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A City of Contrasts

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Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:55 pm
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“Right now, we’re still in transition,” says mayor Nicholas Valentine. “We haven’t made it yet to where we want to be.”

Still, change is on the horizon, Valentine says, sparked by a number of factors: grassroots development efforts, people making investments in rundown buildings that dot the landscape in some neighborhoods, a new city courthouse that opened on Broadway in June, the upcoming opening of the new SUNY Orange campus, business booms in pockets of the city, and the return of the forms of transportation that encourage people to leave their cars behind—including a city-wide trolley set to be up and running in about a year and the return of the Newburgh-Beacon ferry.

“The ferry has been huge,” Valentine says of the vessel that re-opened in 2005 and transports commuters daily to the Metro-North station in Beacon. He acknowledges that the lack of public transportation has been a problem for the city but one the city intends to tackle head-on. “You can’t do what we want to do without mass transit,” he adds.



NEWBURGH'S RENAISSANCES

Since the city’s economic bust, many attempts to restore Newburgh to its former glory have been made. During the political turbulence that was the 1960s, the city set the wheels in motion for a new urban renewal plan that involved demolishing the waterfront area, which had been home to shopping, restaurants, theater and other entertainment in better times. Historic buildings that many called home were also leveled, and a promise of relocating the displaced to new housing projects the city planned to build was made. But the oil embargo and crisis of 1973 happened and the federal and state dollars that were to fund the new housing structures were no longer available. The area remained empty until the late 1990s when a new effort by the city to bring businesses—and tax revenue—back to the waterfront came to fruition. Today, the 35-acre property has been completely redesigned and is home to upscale restaurants and spas, the Downing Film Center, and shops. Just try to find a parking space anywhere near Torches on the Hudson restaurant, which is at one end of the waterfront space, or 26 Front Street, the spot for live music, dancing, and great food at the other end, between 5pm and midnight on a weekend.

“But there’s more to Newburgh than just the waterfront,” says Caffé Macchiato’s Ballarini. “People tell us they are happy to rediscover Newburgh. Without the culture, there was no real reason to visit the area.”

It seems like every decade or so a push to revitalize the city is made, says Leetha Berchielli, who has owned Mrs. Max, a full-service dance store housed in the Lake Street Plaza, for almost 28 years. “Every time it happens, the dips are a little smaller and the peaks are a little bigger. It’s exciting.”

Berchielli, who recently opened a second location with her daughter on Liberty Street (a few doors down from Caffé Macchiato) says it’s good to see the business owners on the block push forward for a bit of change from the norm. “We all so strongly believe in Newburgh on this street,” she says. “We want it to be a good, happy place for people.”



A CITY OF FIRSTS

As quiet as it’s kept, Newburgh has had an impressive run of historic firsts. Did you know that the first Edison power plant in the country was built here, which enabled Newburgh to be the first city in the US to be electrified? It was also one of the first cities to fluoridate its water supply and, according to the Newburgh Historical Society, was one of the first cities in the country to give “routine governmental authority” to a city manager in 1915. But much more of what happens on a day-to-day basis in the city isn’t always noted.

“I think Newburgh falls under the radar, but the reality is that it is a hotbed of arts and culture,” says Tricia Haggerty Wenz, executive director of Safe Harbors of the Hudson, a non-profit agency housed in the restored Hotel Newburgh with a mission of transforming lives and building better communities through housing and the arts. “For me, that’s one of the highlights.”

For the cultural buzz that hums within Newburgh, Haggerty Wenz credits the emerging art galleries, schools like the Newburgh Arts Academy, local businesses on Liberty Street and in other neighborhoods as well as lower Broadway’s new venue for live performances and local art, the Ritz Theater, which has hosted several sold-out concerts and cultural events in its restored lobby in the last year while funding for the renovation for the rest of the building is sought.

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