Micro-Managed Economic Development

The Kingston Times reports this week that some people are lamenting how cuts to the Empire Zone program will be bad for business, but I say trim the fat away.

The Empire Zone program is a bloated beast that needs to be deflated. It is often misused by elected officials, and does not result in the type of economic development that suits life in this century.

A better way to spend dollars and marketing energy is to engage in "micro-managed economic development." It's simple. Here are the steps:

1. Empty your mind of old habits and ways of doing things. Large scale development projects are a thing of the past.

2. Create an inventory of vacant lots, storefronts and commercial properties in your city or town.

3. Encourage redevelopment of these existing properties with a thoughtful, focused marketing campaign to specific business segments that residents would like to see in their neighborhood.

4. As an incentive, offer these small businesses six-month tax breaks for relocating. Award the tax break after two consecutive years of occupancy.

5. Celebrate the success of filling these vacant storefronts with thriving businesses that make voters happy while swelling the tax base, long term, by encouraging other municipalities to follow your example.

-- Arthur Zaczkiewicz

Now is the Time to Unite

When Martin Luther King, Jr. made a famous speech at a certain march on D.C. in 1963, he told those in attendance that, "It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment."

He was referring to the Civil Rights Movement, but this thought is relevent now, here in Kingston.

As president-elect Obama takes the helm of the country, local folks here in Kingston need to step up to the plate. We need to help one another at this critical time. We need to create unity.

On that last point, our most recent survey showed as of today that most people -- 46 percent -- in the city say "unity" is what Kingston needs the most.

The first step, of course, would be to work toward changing your own mindset. Look at Kingston not as a place with three distinct sections (uptown, downtown and midtown) and nine separate wards, but as one city with many different neighborhoods.

When people ask where you live, just say "Kingston" instead of midtown or uptown or where ever.

While you are thinking Kingston to be one, look at your own block the same way. Look at it not as a bunch of separate houses, but a single neighborhood where people have one amazing thing in common: they are all neighbors.

These are the seeds of community.

-- Arthur Zaczkiewicz

Define ‘Sustainability’

There is often confusion by some people as to what "sustainability" means. Once, a few years ago, a local politician had asked me to define sustainability.

To be honest, I had a hard time articulating a definition. Environmentalists approach the topic broadly, as it encompasses many aspects of what it means to be a good steward of our natural resources.

When I think of sustainability I think of Melissa Everett and her work at Sustainable Hudson Valley. Her approach is big picture, and involves the much-needed task of mobilizing multiple efforts into a single purpose.

When I think of sustainability I also think of buying local foods, shopping locally and buying local goods and services. I also think of Community Supported Agriculture, local farmers, vineyards, and such.

This past week, though, I think I've found a clear, over-arching definition of the word. It is from a statement by Emilie Hauser to the planning board of Kingston in regard to the proposed CVS development on Washington Avenue. This is how she puts it:

"Sustainable communities direct their development for most efficient resource use and high quality of life. Sustainable development meets today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.  There is a huge need for all our towns and lives to be more sustainable.  To do everything possible to cut down on green house gases.  We must consider in all our decisions, in government, in personal lives, in our work lives, how we can make our communities more sustainable, and how we can mitigate and adapt to climate change. Everything we consider should be viewed from that lens."

Bravo.

-- Arthur Zaczkiewicz

Benefit Concert Draws People In

The Pat Metheny Duo concert, presented by KingstonCitizens.org to benefit the Kingston Land Trust and the Community Garden initiative, featuring Pat Metheny and Ward 9's own Larry Grenadier at the Coach House Players last night was simply awe inspiring.

During opening remarks, Mayor James Sottile spoke of the importance of community work, and how "amazing it is to have a world-class" performance right here in Kingston, in an intimate setting with friends and neighbors. I couldn't agree more.

So, kudos, hugs, kisses, bouquets and more to Rebecca Martin for booking the artists, marketing the event and filling the room with people (it was sold out) and filling it with love. Awesome.

And thanks to fellow Kingston Land Trust board members such as Steve and Julie Noble, John Garasche, Hugh Cummings (how cool was that display garden he created?), Bill Berardi and Deborah Cohen. And big thanks to: Lynda O'Reilly for creating one incredible silent auction; to Mark Greene for his designs; to Jen McKinley-Rakov for feeding the band; to Gabe and Kathy/Laura and Jose from Monkey Joe for serving the best coffee in town; and to Bob and the staff at the Coach House for being gracious hosts; among many others.

