Sunday, May 06, 2012

Downtown Undoings

   As foreshadowed here on August 7th, downtown Catskill now has yet another empty building.  In this case it is one of Catskill’s biggest and finest: 355 Main Street (corner of Bridge), which housesd an HSBC bank branch.  Its emptiness is a consequence of a big deal whereby HSBC (advertised as “the world’s local bank”) sold all its local New York State operations (184 branches) to First Niagara.  That paved the way for closings wherever branches of the two thrifts have been near-neighbors. Around the State, consequently, 35 branches have been closed or are slated for closing, including 11 in the Capital region.  HSBC’s Catskill customers will be accommodated right next door at First Niagara.
    That HSBC exit augments an already-abundant stock of vacant commercial properties:
     *Idle cement plant sites up and down the Hudson.  Future boating and golf resorts?  Dream on.
     *The former Dunns Builders (and then Herrington’s) complex just below the Uncle Sam Bridge.
     *The former Irving Elementary School building, now partly and elegantly converted into apartments. 
     *The former Agway branch on West Bridge, with its four buildings plus a big strip of street frontage. 
     *The former St Patrick’s Academy, with its classrooms, offices, gymnasium, playing fields, Hudson River view. 
     *Two big former automotive dealerships. 
     *Departed downtown restaurants-- Fire House; MOD; 355; Bells--and galleries, plus Imagine That!
     *The former Orens Furniture store on Main Street, with its huge creek-side warehouse that is partly and elegantly converted into potential creek-side condominums.  Last Wednesday it was offered at auction, again, apparently fruitlessly, by the foreclosing Buffalo bank, in one two-unit parcel (69,600 square feet) or two parcels.  The assessed value of the respective units was $195,000 and $290,000, with full market value being pegged officially at $324,000 and $464,000.  But the auction may not have been in vain.  Aaron Flach, the Coxsackie-based champion of restorations and conversions, has expressed to the bank a more-than-casual interest.  While no deal is imminent, he told Seeing Greene, he is seriously interested, and is eager to collect ideas about how best to adapt the two buildings in a financially viable way that contributes to the social and cultural well-being of the community.  (
Looking for more words of comfort?  Well,
   *the residential housing market is picking up. 
   *Catskill’s public library is offering more programs and services than ever before, and drawing record volume of patronage. 
   *The Bank of Greene County has continued to grow and prosper, notwithstanding our ‘down’ economy.  (More on that anon).
   *the venerable Pollaces Resort in Catskill was hailed recently by the TripAdvisor organization as one of this country’s top 25 “small hotels and motels for families.”  That designation was not a product of inspections by visiting agents.  It was a reflection of the persistently warm terms of voluntary reviews posted to the TripAdvisor web site by Pollace visitors. 
   *Also winning rave notices from guests is Catskill’s new Bed & Breakfast: the Post Cottage on Spring Street.  Guests persistently give it the top (five stars) TripAdvisor rating on all five tests of merit. 
   *Community Action of Greene County had a festive opening on Saturday at its new, spacious, accessible headquarters: the former Sawyer Motors used car dealership at 7856 Route 9W.  Turnout, and participation in multiple activities for kids, was HUGE.  A terrific start. 
   *The Thomas Cole National Historic Site has reopened (as of last Sunday, 4/29) for the new season, with a fresh collection of Hudson River School art.  The featured artist for 2012 is Louis Remy Mignot (1831-70), a Charlestonian of French origins whose glowing landscapes (European and South American, as well as upstate New York) draw upon the leadership of Thomas Cole and of Cole’s pupil, Frederic Church. The opening started with an illuminating, illustrated lecture by Katherine Manthorne, professor of art history at the City University of New York’s graduate center.  Mignot, she said, was an “enigmatic” and “multi-faceted” artist, who belonged to "the inner circles of “polar opposites," Church and James Whistler.   The fresh opening marked the ninth year of exhibitions that have been mounted since the restoration of the house and grounds in Catskill where Cole lived for most of his extraordinary career as founder of the first distinctly American school of art.   Attendance at the opening was abundant, with many coming from out of town, as they did for monthly pre-season lectures.  The attendance, along with the substantial growth in staff and in volunteers, bodes well for the final great project of restoration at Cedar Grove: resurrecting Cole’s New Studio, the structure that he designed and used in the final years of his life.    
   *The second stage of the latest Masters on Main Street art-appreciation project, “Wall Street to Main Street,” commenced in Catskill.  To the store window exhibits and installations that have been on display since March 17th will be added, as organizer Fawn Potash (of Council on the Arts) says, “skill-sharing workshops, demonstrations, discussions, panels, tours and more.”  Those activities are designed “to encourage democratic art and free speech,” providing “a window into the ideas, dreams and inspirations” that have arisen from the ongoing global “Occupy” movement.
   *At Catskill Point, a splendidly refurbished Port of Call restaurant has just reopened.   
   *Downtown Catskill has been enhanced in the past year by the additions of Bryan Hunter's bicycle shop (Catskill Cycles), a chocolate shop (Sweet Sensations), a local produce outlet (Chuck Solberg’s Catskill Country Store) and a restaurant (Casa Latina; tasty and cozy).
   *And Kirwan’s Game Store, now fully stocked and furnished to attract the post-Dungeons & Dragons generation, is proving to be a big regional draw.  Think of it:  Catskill as geek destination.
FIRST IN LINE. For Catskill Village’s annual Clean Sweep Day on Saturday morning (volunteers, supplied with gloves and sacks, cleaning up downtown and creek-side public sites) who was the helper to sign in? A Schoharie County resident, Assemblyman Pete Lopez.  

REST IN PEACE:  Jack Guterman.

REST IN PEACE:  Nanette (Nette) Margolius.

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