Move over, Brooklyn.
The once and future Kingston was on view Saturday as an up-and-coming rival for artists and creative professionals who have become essential to transforming rundown industrial neighborhoods into communities filled with studios, offices and living spaces.
The doors of seven former factories and warehouses dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s were thrown open in what the organizers at Friends of Historic Kingston say is the first-ever tour of the city's transformed industrial buildings in midtown, where a mixture of renovated and blighted brick structures line both sides of the CSX rail tracks regularly used by container transport trains that roar through Ulster County.
"On Sundays, it's a charming, wonderful thing," joked Darin Seim who is general manager and co-owner of R&F Handmade Paints. His partner Richard Frumess came up from Brooklyn in the early '90s to grow the business and in 2005, bought its present site, The Standard Oil Company building at 84 Ten Broeck Ave.
They transformed it from a wreck with holes in the floors and ceilings into an airy, 7,000-square-foot center for making beeswax-based paints and pigment sticks that are shipped out in 1,000-pound pallets to 250 stores nationwide. There is also a space for art classes and a gallery where paintings sell from $40 to $4,200.
"There's a lot of raw space that's attainable," Seim said.
Other stops on the tour included the 28,000-square-foot, five-story former grain mill at 15 Canfield St. where architect/owner Scott Dutton works and lives with his wife Terese and their two young daughters who use the former grain chute as a slide. Going to college at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute gave the Maine native his first urban experience in seeing how artists can change neighborhoods.
Ten years ago, they bought the 1893 building for $575,000 and completed a renovation where "adaptive reuse" is the buzzword. Old elevator parts and discarded farm doors are part of the decor. "There wasn't anyone living in midtown at the time, at least not legally," he said.
The local zoning laws have since been changed and Dutton is now the architect on one of the most talked-about stops on the tour. The hulking, abandoned United States Lace Curtain Mills building on Cornell Street is slated for a $16.5 million renovation into 55 affordable live-work units for artists by the nonprofit Rural Ulster Preservation Company.
"I've been looking at this building for the past 10 years," Kevin O'Connor, the group's executive director, told the nearly 100 visitors on Saturday's tour. He said the 60,000-square-foot project would feature a mix of one- to three-bedroom rental units that could be ready as soon as 2014.
Among the artists who showed off their studios was Joshua Vogel. In 2005, he and girlfriend Kelly Zaneto relocated from Greenpoint, Brooklyn and now run a thriving studio where he makes everything from wood sculptures to spoons from 400-pound chunks of fallen century-old maple trees that he finds in the woods.
"The rent is cheaper here and there's a lot more elbow room," he said. "There's a great quality of life."
The factories were built in the late 1800s when immigrants from Ireland, Germany and later, Italy, helped turned a "sleepy colonial town" into a thriving city, said William Rhoads, an architectural historian on the tour who specializes in researching the city and county's past. The buildings are well-suited for adaptive reuse because they were built to be solid.
Buildings in the 20,000-square-foot range are selling for $750,000 to $1 million, up from the early '90s, when they were selling for $150,000 to $350,000, according to Kathleen Maxwell, one of the tour organizers and a local Realtor. The 10-block radius includes about 50 buildings, about 10 of which are still available.