Ir­ish cen­ter hear­ing draws 34 speak­ers

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Wil­liam J. Kem­ble news@free­manon­

Slightly more than half of the 34 peo­ple speak­ing at a Plan­ning Board pub­lic hear­ing about the pro­posed Ir­ish Cul­tural Cen­ter asked the city Plan­ning Board to de­clare the Abeel Street project would have en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts that would re­quire mit­i­ga­tion or dis­qual­ify the project al­to­gether.

Even some speak­ers who sup­ported the project won­dered whether hav­ing it on a res­i­den­tial street would change the char­ac­ter of the neigh­bor­hood.

“I am not op­posed to a cul­tural cen­ter,” Susie Linn said dur­ing the Wed­nes­day night hear­ing. “As a mem­ber of the city of Kingston Arts Com­mis­sion, I be­lieve that cul­ture and arts are in­te­gral to our mis­sion; Kingston is be­com­ing

an amaz­ing des­ti­na­tion for peo­ple who are seek­ing arts and cul­ture. But I be­lieve the scale is too big. It needs to be di­aled down a notch.”

The devel­op­ers of the Ir­ish Cul­tural Cen­ter said Wed­nes­day that the pro­posed build­ing at 32 Abeel St. would be nar­rowed by 3 feet, 2 inches and re­duced by 1.5 feet in height. They said the build­ing is an­tic­i­pated to be re­duced from 16,889 square feet to about 16,129 square feet — a 4.5 per­cent drop — but that they were wait­ing for fi­nal draw­ings be­fore sub­mit­ting the re­vi­sion.

Within the cen­ter, the devel­op­ers are plan­ning to re­duce:

• The seat­ing ca­pac­ity in the planned the­ater from 185 to 174.

• Ban­quet hall seat­ing from 150 to 120.

• Pub seat­ing from 80 to 70.

But the ad­just­ments seemed to make no dif­fer­ence to at least 18 speak­ers at Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing.

“I’d love to see it built, but I do fear the scale of it, and ... the num­ber of func­tions they’re hop­ing to have in there seem like a grand scale be­yond what we have space for,” Bar­bara Scott said.

Several speak­ers said they were con­cerned the fa­cil­ity would have a larger de­mand for use than devel­op­ers are say­ing pub­licly.

“Is it a con­ven­tion cen­ter or is it a cul­tural cen­ter?” Lynn Her­ring said.

“As ... some­one who loves cul­ture, I have no prob­lem with the cen­ter,” she said. “It’s the way this cen­ter is de­signed, the size of it . ... It’s too big, it doesn’t look like it fits into the neigh­bor­hood. It’s go­ing to com­pletely change the fab­ric of our neigh­bor­hood.”

Some of the project’s sup­port­ers said the cen­ter would be an ac­knowl­edg­ment of an era in which the local econ­omy cen­tered on use of the nearby Ron­d­out Creek.

“For those that know their his­tory, the D&H Canal was the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment en­gine for the Ron­d­out in the 19th cen­tury and it em­ployed thou­sands of peo­ple,” said for­mer Kingston Al­der­man Tom Hof­fay, an aide to state Assem­bly­man Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, who has ob­tained state fund­ing for the project.

“The head­quar­ters for the western end of the canal ... stood on Com­pany Hill Path, al­most across from the pro­posed cen­ter,” Hof­fay said. “It was on this path that lit­er­ally hun­dreds of these im­mi­grants would trod on pay­day, up the hill to the com­pany pay­mas­ter’s house to re­ceive their wages. Many of those em­ploy­ees were young Ir­ish men fresh off the boat, poor and fam­ished, flee­ing the great hunger that rav­aged their home­land.”

Arts So­ci­ety of Kingston Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Vin­dora Wixon said the cen­ter al­ready has proven it can at­tract vis­i­tors with strong cul­tural pro­grams that have been staged at the ASK fa­cil­ity on lower Broad­way.

“The qual­ity of the mu­sic and danc­ing is so ex­tra­or­di­nary,” she said. “They bring them from Ire­land ... and they were gold-medal-win­ning singers. Un­be­liev­able. The re­spect and the rev­er­ence that they have for their cul­ture, it’s so heart­warm­ing.”

The group Ir­ish Cul­tural Cen­ter Hud­son Val­ley pur­chased the Abeel Street prop­erty from Alan and Ruth Ben­delius, who say con­cerns about park­ing in the neigh­bor­hood should be re­solved by city officials.

“In the mid-1980s, the city paid, I be­lieve, $27,000 for a fea­si­bil­ity study to de­ter­mine the fu­ture park­ing needs of the Ron­d­out,” Ruth Ben­delius said. “The Mar­itime Cen­ter (Hud­son River Mar­itime Mu­seum) was grow­ing, the tour boat busi­ness was started . ... Grow­ing pains started way back then for park­ing, and the city I guess ig­nored the fea­si­bil­ity study.”

Writ­ten com­ments about the Ir­ish cen­ter project will be ac­cepted through Oct. 12, and the Plan­ning Board is sched­uled to dis­cuss the site plan at its Oct. 17 meet­ing.

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