Alexander Jackson Davis, the Greek Revival-style building was named a National Historic Landmark in 2001. The church was also named one of the “Seven to Save” historic sites by the state Preservation League in 2016. A large portion of the church ceiling collapsed in 2012, and the former Newburgh City Club has decayed to little more than a shell of bricks.
Partnering with the city, Alembic will conduct four to six months of public-information gathering for the project, city Planner Ali Church said. The city has so far signed no contracts with the developer, she said.
Alembic has a track record of transforming aged and blighted spaces into public venues in cities such as New Orleans and New York City. Their projects have produced commercial spaces, fresh-food markets and non-profit facilities.
The city will hold another community forum for the project from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 31. A meeting location is yet to be determined. For more information, visit the City of Newburgh website at Cityofnewburgh-ny.gov – click on “Planning and Development” under the “Departments” tab, then click on the link to “Planning Initiatives.”
By SHANTAL RILEY