New plans for old Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory

Elizabeth Celaya at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory (Buck Lewis/Vassar College)

As part of its Middle Main Initiative, the Poughkeepsie-based non-profit Hudson River Housing is planning to renovate an historic underwear factory, with the goal of creating mixed-income housing and other services. The factory, which sits between Main Street and the westbound arterial, once produced garments for the Poughkeepsie Underwear Company, and in 1982 was added to the National Register of Historic Buildings. Hudson River Housing acquired the property in 2012, though planning began as far back as 2008.

Elizabeth Celaya, a Vassar College alum and native of the Hudson Valley, is currently Community Relations manager at HRH, though as she describes it, “I wear many hats.” For the past few years, she has also overseen the Middle Main project, which in her words is “an initiative that’s interested in strengthening the Main Street corridor, or at least a significant stretch of it, running from Academy Street to Pershing Avenue,” and she hopes that the Underwear Factory could serve as an “anchor project” to bring “new life into the City of Poughkeepsie.”

HRH and Celaya have big hopes for the 22,000 square feet, three-story structure. They currently plan for the top two floors to be mixed-income housing, to “meet needs that fit a wide spectrum of residents,” according to Celaya. These will range from smaller units for low-income families, “work/live” spaces designed for “creative professionals” and larger loft spaces. There are currently 16 of these units planned.

The final third of the space would be what Celaya describes as a “commercial hub that will meet some needs that we’ve identified in the community.” Among these needs, pinpointed with help from the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, is food security. “One of the kind of amazing things that we found was that one in four households in the City of Poughkeepsie regularly reduces or skips meals, because they don’t have enough money for food.”

To help remedy this, the business aspects of the Underwear Factory will be focused around a community kitchen and café that HRH plans to use to produce healthy, affordable meals for local families. Celaya hopes to accomplish this through purchasing, at low cost, surplus from farmers’ markets and pick-your-own farms, much of which, she says, is regularly thrown away instead of consumed. “In the Hudson Valley region, we’re kind of at the center of this local food movement, and we’re surrounded by great farms, food products, the Culinary; and yet 15 miles away, at the county seat, people are going hungry.” HRH also plans on renting the space out to locals, such as “food entrepreneurs,” to test out ideas.

Sustainable urban living was also important in the conceptualization of the project. HRH is working with the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater non-profit, with whom it has received a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation grant to build, in Celaya’s words, a “bioswale [a landscape feature that removes pollution silt from water] and bio-retention area that will manage and treat the stormwater runoff before it enters the Fallkill Creek, which runs next to the building.” The site is designed as a demonstration project to educate the public on possible sustainable solutions to problems like runoff pollution. Also planned are raised vegetable beds and restored access to the Fallkill for the public.

“Pending all approvals,” according to Celaya, renovation and stabilization of the commercial portion of the structure will begin in January 2014, with the hope being that it will be finished by early 2015, at which point work on the residential floors can commence.

For now, a ten-member steering committee is collecting community feedback – an aspect that Celaya describes as “very critical in regard to our work.” Though far from completed, her vision of the building remains positive: “There are lots of benefits here.”

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