By CLOEY CALLAHAN
Celebrate845, a community organization that is “here to organize, recognize, and celebrate marginalized creatives via pop-up events,” is calling on Seraphim Equities, a new to Newburgh real estate firm, to cancel its recently announced Hudson Valley Hype mural festival planned for this summer and to better consider residents’ needs.
Conversation has been spurred about the festival since Josh Deitchman, originally from Monticello, created his mural, in partnership with Seraphim Equities, at 181 Broadway. The mural shows a Black woman “surrounded by the images of the four seasons of the Hudson Valley.” The festival is planned for the end of June, finishing on the Fourth of July, and Seraphim Equities said they would work with local artists and businesses to make it possible.
Despite Seraphim Equities striving for a community-first approach, not everyone is happy with what they are seeing. Celebrate845 made a Facebook post calling for accountability, conversation and the stop to gentrification in Newburgh.
“The festival proposed by Seraphim Equities planned to solicit non-local artists to make murals in Newburgh to make it ‘safer,’ ‘more walkable,’ and ‘help support local businesses,’” read the post. “These are all classic buzzwords used by realtors as they gentrify. Furthermore, they did not include local and/or marginalized creatives in their planning. Instead, they funded a non-local, white-passing, cis male to make the first mural... and he chose to paint a Black femme!”
Seraphim Equities said Deitchman has “had a bunch of experience in mural festivals across the country and we wanted to bring that same experience to Newburgh.” To them, it made sense for Detichman to create the mural, which would then be used to create promotional content. They said they have plans to include many more murals painted by primarily artists from Newburgh.
The Mid Hudson Times spoke with Tiera Nolcox of Celebrate845 who was born and raised in the City of Newburgh to see what they’d rather see from Seraphim Equities and other real estate gurus (as they mention Fidelity Real Estate as well).
Nolcox said she’d prefer to see a true community-first approach, where conversations are held with all community members and asked what they would like to see, rather than a real estate company come in and say this is what we’re doing.
For example, Seraphim Equities held an event on Tuesday, March 23 at 2 p.m. called “Vision in Motion,” at Pamela’s on the Hudson, for local businesses, community organizations and residents to connect and create a collaborative approach to moving the City of Newburgh forward.
“I would have loved to have been able to go to that, but it was in the middle of the work day,” said Nolcox. “A lot of people can’t attend that. That’s not sending a message saying we want an open dialogue and you to speak to us. It’s going about it in every wrong way. If you want to speak to the community, then why did you choose this time? It seems like you’re only catering to one audience and specific groups of people.”
Several business owners and community leaders did attend Seraphim Equities’ event, including Orange County Economic Development Director Bill Fioravanti, Acting President and CEO of the Orange County Chamber of Commerce Heather Bell-Meyer, co-owners of the Newburgh Vintage Emporium Anthony Vesnaver and Matt Smith, a Newburgh Enlarged City School District art teacher, and the Fidelity Real Estate Management team, among others.
Adam Shayanfekr, Executive Director of Seraphim Equities, and Megan Prives, Creative & Marketing at Seraphim Equities, hosted the event by giving a presentation, distributing additional materials on Seraphim Equities, and inviting each community member to introduce themselves to see how everyone might work together.
“There’s a big movement that has been brewing for years before we got here,” Shayanfekr acknowledged. “There are people that just want to bring the city back to life. We’re excited to be a part of that movement and be welcomed into the city ... We’re hoping that we can continue what we see happening on lower Broadway to continue to upper Broadway.”
However, this is the fine line that Nolcox described. Nolcox said she “loves seeing new businesses and new people” in the city, but that “when you feel like you’re being pushed out and walk over it is disrespectful.”
“A lot of people are saying they want to make it safer, but you’re disrespecting the people who live here,” said Nolcox. “You’re putting us down as if some big developer is going to come and say I got this – I’m going to make this city better. No, you’re not. There are already a lot of amazing residents here who are doing a lot to better the community. If you’re going to come to a new city, what are you going to do for the residents there? Are you uplifting their voices or are you bulldozing (literally and figuratively) and saying this is what we’re going to do and what you need. No, ask us and talk to us.”
