In 2002, Mike Piazza purchased the Shirt Factory in Kingston's Midtown area. Inspired by his father, a painter, and the fact that several artists already lived in the building, he decided to give the site an arts focus. Piazza remembers that many of the windows were boarded up. "It was incredible when we uncovered the windows—light just streamed in," he says." Every space has six-to-seven-foot-high windows, with wood floors and ceilings. Some spaces have skylights."
In the first years of the 20th century, Midtown Kingston had a lot manufacturing, from cigars to shirts, pajamas, and lace curtains. By the 1980s, most of the manufacturers had closed, leaving large factory buildings abandoned or underutilized. In the last 15 years, some of them have been transformed through adaptive reuse. Today, many of these spaces house artists and arts-related businesses. City administrators have noticed this, and there is now talk of designating Midtown as a Kingston arts district, which will, hopefully, be a catalyst to help the continued revitalization of the area.
Piazza likes renting to artists. "They are straightforward and easy to deal with," he says. In addition to visual artists, Piazza's tenants include writers, sculptors, photographers, and woodworkers. His tenants also include interesting boutique manufacturers, such as a vegan cheese maker, a luthier, a natural juice maker, and a furniture maker.
With the success of the Shirt Factory, Piazza has added the Brush Factory and the Pajama Factory to his facilities, making for a total of 140,000 square feet of space, all of it with rental preference to artists. The buildings are bustling and are rarely vacant. "Recently, we expanded into [Kingston waterfront area] the Rondout" he says. "In real estate, as with painting, it's very fulfilling to create something and have someone interested in your work. What we've developed is an environment and atmosphere that is conducive to a community of creative people to function within. For the most part, they are young, but we have all ages. They're friendly and there is a very strong community. When IBM left, it was the end of Kingston; IBM can't leave anymore. The people who are here are not going anywhere. Kingston is coming into its own. For the next 30 years it will be a destination."