by Geddy Sveikauskas and Frances Marion Platt (HudsonValleyOne.com)
Rupco, the Kingston-based affordable-housing advocacy organization, is teaming up with Mary Stuart Masterson’s Stockade Works to bring TV/film production studios and a training center to the old MetLife building on Greenkill Avenue in the city. Rupco is now exploring financing from a wide variety of sources.
“This venue is new to Rupco in that there is no housing component,” explained Rupco executive director Kevin O’Connor. “However, we believe the introduction of new job skills, a new industry of film-making, and the expansion of light manufacturing or makerspace will really integrate all that is happening in Midtown, from The Lace Mill, down the Midtown Arts District, past Energy Square and connecting the far side of Kingston. This is the kind of change that’s been brewing in Kingston specifically and the Hudson Valley.”
This $12-million project is still very much in formation. Rupco has succeeded in getting the support of the mid-Hudson regional economic development council for inclusion on a list of 22 “preferred projects” for the ramshackle property vacated decades ago by the insurance giant. Though it’s a positive omen, inclusion on the regional list is by no means a guarantee of CFA (Consolidated Funding Application) funding. Many projects don’t get state support when the state CFA list is announced, which in recent years has come a few weeks before Christmas, in early December.
Many projects not on the list of regional significance get funded in the CFA process, anyway. Being on the CFA list does not necessarily lead to project completion. Some projects that do get funding through CFA success, like the state-supported walkway along the Hudson River beachfront in Kingston and Ulster, are a long time in happening, if they ever happen at all. The first phase of the large development next to that project, Hudson Landing, became stalled in the Great Recession. The proposed pathway park, state REDC money and all, still lies dormant.
Finally, the partnership between Rupco and Stockade Works is at this point a handshake commitment. It will need to be refined and elaborated.
Stockade Works’ ambitions
Stockade Works is a non-profit enterprise dedicated to fostering economic growth through a convergence of film and technology in the Hudson Valley. The site for the project, known as Stockade Works & Rupco Makerspace, is currently a Midtown eyesore, a 70,000-square-foot red-brick industrial building on Greenkill Avenue. From a funding perspective, one of the structure’s charms is that its blighted location in a “Qualified Census Tract” in the Kingston Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) area qualifies the project for consideration for funding from a wide variety of different government agencies and pots of money. The building, however unsightly now in its deteriorated state, is even eligible for inclusion on state and federal historic registers. Masterson’s team aspires to renovate it into a “net-zero-energy” facility utilizing green building practices, with solar heating and a green roof.
Stockade Works proposes to run a film and television production and post-production studio that will provide training opportunities for young urbanites seeking careers in the entertainment industry. Rupco’s MakerSpace, which will occupy a smaller part of the one-story building, will be geared toward a broader field of entrepreneurs wishing to utilize cutting-edge technologies like 3-D printing.
“Our intent is to further the potential of the community through growing the entertainment and technology sector of the economy,” Masterson said, explaining that a number of the heavy hitters on the Stockade Works board are poised to set up shop as soon as the renovation is complete. There’s even the possibility of some projects getting under way by year’s end in a temporary space in Kingston.
“We’re creating space for people to come together and bring their own work,” she said. “It’ll be a socially innovative co-working space specific to the entertainment and technology fields.” Masterson praised Kale Kaposhilin, co-founder of the Evolving Media Network, who has been bringing web developers, IT professionals and techies together regularly via the Hudson Valley Tech Meetup. “The same doesn’t exist for entertainment professionals,” she noted.
A creative job base
While the region’s affordability of locations and services, not to mention its scenic appeal and small-town vibe, has attracted many independent filmmakers in recent years, what Masterson ultimately has in mind is to “bring larger-scale production to the area,” creating an anchor space in Kingston for “longer-term TV production, providing sustainable, retainable jobs.”
Part of what stands in the way of that dream is the peculiar structure of the existing state tax incentives for filmmaking. The state film tax-credit program offers a 30 percent credit for “below-the-line” expenditures – meaning anything besides the producers and director for film and TV productions made within most of the New York portion of the New York City metropolitan area, but not Ulster County.
“That hasn’t stimulated production that much outside New York City,” Masterson noted. In the rest of the state, the incentive is a 40 percent tax credit – except for Ulster, Greene and Sullivan counties. Legislation to treat Ulster County like the rest of upstate New York has been approved by both houses of the state legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature. This change will help transform Kingston into an economically viable hub for the film and TV business, making our region competitive with places like Georgia, whose production-friendly statewide tax code generated “$6 billion in 2015 alone,” Masterson believes.
Other potential partners in the Stockade Works project are the Ulster County training and employment department, SUNY-Ulster, BOCES, the Center for Creative Education and other local agencies and not-for-profits whose missions focus on increasing the employability of local youths. “We’ll be doing training, providing the facility, making connections in the community and the industry,” Masterson said. Hosting “crew and tech boot camps” for newbies is high on the Stockade Works wish list.
Rupco’s $11,879,450 projected total project cost will create 65 temporary jobs and 20 permanent ones. Two million dollars on CFA money from the state would be a great boost in moving the project forward.
The co-applicants are seeking $1,500,000 from the Empire State Development Capital Grant Fund, $500,000 from the New York Main Street program, $329,450 from NYSERDA, $400,000 from the state Environmental Protection Fund and $100,000 through a Kingston Community Development block grant. Private investment will be sweetened by $3,250,000 in state and federal historic tax credits and $2,000,000 in new market tax credits. Also anticipated is a $500,000 EDA grant and a $400,000 USDA grant. Permanent debt financing is penciledin at $2.5 million.
The price of the Met Life building is pegged at $1.9 million. Also on the expense side, construction and renovation would cost $6 million. Soft costs are estimated at $1.6 million, the developer’s fee at $1.15 million and contingency costs at $1.245 million.
Various research studies have shown that employment in the creative and tech industries in New York City has been growing particularly rapidly in the past few years. The Hudson Valley has not enjoyed anywhere near as large a proportion of such growth. Can Kingston become known as a place with employment opportunities in the technology and creative fields?
The potential is there. Stay tuned and find out.