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EDITORIAL: Mortar in mind

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WOOD IS NICE. There’s plenty of graceful wooden frame homes here. Some businesses too. Not so many here are built of stone—you’ll see a lot of stone construction in and around Kingston. Over there the Catskill Mountains supplied endless raw materials for Dutch and English settlers.

What you don’t see there and you do find here is brick. Red bricks, brown bricks, yellow bricks, take your picks, but let’s focus, please, on the structures of traditional red bricks and what they say about where they came from and where we are today.

Some of the families who fled from the islands off Cape Cod to avoid the British during the American Revolution—the Proprietors—lived in brick homes along Warren Street. Then there are the 18th century Georgian mansions in Claverack and lining Route 9 in the Village of Kinderhook, to name only a few examples.

Next came steamboats, railroads and turnpikes and the county’s unavoidable role as a hub on the industrial age supply chain: factories made of brick. Many of those structures are gone too. But others are being repurposed. Think of Basilica Hudson on the riverfront as as a prominent example of a dream the owners are still pursuing. Examples include The Bartlett House in Ghent, the Shaker Museum building and the 3-story brick on Park Row in Chatham and many more when you count repurposed schools.

And the latest chapter for the city and the county: Pocketbook Hudson, a complete makeover of gutted, three-story Pocketbook Factory on N. 6th Street in Hudson. Half a century ago it made pocketbooks until that industry moved the manufacturing process overseas in a familiar story for U.S. workers. Whatever caused the end of the Hudson plant, it left a big hole in the community and the attempts to make the building into a gallery had no success. Until now. Just imagine a whole block of Hudson (not on Warren Street) including a 40-room hotel, restaurant and retail space, a fitness center.

Consider the computer generated drawings showing an overview of how a rehab of the old factory could make this happen. The 32-page report was meant to convince the IDA that Pocketbook Hudson deserves a 10-year exemption from sales tax on construction materials used to modify the factory What else could you want, parking​?

The IDA agreed that Pocketbook Hudson deserved the exemption. Some community members are skeptical. They have heard these promises before from developers who have promised to hire workers and did not follow through. The presentation to the IDA says there will 53 jobs for local people working on the construction phase of the project and 93 local hires in the “hospitality and commercial activities” when the project is up and running.

Don’t take that number seriously. This is a $25-million project and the owners of Pocketbook Hudson may find the money to turn this project from a nice idea into a good neighbor. But they cannot control the economy. And right now employers face an unusually small number of available job seekers.

But this could also be an opportunity for neighborhood activists to explore agreements with Pocketbook Hudson that would set local employment as a percentage of the workforce rather than a number of jobs that may never be reached.

There are many more hurdles facing Pocketbook Hudson before the renovations can start. The city and county will see more calls for local support. Projects like this often go over budget. Sometimes they scale back these sparkly plans. Sometimes partners squabble and part or unexpected crises can’t be resolved. But sometimes partnerships strengthen under pressure.

This plan is too optimistic for all but other optimists to take seriously. But it’s worth supporting their belief that there’s still life in these old bricks as long as the cost of failure falls on the pocketbooks of the developers.

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