Seraphim Equities said they are planning monthly events similar to this one, with the next one being over two months from now. They said the event “has given us the opportunity to meet members of the community and inform on and answer any questions regarding the projects we are working on.”
“To start and build the format, we simply invited people we’d meet out and about in Newburgh but ultimately, we’re excited for larger events to come,” wrote Seraphim Equities in an email. “We’re excited to build a larger event, accessible in-person and via Zoom. The next one won’t be until two and a half months from now because we’d like to ensure we have enough time to do more outreach.”
Seraphim Equities is also launching a Newburgh Revitalization Committee in June.
“Essentially what that group is going to do is take the smaller coalitions that are happening on Broadway, on Liberty Street, on Grand Street and any other streets, and people who are community leaders or activists and rolling them under one, so that everybody can pull together their resources, contacts or finances to really make a difference and continue everything moving forward full force,” said Shayanfekr at the event.
Seraphim Equities is using three pillars for its work in Newburgh: sanitation, mobility and beautification. In regards to sanitation, they are encouraging businesses to advertise on wastebaskets, which would be coordinated by Seraphim Equities themselves. While their commercial spaces are vacant, they plan to hold pop-up events featuring Hudson Valley retailers and artists this spring, which will go by the name of “The Little Apple Market.”
Currently, Seraphim Equities is working on mixed-use developments at 158-166 Broadway, 36 Liberty Street and 222-224 Broadway. The 760-square-feet apartments at 158-166 Broadway are currently listed online with a monthly rent of $1,700. The 1,855-square-feet retail space is listed with a monthly rent of $4,000.
“Our efforts are geared towards revitalization rather than gentrification, restoration rather than renovation,” wrote Seraphim Equities in an email. “Our ideal tenants are locals. Our rates are around the same that you’d see throughout Newburgh and additionally, we work to make the commercial units even more accessible by providing several months free rent and even full build out options wherever possible. We’ve been getting many calls from young, ambitious individuals who have passions in all spectrums of the retail market and are looking to launch a vision.”
They also said some residents have “expressed their excitement for the retail and restaurants that used to fill the streets to come back.” Seraphim Equities has worked in other areas, where they felt as though they were welcomed there with the holiday giveaway events and more. “My attitude is to not just sit back and watch this happen,” said Nolcox. “It’s becoming more of a bigger issue. The people who are going to be living here aren’t going to be the people who are from here. It’s just scary to see that and it makes me sad. The residents need to come together more. [Big real estate companies coming in] seems self-serving and not for the betterment of the community. The rents are becoming high and it seems like a money-making tool instead of helping residents of the city.”
To that, Seraphim equities said that ultimately, they “are not looking to secure a specific concentration of properties in the area, but what [they] do know is that the city has a unique and beautiful landscape of architecture that deserves attention, and [they] are committed to helping bring the Jewel of the Hudson back to its beauty as much as we can, for locals and for visitors alike.”
Nolcox, and Celebrate845 as a whole, is calling for affordable housing in the city. To her, seeing only a couple of real estate companies buying properties is “a big issue” and that “it shouldn’t be going this way.” Instead, Nolcox would like to see City of Newburgh residents getting involved with real estate and learning more about the home buying process.
Celebrate845 plans to continue to inform other residents moving forward in an effort for transparency while Seraphim Equities is in the City of Newburgh.
“Bringing attention to it isn’t meant to cause a divide,” said Nolcox. “We want community and people to be together. It feels as though they don’t have the residents best interest at heart and that they are taking advantage of a vulnerable community.”
Seraphim Equities encouraged more residents to reach out and “learn how to get involved or collaborate,” by contacting Megan Prives at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are excited to continue working on projects in Newburgh and will continue to gain and implement feedback from local businesses and residents wherever possible,” wrote Seraphim Equities in an email.