The Uptown Kingston Historic Business Improvement District was formed in November by property and business owners who oppose a plan to renovate and upgrade the system of porticos which cover sidewalks on North Front and Wall streets in the heart of the city’s Stockade District. The opponents, who run businesses or own properties beneath the Pike Plan, have expressed concern that the restoration project could leave them on the hook if the work exceeds its current $1.6 million budget. Other opponents say that the porticos are unsightly, ahistoric and should be torn down entirely.
Opponents of the restoration say that more than half of the 39 property owners in the Pike Plan area have signed onto a petition calling for the funds set aside for the renovation to be used instead for new curb cuts and other streetscape improvements. The petition also calls for the city to seek a new funding package which would pay for the removal of the Pike Plan and the restoration of building facades.
The group has written letters calling attention to their opposition to the state Department of Transportation, which is vetting the project and has not yet signed off on final approval for contracts awarded to low bidders for general contracting and electrical work. On Nov. 30, the group voted to hire an attorney to seek a temporary injunction to put the project on hold while they explore issues around the design and approval process, including the legality of the Pike Plan Commission which has shepherded the project since its inception in 2004. The group has also begun fundraising efforts to mount the legal challenge and used freedom of information laws to obtain documents pertaining to the development of the restoration plan.
Robert Tonner, owner of the Tonner Doll Co., which maintains a headquarters on Wall Street in the old Bank of New York building, is helping coordinate the Pike Plan dissenters’ meetings. Tonner said that opinion among stakeholders was moving against the restoration plan.
“The more (stakeholders) think about it, the more they’re coming over to the other side,” said Tonner. “They’re attitude is, ‘It’s not historic, tear it down. It’s an ongoing financial burden.”
Cheaper to fix it
But Kevin Quilty, President of the Kingston Uptown Business Association said that the Pike Plan was a benefit to all of the Uptown, and the city as a whole and any effort to derail a long, trying effort to restore the decaying porticos was misguided.
Quilty said that he understood the concerns of property owners who, like Tonner, bought Pike Plan buildings in the last few years and thus, had no chance to weigh in on the project. But, he said, with no money available to remove the porticos, halting the renovation would end in a worst-case scenario with the canopy continuing to decay for years to come.
“We’re not trying to cut them off at the pass, we’re just asking them to please take a look before they make this leap of faith,” said Quilty. “This has been a five-year process and any change at this point would result in a similar delay.”
But Quilty added that he believes that the special assessment paid by Pike Plan property owners to maintain the canopy is unfair and should be eliminated. Currently owners of the property under the Pike Plan must pay a tax based on frontage which, according to Quilty, averages about $300 per year. Quilty said that property owners should not be solely responsible for upkeep of an amenity that benefits the entire business district, and the city as a whole.
“The city should spread that burden out to the general populace and say, ‘OK, what does it cost for (the Pike Plan) to stay? And let’s share it.’”