By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
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.