As I write this, the brick warehouse buildings on Hudson's waterfront, at the corner of North Front and Dock streets, are being taken apart in preparation for demolition. These are the last and only historic waterfront buildings remaining on the north side of the city.
Over the summer, a portion of a wall collapsed on one of the buildings--one that had been without a roof for several years. This created a hazardous situation, and a few months ago, the Common Council was asked to approve hiring a structural engineer to inspect the building so that, according to City Attorney Jack Connor, the City could condemn it and get it demolished. (I abstained from that vote because I couldn't bring myself to support a move whose ultimate goal was the demolition of a historic building.)
During the last week in October, I heard from a constituent that the buildings were going to be demolished within 24 hours. That turned out not to be true--at least not true at that time. I spoke with City of Hudson Code Enforcement Officer Peter Wurster who told me that the owner, Bentley Meeker, had been sent a certified letter to which he had 24 hours to respond. The letter, Wurster told me, informed the owner that he had 10 days either to agree to demolish the buildings or to come up with an acceptable plan for stabilizing them. Wurster told me that Meeker was already talking with Dan Proper at Crawford & Associates to come up with a plan for stabilization. At that time, only the north building and the connecting building were being discussed.
Yesterday I heard from the same constituent that all three buildings were coming down, so this morning I went over there to see for myself and take some pictures. At the site, I spoke with Bonnie Bent, the wife of Jim Bent who is the salvage contractor disassembling the buildings. According to her, the central building connecting the other two is coming down first, then the north building. The south building, which is structurally sound, is scheduled to come down in April, when the Bents and their crew return from wintering in Texas.
Talking with Bonnie Bent, I tried to get an explanation of how things had gotten to this point. She told me that Mayor Scalera had ordered the demolition and that the owner was agreeable, but she could not tell me if the owner had proposed a plan for stabilization that had been rejected by the City or if the owner had decided, in the face of the expense of stabilization, simply to let them go.
The real frustration here is that, in a city filled with historic buildings, in a city that owes its economic renaissance in recent decades to its historic architecture, there is no real commitment in city government--more specifically, in the mayor's office--to preserving the city's architectural heritage. The remedy the City regularly seeks for buildings that have fallen into disrepair--from the Fourth Street School in 1994 to the Chicken Shack in 1998 to these riverfront warehouses in 2009--is always demolition.
The justification, of course, is public safety. According to Bonnie Bent, when the salvage crew first entered the warehouse buildings, they discovered squatters living there. She assured me that they were now locking up to prevent people from getting inside. If these precautions are adequate to ensure public safety now, why couldn't the City have taken the same measures to protect the public while every possibility was explored to preserve an important feature of Hudson's irreplaceable architecture?