For a sleepy Hudson Valley town, Beacon, N.Y., gets more than its fair share of tourists with sophisticated clothes and designer eyewear.
Most have trekked from New York City, 60 miles to the south, to wander Dia:Beacon, the permanent collection of the Dia Center for the Arts. In spite of the stylish tourists, Beacon, home to only 16,000 residents, has retained its casual flavor.
“It’s really fun to watch the change in the area,” said Clara Lou Gould, the mayor of Beacon. “You go out on a Saturday and you see all the visitors to Dia, but you also still see all the locals. It’s not like Disney World. The Dia has been a great neighbor.”
Dia:Beacon has put the former industrial town on the map. The town was undergoing a small renaissance in the late Nineties, as private developers slowly restored old homes and commercial space, when the directors of Dia, a renowned contemporary art museum in Manhattan, chose the former International Paper Co. manufacturing facility on the Hudson River as the ideal space for its permanent collection. After a $15 million renovation, the museum opened in 2003. It’s now home to Richard Serra’s massive, dizzying installations and Andy Warhol’s shadow painting collection, among other works by major modern artists.
Artists who were already drawn to the Hudson Valley for its inspiring natural views, bohemian attitude and cheap real estate are flocking to the region in increasing numbers. The Bau Gallery, which represents the Beacon Artist Union, made its debut on Beacon’s Main Street in January 2005 and hosts a new show every month.
“There was a real excitement in the arts community in Beacon when the Dia opened,” said Harold Plochberger, an installation artist and a member of Bau. “The local community is very much involved in the arts.”
Along the Hudson, other communities are starting to ramp up their focus on the arts. The “4 Cities, 4 Saturdays” festival, organized by Art Along the Hudson, includes Beacon and the nearby towns of Kingston, Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, which all host arts festivals on alternating weekends of the month.
Drawing in artists has helped draw in business. “The Dia attracted a lot of art galleries and the art galleries created a demand for restaurants, then boutiques, and the residential development has taken off,” said Gould.
It’s still relatively quiet on Beacon’s Main Street, which runs from the Hudson River to Mount Beacon. But the signs of gentrification are obvious.
The Muddy Cup Coffee House, where artists, musicians and writers are encouraged to share their art over flavored lattes, is nestled next to novelty shops selling dollar knickknacks. Vintage clothing boutiques find real estate next to braid and wig shops, and an artisanal wine shop nestles next to a Pilates studio. Augie’s soup and sandwich shop draws as much attention as Oii, a fancy Asian fusion restaurant with Manhattan prices, which is popular with Dia staff and weekend visitors. Specialty retail, said Gould, is next.
“People who live in Beacon talk about how much more open the town is now, with the art galleries and new restaurants on Main Street,” said Marina Kitchen, a Dia volunteer who is studying art history at nearby Vassar College.
Beacon is still a bargain compared with its neighbors to the south, but real estate prices have skyrocketed in recent years. A single family can still buy a nice home for $300,000, but a decade ago, said Sheila Wicklow, broker and owner of Windchime Realty, similar homes in the area cost less than $100,000. In the fall, brokers in Beacon offered a citywide open house of 50 residences, which ranged from $160,000 mobile homes to $600,000 Victorians.
Other development is on its way — according to Gould, the Foss Group Beacon, which specializes in revitalizing industrial properties, is planning a hotel and conference center on the Hudson waterfront to open within the next year.
A similar renaissance is occurring across the Hudson. Newburgh, which is part of the “4 Cities, 4 Saturdays” festival, is home to the 500-acre Storm King Art Center, an outdoor sculpture park with works by David Smith, Mark di Suvero and Alexander Calder, among others. The sculpture park has gained more attention recently — and as it grows, the city’s arts community does, as well. Institutions such as the Yellow Bird Gallery, in a restored riverfront factory, feature artists and offer cultural events and performances. Though the commercial space is a bit more dilapidated than that in Beacon, with dollar stores and beauty supply stores dominating much of the region, the price of a single-family home is also rising, and can now sell for as much as $500,000.