Chapman Steamer Firehouse Needs Help to Avoid Foreclosure

Chapman Steamer Firehouse Newburgh

1.) The Chapman Steamer No. 1 circa 1910, 2.) In winter 2008, as transformation into the Firehouse Arts and Community Center begins, 3.) 30 years after the firehouse was retired in 19764.) rendering of the completed Firehouse Arts and Community Center

It has been over two and a half years since anything has been heard from the Chapman Steamer Collective. It has certainly not been for lack of trying. Just this week, they reached out to Newburgh Restoration to update everyone on their current status. It seems they are in a very precarious situation and need help. If you think you can be of assistance, please email them. See below for their official letter to Newburgh:


Because we know now that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our community. Knowing that the struggles against injustice and inequities are part of our identity, part of our culture; if indeed we are to rise from the wretchedness of division and conflict, we have to cultivate and defend those selfless efforts and talents dedicated to this goal. -Adapted from Nelson Mandela 1996 Heritage Day Address

All we wanted to do was to offer our Newburgh community the Firehouse Arts & Community Center. A gathering space of their own… A place that speaks in their voice… A place that allows their voices to be channeled into positive energy and constructive communication achieved through proactive methods and techniques. A haven to provide opportunity to lift every voice and to no longer be discounted.

We thought we possessed the fortitude to withstand the barrage of attacks, but it finally got to us. We lost our resolve amongst the negative voices and destructive acts… and we surrendered, we abandoned our belief, we abandoned Newburgh, and for that WE APOLOGIZE.

Our own conscience and courage to do what is right had to be reawakened. To no longer concede to the destructive and unscrupulous acts of a few.

We love our Newburgh community! Like the pride one feels for a good friend, close cousin because you see their potential for an amazing future. For nearly two years now, we lost sight of that.

Idealistically we trusted that the needs of the community were, and are, far more compelling than the coveting of a few. We trusted in their strong proclamation of community development lending with emphasis on highly distressed and underserved communities like ours despite it being a turbulent time for the banking industry. We naively believed they could avoid the typecasting and profiling of our community based on its present economic and social condition, its national reputation and our country’s banking and housing crisis to fulfill its promise to our community project. To our disappointment, we bore witness to a community lending mindset that lacked the courage not to let their conviction be deterred by the economic crisis—that instead reneged on their promise to our project, to our community, for no legitimate banking reason, and in their reneging, we witnessed a greater wrong—the sacrifice of the Firehouse Arts & Community Center project.


Five years ago we came to Newburgh, NY and the firehouse for very selfish reasons. Five NYC friends with savings looking for an outside-the-NYC weekend residence that could fulfill our desires—close to the city, access to public transportation, large space and where our money could stretch further. We must admit, even with the gracious welcome by Newburgh the deciding factor to ignore what we heard and witnessed of Newburgh, was the Chapman Steamer No. 1 firehouse on the corner of South and Dubois Streets—its size, its architecture and its price at 7,500sq. ft was irresistible compared to other similar size properties we had viewed. And so, in late 2007 we closed on the firehouse and opened to the City of Newburgh.

We never anticipated so much attention—people filled with curiosity, excitement and love for the resurgence of the firehouse would constantly approach. Engaging them found us embracing a higher purpose for the firehouse something far greater than our desires—the desires and the needs of the many. Not an easy sell but SOLD! And now the purpose of the firehouse would take on its intended meaning—to serve and nurture the community.

Fueled by our newly impassioned mission we established the Chapman Steamer Collective (a diverse group with a shared vision for the firehouse and its service to the community) and we organized the creation of Firehouse Arts & Community Center. We established our project team; committed to community involvement throughout the entire project, on all levels of input; and committed to a LEED certified center. Ambitiously and somewhat idealistically we envisioned a project, a center for the people, by the people.

In the summer of 2008 KeyBank offered us a construction loan under the federal New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program for distressed and underserved communities. For three years we fought hard for this ever-mutating device through all types of obstacles from all directions. Each transformation required us to rework the numbers and project elements, all to continue to assure them of a positive project return, all to firm up their confidence. And even after their last-minute inexplicable rejection of our NMTC loan we made every effort first to learn the reason why and secondly in asking them to do the right thing by reviving our loan offer or providing some other financing solution so that we may complete the project—only to have, after several months without any response from KeyBank, our communication rerouted to an outsourced Albany, NY law firm. And with this final apathetic and obstructive act the fight in us had been exhausted.

For a year and a half, from May 2008 through December 2009, KeyBank had assured us of a construction loan based on the strength of our project specifics. All their communication and efforts were directed toward that very goal right up to that shocking day and their nebulous last minute rejection on December 9, 2009. Until we received that shocking email that morning, we had fully anticipated obtaining a NMTC loan through KeyBank CDL. And even though the loan process had taken more than a year we perceived the delay to be linked to the economic crisis at the time.

In reneging on our loan, KeyBank calculated — based on what some of history has shown—that we would go quietly into the night and they would get away with this unjust act. And for a time, nearly two years, we let them. Until with eyes open and standing for something greater than the sum of our parts we realized that we cannot just walk away, that we must stand against wrong, should not turn away from unethical, unscrupulous mistreatment no matter the consequences, no matter if they be the bank and we be individuals. With this awakened inner strength… WE ARE BACK in the fight! With cause for and the hope that fair treatment, honest dealing, and the establishment of Firehouse Arts & Community Center may be achieved.

