Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

Peekskill Herald

City Manager recounts achievements, sets goals for improving Peekskill’s Quality of Life

City+Manager+recounts+achievements%2C+sets+goals+for+improving+Peekskills+Quality+of+Life

Improving the quality of life in Peekskill – both above the ground and below the surface – was the theme of City Manager Matt Alexander’s remarks to the area business community during the Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting.

Marking his second year at the helm as city manager, Alexander provided a comprehensive update on past accomplishments and future goals to a crowd of nearly 90 people at the breakfast meeting held at the city’s Firehouse on March 14.

Following welcoming remarks and an introduction from Peekskill Mayor Vivian McKenzie, Alexander set out his vision for Peekskill which included his philosophy of how governing works as a team approach.

“One of the things we will continue to focus on is quality of life,” Alexander said. “As with many older cities throughout the US, we face some difficulties with a 100-year-old infrastructure and a population concentrated in a small area.

The city’s presentation to the business community included a segment on quality of life, encompassing fire and safety protection, ways to mitigate damage from increased storms and pedestrian safety.

“And although most people in Peekskill are wonderful people, we occasionally get some litter and some negative activity. We want to respond to that as quickly as possible to make sure we draw the line in the sand exactly where it should be.”

Alexander detailed the accomplishments of the various city departments and thanked all the staff members for their dedication to the work and to the city’s residents.

He pointed to an increase of foot patrols downtown by police, a significant increase in the number of traffic stops, the addition of six firefighters through a federal grant, plans to purchase two new firetrucks in 2025, and increased ambulance calls by the fire department.

The city’s Department of Public Works expects to triple the amount of garbage picked up since 2022. He noted that the city’s new shopping cart law had a great effect in addressing the problem of stray carts. A new focus will be on removing trash on city property. “We’re committed to holding the city itself to the same standard we ask of property owners.”

The DPW increased repairs of streetlights substantially last year and fixing pedestrian traffic signs is a priority this year. “Our workers will be getting special training so we can take care of our own pedestrian lights without calling in contractors,” Alexander said.

Quality of life under the streets

“The city is plagued with its 100-year-old water infrastructure,” Alexander pointed out, emphasizing the daily issues faced by the Water Department, led by Water Supervisor David Rambo

“Their task requires great efforts, and they are up to the challenge,” Alexander said. “We are committed to doing almost $15 million of work and have secured $8.85 million in grant funds, a huge accomplishment on the part of the water department.”

Ongoing work continues to replace more of the city’s estimated 653 gate valves that control the flow of water and sewage through hundreds of miles of underground pipes consisting of 4800 connections.

“It doesn’t mean you won’t get a shutdown in your neighborhood, but more often than before, you’ll notice that these events have been greatly reduced in intensity and regularity because the department is able to isolate the leaks because of the new gate valves,” Alexander said.

The Water Department continues the ongoing work of dam repairs and improvements to sewer pumps and flow into the sewer system.

Department collaborations lead to Community Hub

As part of Alexander’s ongoing desire to have city departments communicate with each other, the new Community Hub initiative was explained by Jonathan Zamora, Peekskill’s Nutrition Manager.  “As people have questions about social security, jobs, caring for older parents, we envision the Community Hub as a road map for getting answers,” said Zamora. “The Open House next week will highlight what the Community Hub offers, grounded in the dining experience.” He explained how the city’s youth department, the nutrition center and recreation department came together to brainstorm the Community Hub initiative.

Bringing new life to Peekskill

Carol Samol, the city’s new Director of Planning, remarked on her first months in Peekskill. “I’m very happy to be in Peekskill. It’s a wonderful city and you all have been so welcoming.”

A slide from the presentation to the business community showing two housing projects that are open.

Samol shared statistics on Peekskill’s exceptional growth in recent years, explaining that the city’s housing units increased by eight percent from 2010 to 2020, outpacing Westchester County’s growth of six percent.

This portion of the presentation spelled out statistics about who lives in Peekskill.

Household income in Peekskill ($86,695) grew by nearly double of the county’s ($114,651) from 2017 to 2022, up 58 percent compared to 27 percent countywide. However, 11.7 percent of Peekskill households, equaling 1,216 families, earn below the poverty threshold. According to the US Census data from the period of 2018-2022 there were 10,884 households in Peekskill.

