Poughkeepsie: A Place with a Plan

By   |  Photos by David McIntyre  |     |  Community Spotlight

On any given day, there’s a whole lot going on in the five square miles of the Queen City.

Poughkeepsie is home to the Bardavon, the oldest operating theater in the United States; and to Vassar College, the nation’s second-ever women’s college and the site of IBM’s Poughkeepsie Lab, which gave the world the mainframe computer. Scores of Poughkeepsie natives have become boldface names in art and sport, in aviation and jurisprudence. Poughkeepsie natives gave the world baby formula, Morse code, cough drops, and the game of Scrabble.

Yet Poughkeepsie has always struggled in the popular imagination. Being as much fun to say as it is tricky to spell has inspired punchlines in movies and TV ranging from the French Connection to “Friends,” few of them flattering, They’re compiled with celebratory relish by a Gen X native at Poughkeepsiepopculture.com; and taken in bulk, they clearly represent homage. Poughkeepsie is badass and indelible, many places in one, and steadily, perceptibly on the rise.

“New buildings are going up, old favorites are getting renovated, partnerships are strengthening, and long overdue public investments are being made,” writes Director of Development Joe Donat in a draft document shared with Upstate House, mentioning citywide parks improvements, a Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, and “completed streetscape and parking lot beautification improvements downtown.” Donat cites the Complete Market Street plan, which would reconfigure traffic to draw people downtown, and the refreshment of Academy and Cannon streets—in recent years, the neighborhood has gained a cafe, wine bar, pizza place, brewery, and event space—as solid improvements to the city’s core, which was carved up decades ago by two ill-conceived one-way arterials that send traffic around its outer limits.

The Riversong Project, 47 Cannon Street, is repurposing the onetime Board of Elections headquarters into eight stories of mixed-use space; the Mosaic Project at 43 Cannon Street is adding another 40 residential units and more retail space. Meanwhile, the Dutchess County Transportation Council has proposed reducing the arterials from three lanes to two, devoting the regained streetspace to bike lanes, green space, and a more pedestrian-friendly experience.

“Our first Poughkeepsie project was the former Nativity School on Union Street, a bombed-out shell we restored into a 39-unit apartment building, which is fully rented and doing well.,” says Jay Blumenfeld, COO of Chai Developers. “That gave us the encouragement we needed. We bought a bunch of smaller houses that had really nice architecture we knew we could restore, and we’re working our way through that portfolio now, among other things.” In September, Chai purchased the Chance, a 1912 theater that’s hosted more legendary bands than there are jokes about Poughkeepsie. “We’re excited to give it the kind of holistic renovation that it never really had,” says Blumenfeld, “combining our experience in historic preservation with top engineers who know lighting and staging and sound, and then finding the right operator and giving them some freedom to do their thing.”

“You meet so many amazing people out here really trying to make improvements in the city and you just want to surround yourself with those people and work together,” says mayoral candidate and four-term councilwoman Yvonne Flowers, a grandmother born and raised in the city. “We’ve made a lot of progress with city finances, improving our parks, bringing in more youth programming. We have a lot of development coming in, and we want to be sure that it happens in a way that’s inclusive to the whole city. We don’t want people deeply invested in our community to feel like they could no longer stay here because they can’t find adequate housing.”

The Poughkeepsie Scene

The 10-block Main Street core offers dining options including French, Italian, East Asian, Caribbean, and Mexican fare, along with the lively Trolley Barn Gallery and Vidl, a barbershop that hosts pop-up cultural events. There’s Laughing Gut for local kombucha, teas, and botanicals, and a brewery scene throughout the city that is, true to the legacy of college founder Matthew Vassar, off-the-chain fabulous.

Closer to the river, the city’s Little Italy neighborhood is rich in history and delicious food. Over by Vassar College, check out Geneva’s Blues House for authentic Southern barbecue and Twisted Soul Food Concepts for Asian-Latin-fusion treats. The Raymond Avenue neighborhood is a college town within the city, offering metaphysical supplies at Dreaming Goddess, music and art at Darkside Records, and a cozy retro bookstore at Three Arts, along with an array of thrift shops and mighty good pizza.

Poughkeepsie boasts four golf courses, two of them municipal, and nine acres of waterfront greenspace at Waryas Park. Also on the riverfront: the Mid-Hudson Discovery Museum, designed for the under-12 set but unlikely to disappoint accompanying grownups. Then there’s the Walkway Over the Hudson, the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, free to the public all day long and hosting a series of innovative Walkway At Night events.

The Poughkeepsie Real Estate Market

“You can get the same feel as you get in Larchmont in the south side of Poughkeepsie, for a fraction of the cost and a fraction of the taxes,” says Sandi Park, Associate Real Estate Broker, Global Luxury Specialist and publisher of The Brick, a real estate newsletter. “The trajectory was already happening before the pandemic; I had six properties go for six figures over asking in the past few years. But despite the historically low inventory, there are also plenty of opportunities in the $350-450,000 range, some in move-in condition, some historic. I tell my clients not to overlook things that have sat on the market for a while—if you see something intriguing, get in there and make an offer before the seller makes a public price reduction”

At the time of this writing, Poughkeepsie listings include a handful of foreclosures and some apartments available for under $300,000, as well as nifty three- and four-bedroom colonials and ranches in the $500-700,000 range. A turnkey five-bedroom center hall Colonial up a private drive on eight acres and offering a saltwater pool, light-filled great room and chef’s kitchen was offered for $1,225,777. 

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