Heritage Trail Key to Middletown's Urban Renewal

Heritage Trail Key to Middletown's Urban Renewal
Yvonne Marcotte

MIDDLETOWN--Middletown is planning on breathing new life into long-vacant structures and properties in downtown's Business Improvement District and the Community Campus. At the common council meeting on Sept. 15, Mayor Joe DeStefano presented an outline of projects he believes will serve as catalysts for future economic development.

The city is heading toward "transit oriented development" and the linchpin for Middletown will be the completion of the Heritage Trail. "The city is working with state, county, and federal stakeholders to extend the trail," the mayor said. The trail is expected to link businesses downtown to travelers using the trail. The cost, eighty percent of which is federally-funded, comes to $10-$12 million.

Anchored by the trail, two breweries, two sports facilities, and a pedestrian walkway are in the works for the Business Improvement District (BID). Clemson Brewery was singled out as a successful way to use the trail in its business. The company has applied for $400,000 in New York state funding. Working with Coach Tours, the city wants to make a transportation hub downtown at a cost of $1.5 million funded by Coach USA.

Equilibrium Brewery wants a place on the trail as a beer distribution facility with tasting bar. The city will give tax exemptions to Equilibrium Brewery and $1,696,000 in private funding will get construction up and running.

Kiplinger named Middletown one of the top ten cities to raise kids and a proposed privately-owned soccer facility and outdoor skateboard park will enhance the honor. The Heritage Trail will run near a two-acre former railroad bed that is planned as a skateboard/recreation/welcome center.

With an estimated project cost of $665,000, the city has applied for $498,750 in New York state funding. Another sports facility is a privately-funded soccer structure. The developers will pay the cost of demolishing existing buildings on the property.

A walkway is planned to connect the trail with the main business corridor of the city. The mayor anticipated that the King Street Pedestrian Walkway could be completed in 2015 with a cost $395,000, but infrastructure issues—pipes below the street—means more engineering fixes before actual work on the walkway can begin.

Parking is essential to developing the BID. Expanded parking for residential and commercial properties and working with transportation companies fills out the transit oriented part of the initiative. To expand parking, the city submitted a  request to New York state of $3.5 million for an almost $20 million BID parking facility.

The Franklin Square area which includes the Paramount Theatre can be enhanced with a parking facility to accommodate 150 spaces by adding two decks to the existing street level space. The former TD bank will be developed into office space at a cost of $1.8 million. Some county offices may use part of the space.

Community Campus

Middletown has great expectations for the Community Campus that previously held a state psychiatric complex. The state pulled its psychiatric program out of Middletown and left large buildings unmaintained and vacant. The city has requested $10.9 million for studying infrastructure and $150,000 in feasibility planning.

Development of Middletown Community Campus is planned in three phases which will add 1062 new jobs to the community. Light industrial use is planned for 75,000 square feet. The remaining 350,000 square feet will be reserved for light manufacturing, educational, and office use. A $1,284,121 funding request submitted to the county's Soil Conservation Department is planned to enhance the community campus grounds.

The Heritage Trail will touch Middletown's Community Campus as a spur at Oliver Avenue. The city will pay $100,000 for the trail extension. The former Kleiner building will be developed as a recreation center at a cost of $1.2 million with parking added at a cost of $300,000. The semi-wooded, park-like area bordered on two sides by residences, another side by a public school, and the fourth side by light industrial concerns will need new street lights at a cost of $100,000.

Some buildings require demolition and will be done with private investment. The GFA building at 34 Bolles recently gutted by fire and the crumbling structure at 84 Dorothea Dix can both be developed at a higher density.

A major part of development for the community campus is the arrival of Fei Tian College and Academy of the Arts with their commitment of $28 million in private investment. The city wants the state to fund a new water storage tank and storm water infrastructure to support the school's needs.

Prepared by the Office of Economic and Community Development under the direction of Maria Bruni, the initiative called on the efforts of county and state legislators to guide and pull the city toward funding. Bruni said the mayor's leadership and the common council's support have made economic development "business-friendly and business-ready."

With state grants possible, the initiatives have given the city some exciting opportunities. "I'm looking forward to the years ahead on working on all these various projects," Bruni said. The state grants are being funneled through regional economic development councils.

"Middletown is an old city which we had our prosperous years and then we had our bad years," DeStefano said.  Grant funding, if the city wins in the state's Mid-Hudson competition, would support everything from redevelopment of city-owned and private sector buildings for business to a major rebirth of the former state psychiatric center property.

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