2 Montgomery Street: What Is to Be Done?
By Michael Lebron
On Wednesday evening, The City of Newburgh held the first of several meetings structured to obtain community input with regard to restoring the Dutch Reformed Church and the City Club buildings, and the design of development at the 1.8 acre site at 2 Montgomery.
After allowing time for people to mingle and grab food and refreshments, Isella Ramirez of The Hester Street Collective asked everyone to settle in around the 20 or so tables that were set up in the Activity Center auditorium. The seating arrangement divided the crowd into groups of 10 to insure that as many people as possible could contribute.
Before the group discussions began, Chrissie Amato asked for a show of hands of those who were there because they were concerned about the direction that the project was taking. More than half of the more than 200 or so in attendance raised their hand.
Among the questions that were taken before the groups started was that of Juan Rojas, a Peruvian Newburgh homeowner of 20 years. A significant portion of The City of Newburgh’s Hispanic community own their own homes. He stated that City of Newburgh residents pay high taxes and asked how the project would benefit the existing residents.
Because the 2 Montgomery Street lot is owned by the city, officials feel that the city has a particular responsibility to assure that development benefits the entire community. As there are several communities with different perceptions of what it is that the communities need, and given that the city faces formidable fiscal challenges whose burdens are unevenly distributed, reconciling the competing visions for 2 Montgomery will be a formidable task.
While Isella took pains to translate everything into Spanish, only about 5% of those in attendance were Hispanic, even though 40% of Newburgh is Hispanic. Getting good turnout by the Hispanic community to The City of Newburgh public events has been a challenge in the past. For example, the federal EPA initially had difficulty with Hispanic participation during the first forums over the city’s water crisis.
Mayor Judy Kennedy acknowledged that achieving better engagement of all the communities in the process is always the goal, and that much more needs to be done.