Friday, December 20, 2013

The Evolution and Resurgence Of Hudson

The evolution and resurgence of Hudson
Not so long ago, you could walk up the main corridor of Hudson, otherwise known as Warren Street and see boarded up, shuttered buildings, with all its historical splendor, slowly deteriorating.  One by one, most of the buildings have been brought back to their former glory and in some cases, exceeding their past existence.  Because of the poor condition and lack of interest in a lot of buildings on Warren Street, those with an eye for historical value and cash on hand, saw Warren Street as a cheap, underdeveloped, historical gem, waiting to once again gain its former grandeur.  The development of Warren Street has spawned a population shift, which is slowly leading to a cultural change in the City of Hudson.  Through the years of Hudson’s past, when it was known as a manufacturing player, you could find a job in a day, regardless of education, get a cold beer from a bar virtually on every corner, while enjoying a piece of chicken or slice of pizza, all for less than $5.  Today, on Warren Street, you can still enjoy a beer, at inflation adjusted prices and grab a bite to eat from one of its many restaurants.  Yes, Warren Street has changed greatly from its former past.  Today, Hudson's Warren Street is talked about State, Nationwide and even in foreign Countries regarding its presence in the antique world, boasting a range of antique stores and a collection of artist, making Hudson’s Warren Street a tourist destination.

There is no arguing the fact, that the resurgence of Warren Street has been a blessing or curse depending on which prism you are looking through.  Warren Street, which was once boarded up, was also home to a large portion of Hudson’s, low to moderate income population.  As each building was bought and sold, the occupants of the building were more often than not asked to leave, in most cases causing an unintended form of gentrification.   As a result, a lot of the Warren Street population and affordable housing stock was pushed over to the North side of the City. There was a time when most of the homes on the North side of the City were single family homes, owned by middle class income earners who worked for the cement plant, City or State government.  Once the cement plant along with a few other existing factories left Hudson, single family homeowners begin selling their homes to would be landlords looking to make a buck renting to the displaced tenants formally living on Warren Street as well as other locations on the South side of the City.  In my opinion, it is during this time period when tension and disdain for antique stores and new homeowners from Warren Street south developed.  Warranted of not, people on the North side of the City believed the City was and is being taken over by those moving from New York City, with lots of money.  Rents on Warren Street, South, shot up 3 to 4 times what families use to pay for an apartment.  The Columbia Diner shutdown and was eventually sold, going from a budget meal eatery to a much higher end American style restaurant.   I often hear mentioned, that no one can afford to eat on Warren Street now.  It’s a fact that a burger, beer and fries, which I enjoy most Thursdays, at a restaurant on Warren Street, will cost you on average, about $25.  That price point is close to where some residents on the North side of Hudson pay for monthly rent.  Although the tension seemed to have died down at times, it is always bubbling under the surface waiting for the next shoe to drop so it can rear its ugly head.  People, families have become fearful of their livelihood, ignoring the contributions being made by the population from the South side of the City.  It has gotten so bad on occasion, that some have refused to walk on Warren Street, other than to attend a street event or to go to one of the corner stores.  Because of these tensions alliances have been formed, which in the past may not have happened.  People now feel as though they are fighting for their future survival in the City of Hudson, real or not, that is the perception.  On occasion you can see the tension and frustration of the different opinions boil over at School board, business and local government meetings.  An example of this is, the recent decision to locate the Hudson City School District’s ALP (alternative learning program) a program for struggling youth in the Hudson City School District, on Warren Street.  There was certainly two mines of thinking here and maybe more.  Business owners on Warren Street seemed to be concerned about the safety of the youth and the lack of space for physical activity at the Warren Street location.  It was widely believed by those who live on the North side of the City, that the business owners were using that ploy as a way to fight the project, instead of disclosing their real feelings, they didn’t want youth who may have had a troubled past on Warren Street, potentially disrupting their business.  Factual or not, that was the widely spread belief.  This incident deepened the divide of the City, further solidifying belief that those who live and own businesses on Warren Street has to give you their blessing if you are to live or try to establish a business on Warren Street.  I believe many on Warren Street would say this is pure lunacy and totally basely.  In my opinion, this issue of a divided City has risen to become one of the top three issues facing the City.  Business owners who move to Hudson, establish a business here, in many cases using their life savings, do so at great risk.  Taxes are fairly high and a great deal of their business is at the mercy of tourism.  Contributing to Hudson becoming a tourist destination, is the culture of Warren Street and the fact that patrons feel safe visiting and walking up and down our City Streets.  Disrupt any part of the harmonious balance on Warren Street, I believe the ripple effect will be felt, not only City, but County wide.  This may be why Warren Street’s solvency is defended so rigorously.  Many on the North side of the City wouldn’t know that, given many never, shop or eat on Warren Street, let alone have a conversation with a business owner.  What they do know is, they see, more and more homes on the North side being bought by those moving to Hudson.  These once single family homes, converted to two or in some cases three family homes are now being converted back to one family homes, leading people to believe, this is Warren Street all over again.  With the affordable housing shrinking every day and low income housing locations like Bliss towers reaching its useful life, tension are running high as to where people will go once the affordable and low income housing are no more in the City of Hudson.  I don’t see this happening in the immediate future, but some would say it bares a resemblance to the development and resurgence of Warren Street.  I believe there is a direct correlation between the housing stock in the City of Hudson and the tension between the North and South sides of the City.  Housing isn’t the only contributing factor, but it’s a major one.  One thing I think can be addressed with some willingness and smart planning by City leaders, residents and business owners.  Hudson could immediately adopt a policy that no new housing will be constructed without 20 or even 30% being set aside for low to moderate income housing.  This would show that an effort is being made by all sides to preserve the diversity of Hudson, which has made the City what it is today.  Also, an idea brought up by defeated Mayoral candidate, Victor Mendolia, to change the zoning for Columbia Street, allowing more businesses to develop there, would maybe spawn some businesses geared more toward the moderate income population of Hudson.  Something, like a Columbia diner type restaurant, where someone could get a soup and sandwich for $5 - $7 bucks.  Again, this would open doors to relationship building in the City.  Then we could move onto much harder dividing factors such as education and jobs. 

It seems, most of our newly elected City officials are listening, let’s guide them and help them, make Hudson a true melting pot where people of all race, gender, economical means and sexual orientation, can live harmoniously together.

William Hughes Jr.
4th Ward Supervisor
City of Hudson
Minority Leader
Columbia County Board of Supervisors