But while prosperity brings jobs, that upscaling casts a harsher light on income inequality and the lack of affordable housing in Saugerties. “We are in a crisis where we have almost 50 percent of residents of Saugerties living below the ALICE threshold,” said Kevin Freeman, a New York transplant running for a seat on the town board, using an acronym describing vulnerable people who are asset limited and income constrained, yet employed. He sees hope in sensitive development organizations, like RUPCO, which are active in the area.
The community unites to protect its natural and cultural resources and each other, and volunteerism is a municipal sport. Marjorie Block, 59, a craft painter whose family has lived in Saugerties since 1680, is the president of the historical society, oversees tourism for the town and runs the annual food-truck festival in Cantine Field to raise money to rebuild playgrounds. Ms. Block is intent on having a playground where disabled children and adults can play. “Everyone wants to sit on a swing some days,” she said.
Then there is Nina Schmidbaur, 31, a social worker who became a local hero when she bought a crumbling Victorian mansion on Route 9W called Clovelea that she had vowed to own since childhood, though it had been ravaged by fire and two decades of neglect. (Before then, it was a Chinese restaurant.) Ms. Schmidbaur, who declined to say how much she paid for the property, intends to put her psychotherapy practice on the main floor and live upstairs once the repairs are done. She is also running for a seat on the town board, with the aim of improving access to mental-health services. “I have the word ‘courage’ written on my keychain,” she said.
But if the soul of Saugerties is embodied in any building, it is the Orpheum, a turn-of-the-century theater on Main Street that has hosted roller skaters, vaudeville acts, silent films, talkies and, for one controversial moment in the 1980s, porn. For the past two years it has stood vacant, like a bravely smiling wallflower. Now Jason Silverman and Paul Sturtz, the new executive directors of Upstate Films, which operates a cinema in Rhinebeck, N.Y., are in negotiations to buy it.
If they succeed, there will be independent film screenings, lecture series, festivals and collaborations with the town’s remarkable array of cultural organizations. Upstate Films has its eye on expanding in several places, but “we started in Saugerties because it feels like the most exciting place to us in the region,” Mr. Silverman said. “It has so much energy, there’s filmmakers and archivists on every block, and there is a real sense of place and ownership from those who have lived here for generations.”
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