The Preservation Mob, a group of concerned citizens dedicated to safeguarding the rich history of the City of Newburgh, gathered on October 13 to oppose the demolition of 159 Grand Street.
The peaceful group was met with a police blockade, including cops on foot and in police cars. At one moment there were nearly as many police officers as protesters. The Preservation Mob gathered to salvage historical artifacts from 159 Grand St. before the building is reduced to rubble. Located in Newburgh’s Historic District, the beautiful 159 Grand St. has most of its original features intact.
Recently, the Newburgh city council voted to pay $295,000 to demolish three buildings, including 159 Grand St. An independent estimate put the cost of the demolitions at only $90,000.
The city has ignored the Grand St. property for more than seven years, protesters said. As soon as their preservation plans became public, city police took action to guard it for demolition.
“When asked why they were there, we were told that their superiors assigned them to this property to ‘insure your safety,’” said Michael Gabor, a Preservation Mob member and Newburgh business man.
City police barricaded the entrance of the building with yellow tape. The day before the protest, the city posted a sign that said, “No Trespassing. City Owned Property.”
After the Preservation Mob had gathered on Saturday, two more police cars arrived with three more officers.
“Mind you there were maybe ten of us milling about, talking to the press, each other and to the neighbors, nothing more,” said Gabor. Gabor added that Newburgh Mayor Judith Kennedy, who lives near 159 Grand St., asked him what was going on when she drove past the protest.
“You don’t know that you approved $100,000 to raze this building? You don’t see a problem with that?” Gabor said. According to Gabor, Kennedy said she would talk about the issue later, and then drove away.
When asked for a statement, Johanna Porr, director of the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands, said she wasn’t pleased with the city’s action regarding the 159 Grand St. property. “I’m disappointed that City Officials and the Land Bank don’t understand that the most important asset the city has is its architectural heritage,” she said. “The only way to dig ourselves out of this terrible economic situation is to attract responsible residents and businesses. I wish City Officials would prioritize our vibrant history, arts and adaptive re-use communities and follow the lead of these creative people who are currently restoring the city.”
In addition to rescuing 159 Grand St., the Preservation Mob wants to bring attention to the use of city money for this non-emergency purpose, as well as the fact that there are no plans to get the three properties back on the tax rolls.
Preservation Mob members also questioned city’s lack of vision in terms of tourism. “The most accessible route to job creation in our city is tourism- the infrastructure for it already exists- and the route to tourism is our historic district,” said Gabor.
Photos top to bottom © Tom Knieser and Johanna Porr