Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Will DRI’s $10 million help Peekskill revitalize its downtown?

Former+Governor+Cuomo+came+to+Peekskill+in+August+2019+to+announce+the+city+won+a+%2410+million+downtown+revitalization+grant.+
Former Governor Cuomo came to Peekskill in August 2019 to announce the city won a $10 million downtown revitalization grant.

Unlike surrounding Cortlandt, Yorktown and Ossining, the city of Peekskill holds a distinct geographic advantage for economic vitality – a well-defined downtown in an urban setting.

For decades, locally-owned family businesses thrived in the downtown, with a wide variety of retail stores, restaurants, clothing stores, professional offices, doctors, lawyers and more.

The advent of the shopping center and changing demographics in the latter 20th century in Peekskill changed all that. Mom and pop shopkeepers couldn’t compete with big box national retail giants.

Today, Peekskill’s downtown offers a thriving core of restaurants that draw residents and out-of-towners. Shops offer a limited variety of goods. Several professional offices remain.

But there are empty buildings along South Street, Main Street, North Division, Bank Street and Brown Street. There isn’t much foot traffic during the weekday. The Paramount Theater draws crowds when a show is on the stage but remains dark on many nights.

Empty retail space on N. Division Street. (Photo by Jim Roberts)

More residential units coming online will grow the population downtown and create more economic activity. The recently-opened 645 Main Street building with 82 units and the soon-to-open, 181-unit eight-story One Park Place’s market-rate rentals will add hundreds of new potential shoppers.

Three other projects in the planning stage would add even more around-the-clock, daily activity with more new residents in the downtown, including 48 units at Broad and Howard streets, 125 units at 201 N. Division St., and 20 units at 1102-1106 Main St.

Funding a turnaround with state money

During the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York state’s Economic Development agencies took a different approach to handing out state dollars. The old system of giving money to legislators, who then passed the grants on to the projects in the district they chose, was replaced in part by block grants the Governor’s office selected.

Under one of those programs, the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI), Peekskill was awarded $10 million to pick the projects that local residents wanted to fund.

On Aug. 13, 2019, four-and-a-half years ago, then Gov. Cuomo came to Peekskill to hand out the oversized ceremonial replica check at a gathering of local elected officials and business people.

Then, after a long process of public input, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the winners in May of 2021.

Those projects were: create a downtown civic hub and improve the downtown public realm, $1.6 million; redevelop 41 N Division St. to include the Peekskill Arts Center, $1.6 million; revitalize the Paramount Theater, $1 million; transform downtown Peekskill with public art, $500,000; improve connections for pedestrians and cyclists between the waterfront and downtown, $1.1 million.

Peekskill’s Paramount Theater is an anchor of economic activity in the downtown. It received $1 million of the state DRI grant.

Also – transform the Kiley Youth Center as a new location of the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester, $1.5 million; implement public Wi-Fi in Lepore and Pugsley Parks and low-cost internet service for Bohlmann Towers and Barham Senior House, $300,000; enhance Pugsley Park as a downtown attraction, $313,000; enhance Monument Park, a gateway into downtown Peekskill, $260,000; reconstruct Fleischmann Pier and improve Charles Point Park as a premier waterfront destination, $180,000; create a marketing and branding strategy with wayfinding signage, $500,000.

The building at the corner of Main and N. Division Street is now for sale. (Photo by Jim Roberts)

Finding out what’s happening with DRI money

As with any government program, rules and regulations for granting money and overseeing spending tends to create a cumbersome process. Peekskill’s DRI program was dealt an early setback when Covid struck, putting many plans on hold due to the uncertainty of businesses not knowing when and whether they could keep the doors open.

But some of that DRI money has started to flow and more is on the way. At the January 22 Common Council meeting, City Manager Matt Alexander told council members that in late February city staff would present an update on the status of DRI projects.

One important rollout of DRI money will be presented this coming Friday, Feb. 2, with a presentation at the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon at Gleason’s.

The Peekskill Downtown Revitalization Marketing, Branding and Social Media Project will unveil the plan to develop a brand for Peekskill that describes the City’s history and culture, creates a marketing strategy to communicate the City’s brand and attract new residents, businesses, and visitors, and supports existing and new businesses through Peekskill destination marketing.

Another DRI project that won approval was the creation of a Downtown Revitalization Fund. In October of 2022, six companies were awarded a total of $630,000 in grants to improve their businesses: Charlie Who Cafe, Peekskill Brewery, EB Studios LLC at Early Electrics, Outdoor Art Display/Studio, Flatiron Building, Chamber of Commerce, Whiskey River and TerraDulce Bakery. [The Peekskill Brewery closed in November of 2023].

The empty building at the corner of S. Water St. and Hudson Avenue is slated to be turned into the Charlie Who Cafe, an artist cafe with coffee and light fare and art displays. (Photo from DRF proposal)

In addition, “Enlighten Peekskill” is a three-part strategy to bring public art to the DRI area, funded by Hudson Valley Museum of Contemporary Art (HV MOCA) which received $500,000 from New York State as part of Peekskill’s DRI award. “Enlighten Peekskill” will feature a proposed series of five illuminated sculptures leading visitors from the train station into Downtown. Other sculptures of this series will be installed next year.

Finding a home for the proposed Arts Center

One project that has had a bumpy ride is the $1.6 million grant for a “Peekskill Arts Center.”

The concept started as a plan from Ben Green to develop his building at 126 N. James St. into a 25,000-square-foot arts and media center with a gallery, a 98-seat live-performance theater, a 49-seat theater largely for screenings, plus a media center that could be used to produce commercials, films, music and videos along with classrooms and offices.

Rendering of the proposed Peekskill Arts Center at a building on N. James Street.

Once Green decided not to redevelop that aged building in need of major work, he paired up with developer and restaurant operator Louis Lanza to move the center to Lanza’s property at 41 N. Division St. (the former Worker’s Comp building).

Lanza’s project at 41 N. Division called for residential micro-apartments on the top two floors, along with the Arts Center’s home on the ground floor and multi-media productions spaces in the basement. The proposal won the $1.6 million DRI grant to help develop the Arts Center.

Rendering of the proposed Peekskill Arts Center in the empty building at the corner of Main and N. Division Streets.

But the Lanza plan never materialized, leaving the Arts Center out in the cold again. Recently there was talk of putting the Arts Center in the Ford Piano building, another Lanza property, but that won’t be happening now. Lanza has put both properties, at 41 N. Division and 15 South Division, on the market for sale. He did not return a call for comment.

Now it appears there could soon be a place for the Center to call home. Kathie Talbot, the Common Council’s liaison to the Paramount Center, told the Herald that she’s optimistic the Peekskill Arts Center will become reality. “We’re very excited about a plan that we are working on and we hope to be able to share with the public very soon,” Talbot said.

 

 

 

About the Contributor
Jim Roberts has been in this business for more than 35 years (hard to believe) and still learning every day. A third-generation Peekskill resident, he started as a lowly researcher at the Westchester Business Journal in 1986 and learned how to be a reporter from many veterans in the field. He’s worked in private companies, Connecticut state government and wrote for the Co-op City Times for 10 years before retiring from full-time work in 2019. Roberts wants to contribute to building the Herald into a news website for residents who care about what’s happening in Peekskill.