Why Poughkeepsie Isn't a College Town
Marist “disconnected” from the heart of the city
Patrick and Courtney McGuire opened The Poughkeepsie Grind in 2016, eager to bring Poughkeepsie’s downtown area something it’s never seen. They’re fresh-faced, Millennial skateboarders, who serve fresh-brewed coffee daily — over a countertop made of repurposed wood from a half pipe they built for their wedding day.
“We have a lot of Marist students come in,” Patrick McGuire laughed, motioning towards the red brick wall and sipping on his black iced coffee. “Our color scheme is also ‘Marist.’”
It’s a cozy cafe filled with college kids typing on their MacBooks — but it seems like an outleir in the vintage small-business community. “We identified that one thing that wasn’t really around here was that core, local cafe experience,” said McGuire, 31.
The Poughkeepsie Grind is one of the few spots that has capitalized on the trendy Millennial market within about a mile of the Marist campus. And it is just far away enough for Marist students to need a car to get their fix.
“I have always been kind of curious about why you don’t see Marist students more in the city of Poughkeepsie,” said Paul Hesse, Community Development Coordinator for the City of Poughkeepsie. “Both Marist and Vassar have a sort of insular reputation.”
If The Poughkeepsie Grind opened up a second location across the street from Marist, it would be even more of a gold-mine, you’d imagine. Instead, his downtown small-business neighbors sport storefronts with a classic aura, a model catering to the suburban residents that have inhabited the Hudson Valley for decades past.
“It’s hard to let go of something that has worked for 10 plus years,” McGuire said. “You have to let those things go sometimes, or adapt and rebrand. A lot of people are maybe too slow to do that or not willing to let go of their vision.”
Marist doesn’t have a “college town” area surrounding its campus. The commercial areas within walking distance are the Starbucks and the 1990s-vibe Campus Deli strip malls — where mom-and-pop shops are largely outnumbered by franchises like Applebee’s and McDonald’s.
“You guys have K&D and Starbucks down there, but still nobody who kind of stands alone,” McGuire said.
“It is definitely more auto-oriented and not really the kind of place that students or young adults are necessarily looking for today,” said Michael Welti, Director of Municipal Development in the town of Poughkeepsie.
The downtown area near Vassar is eccentric, sporting a mixture between classic pizzerias and trendy health foods — and it is geographically closer to the historical city of Poughkeepsie. “[Marist] was always a little bit away from the core of the city, and that’s probably only been made worse by some of the highway projects that were done back in the 1960s and 1970s,” Welti said.
Owing to its location along the river and land barrier of Highway 9, Marist is geographically isolated from the rest of the town and city of Poughkeepsie. “When Route 9 got re-routed and made larger — [Marist] became more disconnected from the heart of the city of Poughkeepsie,” Welti said.
Historical aerial photos available on the Dutchess County Website show Marist’s location in comparison to Poughkeepsie’s commercial areas of the years, always existing a bit away from the heart of the town.
“It was property along the river, north of the city. In some ways, the town has grown up around that area in the last number of years,” Welti said. “The areas of the town that are over there are more residential neighborhoods and things like the hospital.”
The underpass below Route 9 might also contribute to the isolation, prioritizing students safety crossing Route 9 by foot — but ensuring students don’t even have to leave campus to get across.
The lack of pedestrian-friendly commercial space near Marist is driving the plan for redevelopment of the Hudson Heritage site, Welti said.
The $300 million renovation by EFG Saber Realty, LLC is intended to be pedestrian-oriented with walkable spaces and restaurants, Welti said. “I think that’s kind of what they are looking to create, which is a change from some of the kind of retail we have in that area — it’s an older vintage,” Welti said.
“I know that the developers there see the potential of that proximity to Marist as a key to their success,” Welti said. “A project of that size is going to be dependent on a lot of things — the economy first and foremost, which is outside of our control.”
Elsewhere, the restaurant and cafe industry is booming in the age of social media and high-quality food photography. It seems as though private entities have taken advantage of this all over waterfront cities in the Hudson Valley.
The Poughkeepsie Grind is only one glimpse into the city’s developmental potential. “We figured Marist would figure [us] out slowly, and it just happened organically. It was for the community first,” said McGuire, who recently spearheaded an effort to restore the Poughkeepsie Skate Park.
Hesse said that despite the rest of the Hudson Valley seems to be getting ahead, Poughkeepsie may be in a “beneficial position” by moving slowly.
Rising development pressures, real estate costs and rents in cities like Beacon, Kingston and towns in Westchester County have given Poughkeepsie urban planners a glimpse at what’s to come. “It gives us the opportunity to observe the challenges of the cities that are ahead of us, so we can develop as equitably and responsibly as possible.”
With a lot of vacant commercial and residential space, Hesse said the city has a lot of room for growth.
Hesse is hopeful that the Marist partnership with HealthQuest/Nuvance will bring more permanent residents and families to Poughkeepsie. “Folks will start living between the two campuses, and we at the city and the county are really trying to think about how to accommodate travelers with bicycle, transit and pedestrian options,” he said.
“It seems like people who may be getting priced out of the Manhattan-Brooklyn scene and have gone up-river to Peekskill or Beacon can’t even afford it there,” Hesse said. “We’re seeing Poughkeepsie get a second look from people.”
With that second-look gives rise to worries of displacement of both residents and small-business owners, he said. “You want to make sure that the people that have been here for a long time have their part in that success.”