Back in the 70s, Poughkeepsie closed off a few blocks of its Main Street permanently to traffic in order to make it into a pedestrian mall, the "Main Mall". This made a big mess of downtown traffic, especially considering that some other streets were being dug up at the time to construct an "east-west arterial" that wouldn't be finished for a few more years, so there really wasn't a good way to go east or west across town. But that was supposed to be the price of progress, as this move was necessary to allow the downtown stores to compete with suburban malls.

The Main Mall was opened with great fanfare right around the time of the Bicentennial, and promptly found that as soon as the bands, balloons, and free giveaways of the grand opening ceremony went away, so did most of the shoppers, and the stores did less business than they had when the street was open to traffic. Soon the stores started going out of business or moving to the suburbs, which reduced the crowds still further, as there was less reason to go there.

The county took over a vacant department store (Luckey Platt, which had been a local fixture for many decades, and used to have signs all over the region saying how many miles it was to their store; they were considered the major anchor of the Main Mall, but went under shortly after its opening) and put their Social Services office there, which made middle class people even more unwilling to go near there because "it's full of drunks, druggies, and other bums." There was even talk of removing all the benches so that vagrants wouldn't loiter, though that would make the place less comfortable to "normal" people too. Ultimately, after years of failure, they converted part of it back to a real street, but left part as a pedestrian mall even though it's a ghost town that seldom sees any actual pedestrian traffic and has very few things on it that anybody would want to go to.

Update: I just drove past there (in 2001), and the whole "mall" portion of the street has been dug up, so apparently they're in the process of turning it back into a regular street now. (As of 2003 I'm not sure of its current status.)

Poughkeepsie is called 'The Queen City', and uses a beehive as its symbol for the industrious nature of its inhabitants. Although in years past it devolved into a rather unsavory place to live, the current atmosphere in the city is one of quiet expectation. It's the feeling that happens before a storm, or before a frenzy of activity erupts.

Evidence suggests that the city is primed for a rebirth. The waterfront area, discarded back in the mid-70's and left for urban blight, has been the scene of a continued push for real estate development and urban renewal. There are a number of restaurants and shops which are trying to open up in the immediate waterfront vicinity, but the current businesses located there are actually doing all they can politically to keep new business out, since apparently they will gain an advantage if they can remain the only businesses operating in the waterfront development area when the place gets the much-needed maintenance and security upgrade.

The Rip Van Winkle highrise apartment building is also getting a makeover. Located within a stone's-throw of the Hudson River and waterfront area, the building has been a low-income housing unit with a majestic Hudson view for the past few decades. According to rumor the building has just been purchased by a real estate development group which will invest millions of dollars in renovations and plans to turn the building into luxury apartments, given the tremendous river views.

Why the turnaround for an area which was one of the more urban-blighted areas on the Hudson river? And why now? Over the past few years the Mid-Hudson region has experienced an influx of new residents. Housing prices have nearly doubled for apartment rentals over the last four years.

Perhaps part of the appeal that Poughkeepsie has is its relative proximity to NYC and a more rural environment. Poughkeepsie is the last stop on the Hudson Line for Metro North out of Manhattan, which means that thousands of people make their home in Poughkeepsie, and commute to 'the City' every day. Poughkeepsie is situated on the Hudson River in the middle of many historic sites, and the view of the river in the autumn from some parts of the city is incredible. Since it's located halfway between Manhattan and Albany, Poughkeepsie has access to the capital of the world and to NY State's capital, with all of the cultural advantages of both areas.

Perhaps as well with the tragedy of 9/11 many New Yorkers are seeking someplace outside of the City while still close by. Or perhaps those who desire exposure to the modern amenities in a rustic setting are getting tired of the rampant commercialism in Connecticut, the traditional haven for 'urban country folk'. Advertising agencies are beginning to appear in the Poughkeepsie region, which means that business is on the rise as well, or else more 'small' businesses are feeding off of the larger clients in the Metropolis while doing business in the lower-rent districts of the 'burbs.

One of the definite attractions to relocating to Poughkeepsie is the historic feel of the place. While there are indeed tenement housing projects to be found, it is also a city which is rich in historic districts and grand old Victorian houses. While apartment prices are now matching the cost of those in Fairfield County, Connecticut, what you get for those prices is worth much more. Add in on top of that a city government which is trying to attract businesses and actively encouraging growth and revitalization, and Poughkeepsie definitely stands poised to experience a resurgence of popularity.

Once it cleans itself up, that is. But the long efforts of both governments and individuals have begun to pay off, and Poughkeepsie might just surprise people willing to give it a second glance.

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