Plan would surround Poughkeepsie’s long-vacant Hudson River Psychiatric Center with suburban homes, shopping

Architecture Development East News Preservation
19th century postcard depicting The Kirkbride (Courtesy asylumprojects.org)

19th century postcard depicting The Kirkbride Hudson River State Hospital. (Courtesy Asylum Projects)

The long-vacant Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie, New York, is poised for redevelopment. The 156-acre hospital complex, listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), was built in 1871 and closed in 2001. Designed by Frederick Clarke Withers, with a landscape architecture plan by Olmsted & Vaux, the site’s significance derives primarily from the expressive Gothic Revival architecture organized under the Kirkbride Plan. According the NRHP entry, 11 of the buildings on site have particular historic significance.

1867 architect's drawing of the main floor of The Kirkbride, the principal administrative building and patient quarters (Courtesy National Park Service)

1867 architect’s drawing of the main floor of The Kirkbride, the principal administrative building and patient quarters (Courtesy National Park Service)

The Kirkbride Plan envisioned a system of “moral treatment” of mental illness through design. Conceived by psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride in 1854, the Kirkbride Plan called for architecture that maximized the salubrious effect of sunlight and fresh air. A typical building’s program featured staggered patient wards flanking an administrative core. To create a community environment, Kirkbride advocated that fewer than 250 patients live in each structure. Over 40 Kirkbride Plan hospitals and asylums built between 1848 and 1900 in the United States and Canada still stand today, though many were demolished or abandoned as mental health care transitioned to community-based models.

Site Map of Proposed Development (Courtesy EFG/DRA Heritage, LLC)

Site Map of Proposed Development (Courtesy EFG/DRA Heritage, LLC)

Diversified Realty Advisors and EnviroFinance Group are spearheading the redevelopment project as EFG/DRA Heritage or Hudson Heritage Group. The group purchased the property for $4 million from development firm CPC Resources in November 2013. The proposed $200 million, mixed-use development, Hudson Heritage, calls for a suburban-style, 350,000 square foot shopping center, 750 single and multifamily residences, and an 80 room hotel. Four of the historic buildings on site will be re-purposed (including The Kirkbride, for the hotel), while 55 others will be demolished.

Damaged by fire and vandals, the historic structures need extensive renovation. The plan is to develop the shopping center on the southern portion of the site first, and housing on the northern portion after that. The cost of environmental remediation (particularly for lead and asbestos) may be offset by New York State brownfield tax credits in the northern portion of the site.

There’s much work to be done before the project breaks ground. Per state regulations, the Town of Poughkeepsie will complete a comprehensive environmental review of the entire site before giving the go-ahead to the developers. Hudson Heritage Group is still marshaling financing for the project.

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