Samol pointed to the growth of housing here with 82 units of affordable housing at 645 Main and the soon-to-open 181 units of market-rate apartments at Park Place Tower. She said there are 1,000 units of additional housing either approved or proposed still in the pipeline.

She referenced “an important moment to build community in Peekskill” with the Comprehensive Plan as a citywide look and to think deeply about each of the areas the Plan will encompass. “It’ll take us some time,” she added.

In this slide from the presentation, three projects have been approved. One, at South and Grove Streets is under construction.

Matt Rudikoff, the city’s Director of Economic Development and Executive Director of the Peekskill Industrial Development Agency, and Peter Erwin of the city’s Planning Department, gave updates on many ongoing projects, including work at Pugsley Park, continuing progress with work funded by the $10 million state Downtown Revitalization (DRI) grant, and the revitalization of the 457-foot long Fleischmann’s Pier.

Erwin spoke specifically about Pugsley Park which is on track to open in June. He explained how less than $500,000 was awarded the project from the DRI money but with additional dollars from other sources the budget is now at $1.2 million. The resident advisory committee suggestions were incorporated including the purchase of 47 new native tree species along with the positioning of benches along pathways that will give a view of the rose window of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church that borders the park.

Some of the seating areas at Pugsley Park have been designed with a view of the rose window at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, noted in a blue circle in this image from the slide presentation.

The Downtown Civic Hub will be an upgraded and redesigned Brown Plaza at North Division and Park Street, which Erwin referenced as different from the Senior & Nutrition Center’s Community Hub project. Construction of the Downtown Civic Hub will begin in 2025 and will now include infrastructure repairs underground.

This slide illustrates the progress on the central civic hub in the downtown.

The City also applied for a $4.4 million state grant to increase funding for the pedestrian and cyclist connectivity path to the downtown. This project is also expected to begin construction in 2025 and should occur simultaneously with railroad grade crossing improvements at Hudson Avenue funded by the MTA.

The city’s marketing campaign will be rolling out soon, which Rudikoff said was created as a sophisticated 21st century outreach through influencers using social media. He explained that the work will be considered a ‘toolkit’ that can be continued within budget and staff constraints after the outside company is no longer working for the city.

Cosmo’s Fresh Market, owned by the family that owns CTown, has received approvals for their building at the Washington Street location.

Rudikoff explained other business developments such as Cosmo’s Fresh Market, a 12,000 square foot space on Washington Street, is coming to fruition through state grants and how Washington Street is a main commercial artery with 300 to 400 homes around it.  The city owned firehouse at 701 Washington Street is being transformed into kitchen incubator with state and federal funding.

Greater things to come for Peekskill

Looking both in the past and to the future, City Manager Alexander encouraged all members of the Peekskill community to dream big and continue to work hard to improve the city for everyone.

“I think one of the takeaways is that Peekskill’s departments of Economic Development and Planning are interested in what you think,” Alexander said.

The final slide of the 40 presented was Alexander asking the audience for questions and comments.

At the end of the presentation there was a chance for questions and comments from the audience. Cynthia Knox, executive director of Caring for the Hungry and Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP), asked that the slide presentation be made available to the public on the city’s website. Alexander replied that would happen in the next day. It is located here. Knox also asked that Zamora, the nutrition director, share results of surveys asked of recreation users, youth and seniors with the public.

Chuck Newman, a member of the all volunteer run ‘working’ Peekskill Yacht Club, suggested that the dredging around Fleischmann’s Pier be extended into Peekskill Bay as over the years the Bay has silted in and can be very shallow. He envisioned a future where pleasure boaters could visit Peekskill for dining and nightlife, and anchor in the Bay and have some sort of launch service such as a water taxi bring them to shore. “These exist in many places and would really enhance the desirability of Peekskill as a place to visit amongst the boating community. Currently boaters will go to places like Haverstraw and Newburgh for entertainment and bypass Peekskill,” related Newman. He said the Club is one of the last all volunteer run working clubs in existence on the Hudson and when possible, the club tries to accommodate pleasure voters when there is a safe berth for them.

Alexander closed the nearly hour long presentation with the following remarks: “The truth is that none of our team did this without the help of all of you, because Peekskill has wanted this kind of transformation for a long, long time. We are building very much on the efforts of the past and the people that have put so much work into making Peekskill what it is today. We are on the way to becoming greater than what we are today.”

 

 

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.