The Academy is opening soon in Poughkeepsie: See what's in the $13M food, housing project
You may remember it as “The Hive.”
Three years ago last month, the Poughkeepsie project was officially announced as a mixed-use development that could not only bolster food infrastructure in a city that has food deserts, but also provide affordable housing.
Since then, the name and exterior designs have changed. A beehive design motif on the walls has been replaced by a mural of flowers, reaching up to a still-under-construction penthouse.
The COVID-19 pandemic also took a toll, forcing developers to rethink elements and causing shortages that increased costs. The original plan for a 2020 opening is a distant memory.
But, the idea to combine a food hall, a fresh food market, a restaurant, an event space and a coworking space with housing units never changed.
Developers and officials say when the project, which has been known as “The Academy” since fall 2020, opens in a matter of months, it will mark another step forward in the ongoing revitalization of the Queen City’s downtown.
Surviving, but tired:Why Dutchess restaurants are hurting again amid COVID
"We believe that the Academy will not only energize the current revitalization of the city — we want to revive the neighborhood to the vibrancy that existed before," said Christian Palikuca, a managing partner with the development, "but we also we want to serve as a cultural catalyst where the best events and Hudson Valley food and beverage products will be accessible and everyone will be able to enjoy them."
The Academy joins other developments that have repurposed vacant spaces, like Queen City Lofts, 40 Cannon Street, the Trolley Barn and the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory, with more near completion or on the horizon, such as the Youth Opportunity Union.
The Academy, at 33-35 Academy St., was originally a $10 million project, but costs increased by $3 million in the last three years. $1.2 million came from a state Consolidated Funding Applications grant.
Plans include 28 apartment units with income restrictions, and a fresh food market that would operate throughout the year. However, some details on the food market remain unclear, leaving questions over how accessible it will be for low-income residents, especially as it is being opened nearby an existing supermarket.
The project is a collaboration between the R.L. Baxter Building Corporation and MASS Design Group. MASS is led by Poughkeepsie resident Michael Murphy and has been working on several revitalization projects in the city after gaining acclaim for its work in Rwanda.
Mayor Rob Rolison considers the Academy a win for the city, adding another destination for visitors.
"Anything that attracts people to the city — that entices them to live, dine and shop here — is a plus for the city," he said.
Development in the pandemic
Eric Baxter tries to look on the bright side. While COVID-19 served as a hurdle in developing the Academy, he said there were positives.
"We've overcome a lot of things with COVID, with material delays, labor delays, increased construction costs, supply issue," said R.L. Baxter's vice president. "But the way it's kind of delayed our opening, we're actually a little thankful, because when we open, we'll be able to open up fully with no restrictions."
The Academy's 28 apartments include one-bedroom, two-bedroom and studio options. Prices will range from 60% to 120% of the area median income.
Baxter described the lack of housing as an ongoing concern in Dutchess County that existed even before the migration of downstate residents to the Hudson Valley.
"There's just not enough housing across all sectors, whether it's affordable market or single-family homes throughout the Hudson Valley, and especially Dutchess County," he said, "We're just trying to do our piece and fill that gap by creating additional housing units for people to live in this area."
The apartments are expected to be completed by August, with applications opening up in April or May, Baxter said.
“It will, in part, provide another housing option in what has been a tight market," Rolison said. "The city needs all types of housing. There is definitely a shortage."
The co-working space within the development was also designed with social distancing in mind, allowing for partitioned areas.
The impact of the pandemic also shaped the final layout of the development, as well as certain features among its retail offerings.
"In the way we laid out the seating, we created more flexibility where historically in food halls, you would have more of a communal seating," Palikuca said. "We also have a very robust delivery, to-go and pick-up components where people will be able to order from any food stall."
A food hall, restaurant and more
The Academy is expected to become a dining destination.
"The level of expertise of the professionals we've assembled will be able to provide world class hospitality and products to the region," Palikuca said.
The Academy Kitchen and Bar serves as the centerpiece of the development's culinary offerings. The 75-seat American bistro will feature an expansive cocktail menu.
The development will also include a food hall featuring four internally operated businesses:
- Valley Green will offer a selection of salads and grain bowls targeting health conscious guests.
- Smoke 33 will feature roadhouse barbecue, with smoked meats and comfort foods.
- East-West is an Asian-fusion concept serving ramen, bao and other dishes.
- The Academy Brew will be a craft beer retail store selling a rotation of locally produced beers.
The third component of the development's food plans is The Academy Market. This section will feature a coffee shop serving Ready Coffee. There will also be a second location for Newburgh Flour Shop.
"We're excited to bring (owner) Michael Kelly's expertise to Dutchess County," Palikuca said. "He's made a name for himself with Liberty Street Bistro and Flour Shop, so we're excited to get him on this side of the river."
The culinary options are expected to open by the end of May.
Market amid a food desert
Perhaps the least solidified aspect of the Academy is its fresh food market.
Palikuca said they are in the process of finalizing a deal with an outside operator. As such, the exact details of the market are sparse.
"We're currently negotiating with successful operators in the Hudson Valley to lease out that grocery space," he said. "So the intention for them is to source nearly nearly all of their products from local farmers and having most of the meat and seafood from regional rangers and fishermen."
The market serves as an attractive amenity for potential residents and workers at the Academy, but it could also serve as a balm for the issue of food insecurity in Poughkeepsie.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Access Research Atlas, the city includes five census tracts featuring low-income residents that are more than a half-mile from the nearest supermarket, and one in which low-income residents are more than a mile from a supermarket. In each there are more than 100 housing units that do not have their own vehicles to travel to a supermarket.
However, it's unclear how exactly the Academy's fresh food market might impact food accessibility.
The development is roughly one-third of a mile from Tropical Fresh Supermarket on Main Street. Furthermore, the market's price point could be a barrier for some who struggle with food access.
Still, the developers say uniting residents has been a goal of the project, and one of the reasons why the name was changed in fall 2020.
"The Academy has a lot of meaning," Amanda Baxter, company president, said then. "Obviously, it comes from the street name, but it also represents how we're creating this incubator space for the community."