And thanks to the 99 people who filled the room, who came out to help water the seeds of something that will begin to grow this year. As Rebecca likes to say: Watch Us Grow.

And with deepest sincerity, thank you Pat and Larry for being so giving of your time, energy and love. You helped bring a city closer together.

-- Arthur Zaczkiewicz

Take Our Poll: What Kingston Needs

Complaints from Residents, Students Result in Head to Toe Closure

The Head to Toe shop at 344 Broadway remained closed for a second day after City of Kingston Police raided the site, made an arrest and seized weapons and other items.

The Kingston Daily Freeman reported that students had complained about the shop, that it was selling drug paraphernalia and cigarettes to high schoolers -- which are against state and city laws.

Earlier this week, residents of Ward 9 had complained to the store manager and owner about weapons that were on display. They said the items would be removed.

On Tuesday, the police made their raid, which ended up closing the shop.

Less Divided

Someone once described Kingston to me as the "most divided place" in the Hudson Valley/Catskill region.

I would not say it is the most divided place, but there sure are a lot of spliters here and there.

Most notably is the division of the city into three parts: uptown, midtown and downtown with each section possessing separate "personalities." To me, this is a good thing. It's nice to see a place where each neighborhood has its own unique character.

But from an economic development perspective, these three distinct sections tend to work against us.

One way to strengthen the city would be to combine our three business associations. Within an umbrella organization, there could be three committees that focus on the needs of each section of town.

There could be other committees too. Perhaps there's one that focuses on marketing the city externally. And another committee that focuses on marketing the city internally. Each committee could be task-oriented with specific annual goals.

Just a thought...

-- Arthur Zaczkiewicz

In Need of a Plan

At the City of Kingston Planning Board meeting tonight, which included public input over design guidelines for the proposed CVS on Washingston Avenue, several residents urged the board to carefully consider the historic attributes of the city in designing the building.

There were also concerns about the need for another drug store in the city. Isn't four enough?

Tom Hoffay, alderman, said he was concerned that the site plan included a curb cut that would allow cars heading south on Washington Avenue to make a left-hand turn -- across three lanes of oncoming traffic -- into the proposed CVS lot. That's not safe, Tom said.

All of these concerns are valid, and the developers of the site should listen carefully. After all, the residents of the city are the ones who have to live with this for years to come after it is built.

From my perspective, the proposed CVS is just another clear example of why Kingston needs a comprehensive plan.

Like others who attended the meeting, I'm not against development. I'm for smart development, projects that are environmentally sound (think low-carbon footprint or better yet, zero-net energy), support local businesses, bolster the tax base and differentiate the area from other towns and cities.

A comprehensive plan can guide smart development and would act as a blueprint for Kingston's future. A CP could have clear design guidelines that help maintain the historic aspects of the city. The CP could include development guidelines that encourage mixed use buildings. The CP could set guidelines for our historic districts, waterfront (expanding the recently completed waterfront plan) and gateway areas.

For their part, several city officials -- especially city planner Suzanne Cahill -- understand the need for a comprehensive plan. Perhaps with strong public support, steps can be made to create one.

As far as funding is concerned, I think there are grants out there that Kingston can tap. That can help us get started.

If you are interested in pursuing this idea, let me know. Let's do it. Let's do something. A CP that has not been updated in nearly 50 years is an embarrassment.

-- Arthur Zaczkiewicz

RAC and Roll

The Resident Advisory Committee had its first meeting yesterday at the Muddy Cup. There was a great turnout as we discussed the progress being made in the lower Ward 9 area, particularly in regard to the high school, parking and disruptions caused by parades.

We're in the process of developing some creative ways to educate high schoolers and children in the neighborhood to respect our property and each other, among other things. As this unfolds, the RAC will keep everyone informed about our progress.

It was also suggested that a block party would help foster better "neighborhoodship" -- so the RAC is exploring this as well. If you are interested in participating in the RAC, please send me an email.

-- Arthur Zaczkiewicz

A Vision for Kingston

I just finished reading "The Transition Handbook: From oil dependency to local resilience" and must say that there are some bright and creative minds out there who are creating viable solutions for climate change and toward creating sustainable communities.

