After years of planning, as part of a downtown revitalization initiative, community leaders broke ground at the site of the Dietz Street loft project Friday April 30, in Oneonta, with the hope of revitalizing and bringing “greater vibrancy” to the city’s downtown.
Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig, state Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Maryland, Hartwick College President Margaret Drugovich, Empire State Development Deputy Director Allison Nowack and other community and business leaders attended the ceremony and lifted ceremonial shovels for the groundbreaking.
These lofts, which began development in April, will bring more people to the downtown area, Herzig said.
The four story building would include artist lofts, 24 middle-income, two-bedroom apartments and units for people with disabilities.
BEACON – Developer Ken Kearney, founder of Kearney Group, got a call one day from a friend. “He said, ‘Have you heard of Oneonta?’” he recounted. “I sent my son Sean up to take a look and he said, ‘Get up here, I think you’ll like it.’”
Kearney, who has built artist lofts in Peekskill, Beacon and Poughkeepsie, has received approvals to put one of his affordable artist-friendly buildings on the Dietz Street lot in Oneonta. “I turn down a lot of sites,” he said. “But Oneonta has a tremendous untapped artist community.”
Kearney got his start in real estate development in 1989, after the former Bronx firefighter was badly burned on the job. “I bought a three-family house in Beacon and put everything into it,” he said. “I had beautiful lofts on the first and second floor, but I ran out of money to do the third, so it was unfinished.”
But as luck would have it, Beacon Mayor Clara Lou Gould had other ideas. “She knocked on my door and said, ‘I’ve heard good things,’” he said. “I told her I was broke, and she put me in touch with government funding to help finish it.”
He soon bought the building next door and developed that into mixed-income housing. “I built a couple more as part of the downtown revitalization, then got out of it and focused on senior housing,” he said. “But when Sean came into the business 10 years ago, he pushed us back into downtown revitalization.”
The Kearneys owned a site in the artist district in Peekskill, and there they developed 50 affordable artist lofts, 22 middle-income lofts, and four commercial storefronts. “There was this great synergy created,” he said. “We had a mix of interests, ethnicities and backgrounds, and it created this beautiful mosaic.”
The Lofts on Main, which features high ceilings and large windows, is designed for artists and rented at a lower cost, and also includes spaces for artists to work on larger-scale projects, such as painting or sculpting.
Walking into the apartment, you’ll see high ceilings and wide windows, with an open floor plan in the living/dining room, and a full kitchen tucked in the corner. The typical apartment has two bedrooms; many artists use one as a studio. The apartments also feature two large closets and a full bathroom, complete with tub.
Forty percent of the tenants of the 72 apartments were local, 30 percent were from New York City, and the remaining 20 percent were from the region.
With Peekskill under his belt, the Kearneys started a second project in Poughkeepsie, the Queen City Lofts. “We went into an area of high poverty, high unemployment and we built there,” he said. “Now, people are coming back to the area.”
The crown jewel of Queen City Lofts is Zeus Brewing, a restaurant and brewery with a rooftop dining that overlooks the Hudson.
And in 2018, the father-son team completed the West End Lots in Beacon. “It was extremely rewarding to come back to where it all started,” he said.
Across the 150 artist lofts of the three projects, the developers received over 700 applications, including Susan Ball and Carl Van Brunt, who live in the West End Lots. “I read about these apartments in Chronogram, which I write for,” said Van Brunt, a digital artist and painter. “The space is perfect, it’s the right size and the high ceilings make it grand.”
Being around other artists has also inspired him, and he is currently working with a musician in the building on animations set to new compositions.
After Kearney expressed interest in Oneonta, Mayor Gary Herzig brought 15 community members to tour the Lofts on Main. “From that, we started exploring options,” said Kearney.
The original plan was to build in the proposed Westcott Lot, but the space couldn’t support the project.
That’s when Kearney discovered the Dietz Street lot. “I stayed downtown last summer, and I walked past it three times a day,” he said. “It was perfect.”
In all, the proposed building would have 64 artist apartments, as well as space for the Hartwick College Grain Innovation Center on the first floor. “That’s a great partnership,” he said.
ONEONTA – Two citizens raised concerns about parking – a third called for “net zero” energy efficiency – when developer Ken Kearney outlined plans for a 64-unit art colony, The Lofts on Dietz, to the city Planning Commission last evening.
“As an artist, the building is an excellent concept, one we should embrace,” said Michael Stolzer, who lives in the Town of Oneonta but owns rental properties in the city. “But parking spaces are valuable. It seems kind of on the absurd side to build it on the parking lot.”
Mayor Gary Herzig saw it another way: “I truly hope we have a real parking problem, because it will mean we’re thriving and our businesses are successful,” he said as the meeting wrapped up.
ONEONTA – Oneonta is the right place at the right time.
That was Hudson Valley developer Ken Kearney’s assessment to a packed Chambers in Tuesday’s Common Council meeting of the positive impact his proposed development, Lofts on Dietz Street, would have on Oneonta’s downtown.
With evidence of positive results from two recent developments with artist lofts and middle-income apartment in Peekskill and Poughkeepsie, Kearney’s prediction for a similar project in Oneonta carried weight.
“We built our Peekskill buildings in a blighted area with high poverty rate and crime,” he said. “No one walked there at any time of day. We were the first investment in about 50 years. When it opened last year, there were people walking up and down Main Street. A coffee shop and restaurant have opened up.”
ONEONTA – Attention, Oneonta: The Lofts on Dietz are coming.
Common Council will vote Tuesday on making Parkview Development & Construction, Inc., a father and son development team from the Hudson Valley, Ken and Sean Kearney, the “preferred developer” on a local version of Artspace – 40 lofts for artists and another 26 middle-income apartments – planned for the Dietz Street parking lot.
All 66 units in the four-story building are “affordable,” Mayor Gary Herzig emphasized a few minutes ago, adding, “I’m very excited about this.” If all goes as planned, a ground-breaking could occur next summer.
“This really kick-starts transforming downtown Oneonta,” he said.