Esther Street created a ‘sense of place’ in downtown

To the editor:

I was shocked to read in the Herald about the proposal to re-open Esther Place to cars — at the expense of $20k of taxpayer money!

The decision defies logic and comprehension. For the past 2.5 years, car-free Esther Place has proven to be popular, safe, good for business, created a real sense of “place” downtown, served as a platform for local arts and commerce, welcomed all, and transformed a poor land use (dangerous vehicle cut through and 3 parking spots) into a vibrant — dare I say, revitalized — part of downtown.

I use the word revitalized because as you know our city received $10 million dollars of taxpayer money from the State as part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, an initiative with the goal of revitalizing our downtown.

The State is very clear on what revitalization means. Here are just a few of the goals from the state’s DRI Guidebook that align with Esther Place:

  • Creating an active, desirable downtown with a strong sense of place
  • Enhancing public spaces for arts and cultural events that serve the existing members of the community but also draw in attendees from around the region
  • Providing amenities that support and enhance downtown living and quality of life 
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by creating compact, walkable development patterns

And perhaps this sums it up best (also from the DRI Guidebook, bold added by me):

“The Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) is a comprehensive approach to boosting local economies by transforming communities into vibrant neighborhoods where the next generation of New Yorkers will want to live, work and raise a family.”

The next generation is not interested in 3 parking spots. The next generation is not interested in shaving 20 seconds off their drive to Subway by cutting through a little side street.

The next generation wants to drive as little as possible, they want to be able to walk to their everyday needs, they want to be able to gather in public spaces where buying something isn’t a prerequisite, they want to support their local business and artists, they want opportunities to be their own local business and shine as local artists.

Esther Place aligns with the vision of the DRI. To actively deconstruct Esther as a car-free plaza is an act of downtown devitalization and therefore the antithesis of DRI goals — and it really makes me wonder if we were the right choice for the $10 million grant.

From Page 11 of Peekskill’s own DRI Strategic Investment Plan:

“The DRI is much more than a one-off $10 million grant. Firstly, the projects are not selected in a vacuum, rather, they are synergistic and catalytic—that is, they work in concert to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Secondly, the positive momentum created by the DRI generates exponential effects that leverage additional public and private investments that, in turn, create a self-perpetuating cycle of revitalization.”   

Where is the synergy, the leverage, the momentum building in the decision to destroy Esther Place?

As part of the team that made Esther Place a reality, I know it was a project that required $0 in taxpayer money and its return on investment has been incalculable. When the New York Times wrote a story about Peekskill for their real estate section, they chose Esther Place as the hero image. How much do you think PR like that would cost if paid for out of pocket?

To in turn spend $20,000 taxpayer dollars to return Esther to a state that a New York Times photographer wouldn’t look twice at is an act of nearly criminal fiduciary malfeasance with our limited taxpayer money.

If the businesses on Esther are so adamant that a permanently car-free Esther Place is bad for business, why don’t they fund the bollards proposal? Is it because the return on investment doesn’t pan out without the taxpayer funding it? That’s obviously the case.

I implore you to think about what you’re proposing here: spending $20k to devalue our downtown as we are supposedly in the process of revitalizing it. And please consider the DRI’s forward-facing mission: this is about the next generation.

If we’re dead set on spending $20k of taxpayer money, let’s throw it into making Esther Place all that it could be. Look what we did with $0, imagine what we could do if we added 20,000 bucks to that. It’d be the best return on investment of any DRI project and would be truly aligned with the words written on Page 11 of Peekskill’s own DRI plan.

Frederick C. Dennstedt, Ringgold Street


Second grader writes to the Common Council

To the editor,
This letter was sent to members of the Common Council.
My name is G. L., I am 7 years old and I go to Oakside School. When my Daddy told me you want to let cars use Esther St, I couldn’t believe him. It is one of my favorite places downtown. I eat breakfast here with my Daddy before school and on the weekends. The weekends are the best because I can play there for hours. I bring some toys and play. And I play with the other kids too. If you let cars in, I will be sad because I can’t have fun here anymore and I can’t eat breakfast outside. Please keep the cars out of Esther St!

Thank you,
G. L.