This means creating communities that can generate its own power, feed itself and thrive in the next century and beyond.

The author, Rob Hopkins, tackles critical issues with humor and positivity despite the fact that the clock is ticking. Since this is a handbook, Hopkins supplies us with steps for change and includes insights from thought leaders on a variety of topics to help communities make a transition from oil dependency to sustainability.

Of note is an essay on the psychology of change, which asserts that change occurs in steps, in small incremental ways.

The cover of the book illustrates a before and after view of a city block, very much looking like Kingston, I might add. In the before image, there are fuel-eating cars, vans and SUVs as well as a "Superstore."

In the after image, all of that is replaced with wind generators, greenhouses, bicycles, gardens and people interacting in a local market. It's a vision of positive change, and worth considering.

-- Arthur Zaczkiewicz

Natural Gas Safety

The natural gas leak that occurred last night on Broadway near City Hall posed no threat to residents, according to a Kingston Daily Freeman article.

That's good news. But it does bring up an important point about natural gas safety. Homeowners need to check their heating systems regularly to make sure it is operating properly. Leaks are dangerous, and qualified technicians need to make careful inspections.

An excellent resource to find natural gas safety tips is the Central Hudson website, which urges inspections and maintenance as well as installing CO2 detectors.

-- Arthur

A Lesson From Catskill

In this month's issue of New York House magazine, there's a story on the Village of Catskill -- penned by yours truly -- titled: Catskill Rebounds.

In it, I interviewed Linda Overbaugh, who serves as executive director of the "Heart of the Catskill Association," which is an arm of the local chamber of commerce. I had Linda walk me through the revitalization of Catskill. The steps were small, she said. And there were tough moments, but there were a dedicated few who made things happen.

As many locals know, this sleepy hamlet on the Hudson was almost comatose. But Linda and other dedicated business leaders rolled up their sleeves and got to work bringing life back to Catskill.

Of course it took time -- all good things do. The results are stunning. Once nearly deserted, Main Street in Catskill is thriving again. To get people back, Linda and others lobbied for cleaner, safer streets. They hired a consultant to bring grants in. Shoppers came back and businesses moved in.

The village hosts art nights and shopping nights that draw people to Main Street. It's challenging to maintain, and Linda is the first to say that this "is a work in progress."

Still...Catskill is inspirational. And there's much that Kingston can learn; the first being to band together talented and creative folks.

-- Arthur Zaczkiewicz

Being Local, Part 2: Insourcing

At the City of Kingston Common Council meeting last night, the aldermen signed off on city vouchers -- "general bills." This included many services and administrative costs such as phone, electric and plumbing bills.

I was a little stunned to see a bill paid to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for $5,210.72. According to the city clerk's office, the bill was for gifts that were purchased for homeless kids and victims of domestic violence -- a noble cause indeed. But why did they have to buy the gifts at Wal-Mart, which is in the Town of Ulster and a company that sends its profits back to Bentonville, Ark.?

In the spirit of "being local" and "buying local" the city should be a good neighbor and patronize local shops and businesses.

For toys, there's a great toy store on lower Broadway in the Rondout, next to the Kingston Foods & Garden site. There's also Bop to Tottom in the uptown and the Parent Teacher Store as well. These are local businesses that need our support. Wal-Mart does not.

In all fairness, there are other local businesses that sell goods and services to the city. The general bills from last night included money spent with Binnewater Ice, Herzog's, Timely Signs, and Speigel Bros. Paper Co.

But the city can do a better job of supporting more local businesses, and it should look more carefully at what it can source from within the city.

Is Kingston heading in the right direction? Take our poll:

Soup’s On!

stone-soupMidtown East has new eats: The Stone Soup Food Company.

Opened for the past two weeks, the eatery is located at 470 Broadway across from the midtown neighborhood center.

The menu features freshly made soups (of course), chili, bisque, salads, sandwiches, wraps and comfort foods such as mac and cheese, crab cakes and a real meaty lasagna.

Call for daily specials: 845.340.0470

It's nice to see a business open in this part of town, which serves the workers of city hall, the high school, telephone building and other businesses.

Please show your support and stop buy for a sandwich.

-- Arthur Zaczkiewicz