The Short-Lived Main Mall

By Arlo Lennert, Urban Studies, Class of 2025.

Constructed in 1973, Poughkeepsie’s Main Mall ended in 2001. Established as an outdoor pedestrian shopping plaza, proponents viewed it as a way to reverse the decline of the central business district. It catered to affluent residents during the city’s final phase of urban renewal. Urban planners aimed to enhance the city’s aesthetic appeal by incorporating beautification efforts alongside their plans for a “model city” in Poughkeepsie. Initially, it may have slowed down the decline of the city’s traditional central business district somewhat, but concurrent construction of the east-west arterials (Routes 44/55), which encircle the Mall, and proliferation of suburban shopping malls, soon continued downtown’s downward spiral. In addition, the deinstitutionalization of the Hudson River State Hospital in the 1990s led to a large number of “vagrants” and homeless encampments nearby, which caused many affluent residents to avoid the area. 

The Queen City East urban renewal project, identified as section 5 in the diagram below, was Poughkeepsie’s last portion of urban renewal. The area received a $10.5 million budget in the fall of 1973. This budget aimed to clear the surrounding area to create new buildings, improve streets, improve sidewalks, and construct parking lots. This funding was to last for five years. Despite the successful funding secured for the mall, the city faced various obstacles in its efforts to attract new customers to the vicinity. This was particularly surprising considering the mall’s location, which is close to the central business district, which is typically a bustling and lively area. The area once included a Lucky Platt department store, Wallace Co., Zimmer Brothers, and other stores. During the time of the mall, however, Wallace Co. and Lucky Platt went out of business, while Zimmer Bros. moved to Raymond Ave near Vassar College. 

Urban Renewal Planning for Poughkeepsie (Poughkeepsie Urban Renewal Board)

The concurrent opening of various malls within Dutchess County led to a steady decline in the number of customers to the Main Mall. The suburbanization of the Poughkeepsie area also had a major impact on who frequented the mall. With many affluent customers moving away from the central business district and with the completion of the arterials, the Mall struggled due to its low use. The South Hills Mall and the Poughkeepsie Galleria, in particular, drew business away from Main Street. While the city planners and merchants believed that the Mall would attract more customers, it became apparent as time went on that this would not be the case.

Since “slum clearance” had occurred earlier in the decade along with the creation of the arterials, the city wanted to reduce further controversy with the end of urban renewal. Stability is crucial for a city’s progress. By reducing controversy, the city intended to focus on improving the quality of life for its residents, creating more job opportunities, and attracting investors to the area. City officials and boosters hoped that, ultimately, urban renewal would lead to a more vibrant and prosperous city. This included a “Model City” approach to improve education and social services. While this plan initially increased attention to the Mall, there was also an increase in crime and other major problems in the area.

Artist Rendering of Main Mall Plans (Viewpoint Newsletter)

At its inception, the Mall faced a major challenge –– limited parking availability. With the best intentions, planners proposed closing a section of Main Street to pave the Mall’s construction. However, this move resulted in increased traffic on the side streets and added to the already congested city, despite the arterials constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, many of the nearby office buildings closed, causing the area to become more desolate during working hours. Consequently, the Main Mall area and downtown as a whole were perceived as depressed and isolated.

On September 15th, 2000 Governor George Pataki visited Poughkeepsie to announce the opening of Main Mall to vehicles. This included $1 million of state aid on top of $2.5 million from the city to open Main Street with more space for parking and sidewalks. This redesign was intended to bring businesses and people back downtown. Earlier in the year, the city had approved plans to reopen the street with new landscaping and lighting. These measures aimed to decrease crime rates, entice businesses, and generally revitalize Main Street. 

Mostly empty Main Mall (“The Problem with Poughkeepsie”)

The Main Mall was a well-intentioned endeavor by urban planners to breathe new life into downtown Poughkeepsie. However, despite initial success, the Mall encountered significant challenges in the form of declining foot traffic, an exodus of businesses to suburban malls, and homeless shelters in the area. Unfortunately, these obstacles ultimately led to the downfall of the Main Street Mall, leaving the city to reevaluate its approach to urban renewal.

Despite the setbacks, it is worth noting that the city’s commitment to revitalizing its downtown area and improving the quality of life for its residents remains steadfast. If you walk down Main Street toward Market Street, the Main Mall Row remains a notable architectural feature –– listed on the National Register in 1982 –– reminiscent of SOHO in New York City. While there are still vacancies, the retail trade, arts, and restaurants have benefitted Main Street. MASS Design maintains a local branch here in Poughkeepsie, proposing innovative projects around the city.

Moving forward, the city will undoubtedly draw upon the lessons learned from this experience to create a vibrant and prosperous community that benefits all its residents. It is encouraging to see such a strong determination to overcome obstacles and make positive changes that benefit everyone. With this kind of dedication, Poughkeepsie’s Main Street may be poised to become a thriving hub of commerce and culture that residents can be proud of for generations to come.

Despite its closing in 2001, the Main Mall Row of historic buildings remains along Main Street, pictured above.

Getting there:

The Mall was dismantled in early 2001, but there are still portions of the brick sidewalks along Main Street today. Walk down Main Street toward Market Street to see Main Mall Row, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

To learn more:

Flad, Harvey K., and Clyde Griffen. “Main Street Struggles to Return Amid Suburban Sprawl.”  Main Street to Mainframes: Landscape and Social Change in Poughkeepsie. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009, pp. 307–322. 

Flad, Harvey K. “A Time of Readjustment: Urban Renewal in Poughkeepsie, 1955-75.” New Perspectives on Poughkeepsie’s Past: Essays to Honor Edmund Platt, ed. Clyde Griffen, Dutchess County Historical Society, 1988, pp. 152-180.

National Register of Historic Places. Main Mall Row. National Park Service, Nov. 26, 1982.

Schulman, Ben. “The Problem with Poughkeepsie.” AIA Architects, March 7, 2018.

Seetoo, Rob. “MAIN MALL: City to describe plans Wednesday.” Poughkeepsie Journal, May 30, 2000.

Srebnick, Josh. “The Failure of Main Mall.” Left of Center, December 1, 1989.

Valkys, Michael. “Pataki gives aid to Main Mall project.” Poughkeepsie Journal, 16 September 2000.  

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