And now, KeyBank has received a foreclosure decree based on the court’s disallowing discovery on our negligence–fraud counterclaim. (A decree ordered on a bridge loan–line of credit with a one-year maturity that was supposed to have been covered “in the short term future” with the construction-to-permanent loan—“no worries, we don’t want you to lose project momentum”, as KeyBank assured us) This injustice, travesty of the fair lending laws, and deliberate transgression of the federal NMTC policies will not see us stop our fight even with the potential loss of the firehouse and by consequence the end of the Firehouse Arts & Community Center. We will fight to the highest level.

We tried standing alone in attempting to raise KeyBank’s conscience to do what is right, to no avail… And now, we could use your help, your voices, your input, your energies, and your strength.

All we ever asked is that they follow through on what they professed to, that which is so prominent throughout their community development banking lending principles (as proclaimed on – “innovative and complex financing from a variety of sources…” and “providing unique solutions to underserved individuals.”

In it to the end,

The Chapman Steamer Collective

9 Comment

  • Please get my contact information from Cher; I am happy to help you in any way I can.

  • Hi. You need a lawyer. Have you tried getting a pro bono lawyer on your case? You might be able to find one that specializes in Real Estate. Just google pro bono lawyer NYC. Also, have you thought of using kickstarter. I don’t really know much about those kinds of funding streams, but you might be able to get enough to fund the community based part of your project. Finally, call the NY Times and see if you can get someone to come up and do a human interest story and make a formal complaint with the BBB. Don’t let them win.

  • Lord, i know what you are going through. We did a SMALL (40K) construction loan with a local bank, taking them our 200K mortgage as we thought we should ‘go local’. We basically ended up having to finance the entire project ourselves and be reimbursed after they sent an inspector…who never understood what they were looking at…i could have financed this project myself in the YEAR we waited for the loan to go through…and the Bank still does not really understand the Instrument they sold us. they have literally gotten every piece of business and transaction wrong since the process started!!!
    hang tough it is worth it!

  • This is an amazing building.

  • I was wondering what was going on with that project… Are they trying to drum up interest from the local media regarding the Key Bank/loan situation? If not, they should.

  • I always wished I could live in that building when I was a child. It has always been a a favorite of mine.

  • The purchase and renovation/restoration of that firehouse has been a heroic effort! It is a story that those of us who have been here for awhile have witnessed many times. Such heroes for the most part have been discouraged or burned out from the effort. Relatively speaking, the investment and commitment in the City of Newburgh in recent years has been significantly larger than in all the 20+ years I’ve been here. The Chapman Steamer Collective have already done most of the work before coming to us. They have proven their commitment and have successfully secured one of Newburgh’s larger gems. I hope there’s something we as a community can do in this instance to make a difference. Something that will communicate to others that our community publicly, proudly and emphatically values these efforts.

  • Fritzy,

    Yes I agree with Michael G. It is a heroic effort and their current situation is quite a sad reality. A reality we residents need to avoid if ever we are going to remake Newburgh on high. I have done some work on the project for the collective and I witnessed their strong drive for community interaction in their providing jobs to local men and women, involving NFA in gaining work, real life experience and their wanting to use local commerce as much as possible. In fact, during my time working on the project our current mayor was working on the project as project manager. Vaughn, who is in charge of day-to-day, made strong efforts to be part of our community, to get to know its residents, to enlighten some of our youths, and to help people in the community beyond the firehouse project. He helped with the construction needs on other people’s property; shared their equipment, tools, vehicles and went to court, child welfare services, provided job, work reference for others. If there was ever a project and group of people worth fighting for it is this project. And so, I went to my Keybank branch and asked the manager who do I need to speak to to voice my displeasure… to ask to reevaluate this decision… to stop this foreclosure. He replied that would be the Keybank Community Development Banking in Ohio… a Mr. Poznik and Mr. Griffin. On Monday, I plan to contact these people and ask them to stop this foreclosure because this is a group of people and a project that our city really needs. And I hope my voice will not be the only voice they hear repeating this request… hell, this demand.

  • Dear Collective Individuals,

    My wife and I live at 110 Dubois Street. I am an artist, my studio is in the carriage house in the rear of the residence. I so looked forward to the successful completion of your envisioned project…with fantasies of my dropping in on artists at the firehouse and they dropping in on me at my place, sharing stories and feedback, and coffee. A few years back, we wrote a letter on your behalf to the Planning Board, the Building department and the City Council, asking for intervention in what seemed to be an approval process log jam threatening your financing and completion of your project, but to no avail, I assume. I’m sure there were many others who spoke up at the time.
    We are so very sorry for the current status (auction) of the property, and for your feelings and losses. Just when it seems like there is a real chance of the City of Newburgh breaking out of the thirty-year slump, I hope something good comes out of all of this for you and for us. I did not see this plea in April when it came out. I am only just now (August 16, 2013) seeing it as a link in the notice of the auction date. I wish you luck, good fortune and better days. I believe what goes around comes around. You are due some good karma. Thanks for your efforts, your vision, your skills, and your good will. You are always welcome at 110 Dubois Street.
    Richard Harper and Paula Stevens