Hugh Reynolds

Kingston police chief Egidio Tinti’s recent endorsement of a proposal to relocate KPD headquarters to an abandoned bank on central Broadway indicates a work in progress. But is it the best way to go?

The building, decades ago the home office of Rondout National Bank and of late a Bank of America branch, is not at Broadway and Henry Street, smack in the middle of the city’s most depressed, crime-ravaged area. The present police headquarters is in the former city hall on Garraghan Drive down by the Rondout, more than a mile away. In terms of central location, a Midtown HQ makes much sense.

But, as always, there are other considerations.

The property in question is grossly overassessed at some $1.7 million. It carries a tax burden of about $75,000 a year, divided among city, school district and county. A recent offering at $250,000 — roughly one-seventh of its assessed value — drew no takers.

As a commercial investment, this property, given its tax burden, is not worth much, or so says the market.

Whether the city has considered reducing the assessment — and the taxes — to reflect current market value, with the chance of collecting about $4500 in taxes (versus the $30,000 it’s not getting) is not known. Perhaps a seventh of a loaf is better than none.

But go-go mayor Shayne Gallo, the driving force behind this proposal, has bigger fish to fry. Picking up another four or five thousand dollars wouldn’t put much of a dent in the city’s daily operating expense of $100,000, but a fully stocked police station in Midtown could make a huge difference to what Hizzoner calls “quality-of-life issues.”

Gallo is convinced that the police station will encourage Broadway’s rebound. Public safety will be seriously enhanced, vacant stores will be filled with prosperous businesses, property values will rise, adjacent neighborhoods will stabilize, and streets crimes like drug-dealing and prostitution will decline if not disappear. For sure, the area’s donut shops will boom.

For some, it all sounds just too utopian, and familiar. Two generations ago the city adopted an if-we-build-it-they-will-come strategy in relocating the city hall from Broadway to fields laid vacant by Rondout urban-renewal demolition. Nobody much came, though of course the (then) rolling hills of Rondout were far different than the busy heart of Broadway. The only reason anybody drove through Rondout in those days was if they were lost.

There are more practical concerns with the Fort Broadway plan. The city might pick it up for say, $200,000, pretty cheap for a solid, well-maintained two-story building of some 9600 square feet. Building something like that new these days might cost north of $3 million, not including land.

Unless they’re going to disguise cops as bank clerks, there will be extensive renovation costs. I’m referring not to machine guns on the roof or barbed-wire fences around the perimeter, but to the basics of a modern police station. A $500,000 investment might be only the starting point.

The suitor for the roughly 7500 square feet of space at the present police station would likely come from the same building. The city court currently resembles an anthill on busy days, with lawyers consulting with their clients in the lobby. Cost of renovations? Half a million might, again, be only the starting point. But we would have one dandy municipal courthouse.

The costs — this is a government project, after all — could easily top $3 million, about half the pricetag for restoring the abandoned city hall on Broadway a decade ago. The benefits are as yet incalculable, but could be, if the mayor is right, substantial. Perhaps transformational.

Business types refer to these kinds of decisions in terms of upside or downside potential. Gallo’s challenge is convincing tax-weary residents that this project is a long-term winner.