Last night at the first regular monthly meeting of the Common Council for 2010, a new plan for Washington Hose Firehouse, located at the base of Warren Street and the entrance to Promenade Hill, was presented by Peter Markou, Executive Director of HDC (Hudson Development Corporation) and HCDPA (Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency). HDC will rehabilitate the building, which is designated a historic landmark whose architectual integrity is protected by the Historic Preservation Commission, and occupy it in partnership with the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce. Kate Johns is the architect for the project, which is anticipated to cost $300,000. Markou expects the funding for the project to come from three sources: $150,000 from HDC; $100,000 from the Empire Zone; and $50,000 from the City of Hudson.
HDC, HCDPA, and the Chamber of Commerce will share the space in the rehabilitated building. HDC and HCDPA will have their offices on the second floor; the Chamber will have its office and a visitor information center on the ground floor. The truck bay will be converted into a conference room/training center which can function as a incubator for entrepreneurial businesses. Markou also anticipates a "festival marketplace" in the open space just south of the building, with fair weather businesses run from pushcarts.
Some familiar phrases were used by Markou when describing the project. He called Washington Hose "the anchor to the lower end of Warren Street" and "the gateway to the waterfront"--the same language used by the four aldermen who blocked the sale of the building to Charles Davi last year and were vilified for it. Last night, however, there were no disparaging words. Everyone seemed to embrace the idea enthusiastically.
Mayor Scalera pointed out, however, that the Empire Zone committee was "lukewarm" about funding the project and suggested that people call their county supervisors and Board of Supervisors chair, Roy Brown, to urge them to support the idea.
Some questions from the aldermen drew out useful and interesting information. Sarah Sterling (D-First) asked if the farmers' market could be moved to the area beside the firehouse. In answering this question, Markou mentioned the fact that city will soon own what he called the "River Loft Holdings"--the site of the two recently demolished factory buildings and the one remaining building on North Front Street that belonged to Bentley Meeker. This, Markou suggested, would be the perfect place for the farmers' market, and the surviving building could house a year-round farmers' market.
Geeta Cheddie (D-First) asked if any part of the project would produce revenue for the City of Hudson. In answer, Markou spoke generally of the benefits of new small businesses fostered by the incubator and increased tourism stimulated by the visitor information center strategically located close to the train station, but Cheddie's question seemed to want a more specific answer. When the idea of leasing the building surfaced, Markou said disdainfully, "I'm not paying $300,000 to fix up the building and then have to pay rent to the City." Later on in the discussion, it was revealed that HDC wants the City of Hudson to convey the property to them.
In view of HDC's expectations, it's interesting to recall that the not-for-profit Historic Hudson, whose proposal to lease Washington Hose was rejected out of hand by the majority of the Council last year, offered to pay rent to the City while using their fundraising and grant potential and their expertise to stabilize and restore the building, which would continue to belong to the City.
Still, the HDC proposal achieves important things. It ensures the survival of the historic firehouse and promises to strengthen the connection between Warren Street and the waterfront. In the end, Common Council President Don Moore declared that he thought the plan had the complete support of the Council. It remains to be seen if the idea of giving the building to HDC--an agency of the City but not a part of city government--has the Council's support.