Yes, there was an approved Waterfront Redevelopment Plan for Peekskill!

Ballsley Aug 28 2005 planQuite a number of people have asked me about projects that we planned and approved when I was mayor but for some reason, were never completed. Many newer residents of Peekskill (over the last 7-8 years) were not here to know first hand the great projects that, if they were only allowed to become reality, would have transformed the City. Yes, despite a band of negative and political obstructionists, we were able to accomplish much and add important projects that, if stopped, would have had detrimental effects on the Peekskill of today. Imagine the financial condition of Peekskill without the tax benefits from Chapel Hill, Riverbend, Applewood, Buena Vista and Oakwood Drive developments, Kossuth Place and Maple Avenue subdivisions, Frost Lane Estates and Delancy Avenue homes, just to name just a few. Well, if a few people on the Common Council had their way back between 2002-07 these projects would have been disapproved. The City would have been deprived of millions of dollars in tax revenue. Not to mention some wonderful residents.

On the other hand, I guess the Foster Administration that followed wouldn’t have had the $11 million of fund balance there to waste away. Lol.

These projects (and many others not mentioned above) were important for more than just the tax windfall and the ability to have a 0% tax increase 3 years in a row while also building up that tremendous fund balance. They were important because they put Peekskill on the map, got us noticed in regional and national publications and made Peekskill a new horizon for serious retail interest. This is where the administration that followed mine totally didn’t get it. They didn’t understand the concept of business or major retail organizations. Businesses need customers, and ones with disposable income. These projects and others did that. How do we know? Because they told us and came to us to bring major retail to Peekskill; Target and Lowe’s being the most prominent.

I have been asked about the Target proposal over and over again especially in election years like this one. I’ll get to that story in a future post. This post is about a major project that was approved at Waterfront 10 years ago that should have been supported by the Foster Administration. Sadly, as usual, misinformation, politics and lies prevailed and what was a well-planned and landmark project that would have made the waterfront, Peekskill’s jewel and its most important physical asset, a focal point and compliment to the downtown. Luckily, Mayor Catalina and Council Members Vesce and Torres agree with this approach and are supporting new businesses and projects and especially, people with great ideas and money they wish to invest. Mayor Catalina believes, like I did, how beneficial it is to have private investment and use other people’s money to improve Peekskill whenever possible and not subscribe to the Foster Administration’s mantra of “if it’s not paid for by the taxpayers we don’t want it.”

So, the Ginsburg Waterfront Plan:

It is important to understand, as I pointed out earlier, this project was proposed “at the waterfront,” not “on the waterfront.” This is an important distinction because the council opposition and the Democratic Party minions did their best to trick members of the public into thinking the plan was to take the place of the Riverfront Green. In fact the entire plan was located on the eastern side of the track along Railroad Avenue, Water Street and Central Avenue. As usual, scare tactics were used to try and make residents think the green was being “given away” to an “evil developer.”

Of course none of that was true.

We held a series of public outreach events, including a large one at the Paramount where we could present the preliminary plan of the project and get valuable public input as well as dispel the terrible lies and tactics being used by those politically against the improvements.

The plan was well received by the public and over time the draft plan was modified to accommodate suggestions and concerns by the public. The developer even agreed to dedicate 10% of the residential units as Affordable Housing.  A number of ‘pocket parks’ were planned in between the housing areas and an important link to the downtown was highlighted by Central Avenue additions in order to link the new project with the business district and make the project a win-win for the downtown business owners.

Waterfront 005

Looking up Railroad Avenue with the train station to the left. This parking structure was totally disguised and added retail shops on the street level and a promenade and restaurant on the top level at the same elevation as Lower South Street.

The plan wasn’t all about residential. Yes, the final proposal had roughly 315 units but it also had a very unique parking structure that was totally disguised with a façade of retail stores/shops and a promenade that was accessed via Lower South Street with a rooftop restaurant.  It was an exciting idea.

Waterfront 004

This is a cross-sectional view of the parking structure showing the ‘hidden’ parking and the street level promenade. It also shows a sample residential structure planned for the north end of Water Street.

Waterfront 001

This is a more detailed version showing the individual components of the plan along Railroad Ave. and Water Street as well as Central Avenue to the right.

The project could have been built in stages and at the same time included extensive infrastructure improvements for the City, including sewer upgrades, road straightening and redevelopment and sidewalks. Governor Pataki liked the idea so much we were able to obtain $8 million in grants from NY State. Believe it or not much of these funds are still unspent because of the foolish acts of the Foster Administration over the subsequent years. Luckily, they were not reclaimed by the state agencies that granted them and thanks to Mayor Catalina they are now being applied to projects they were obtained for such as Peekskill Landing, the Lower Riverfront redevelopment near the boat dock and the Southern Waterfront Walkway. Projects all planned before the Foster Administration took office and finally moved ahead by Mayor Catalina.

Development__Peekskill_Newsletter-RV7b.indd

Click on the image to see full document.

With the right leadership and members of government the City of Peekskill has much more to accomplish. We are coming out of the 6+ years of stalled or outright prevention of previously approved projects and plans. The momentum was stopped and the City’s finances went into the toilet. $11 million in fund balance was spent with nothing to show for it and the word among investors was to stay away from Peekskill because they were too difficult and against serious projects. Since Mayor Catalina and his team have taken office things are starting to turn around and serious investment is coming back because investors know they are wanted and once again want to be a part of a Peekskill’s track to success and prosperity. We just need to make sure those we elect feel the same way. I look forward to helping Mayor Catalina and like-minded Council members move Peekskill forward in a positive and productive way.

To get a full understanding of the progress we made and the projects that were on the horizon back in 2007 please read this Special Development Issue we sent to the residents of the City at the time.

About John G. Testa

Former District 1 County Legislator, John G. Testa is served five terms at the Westchester County Board of Legislators, spending the last 3 terms as BOL Minority Leader. John G. Testa is a lifelong resident of Peekskill who first entered elected public service as a member of the Peekskill Common Council in 1998 and then served three terms as Mayor. He previously served on the Conservation and Parks Advisory Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. John became an elected official eager to improve the City in which his family has lived for more than a century and quickly earned a reputation as a strong, independent, nonpartisan voice for fiscal responsibility. John received a BS degree in Technology from SUNY Oswego, where his academic achievements gained him induction into Epsilon Pi Tau, the International Honorary Fraternity of Technology. He earned his MS degree in Technology from the City College of New York. He began his teaching career in 1980 at Peekskill High School, his alma mater, as an instructor in Technology and Social Studies, retiring in 2013 after 33 years teaching. John has been a leader in support for the Arts Community in Westchester. He presided over the construction of the Peekskill Art Lofts, the establishment of the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art, and the complete restoration of the Paramount Center for the Arts, originally a 1930’s movie house and helped bring critical funding to many Westchester programs. Legislator Testa received the “Advancing the Arts in Westchester Award” by ArtsWestchester. John has a been a leader on environmental issues for two decades and has a long record of initiatives he has supported and spearheaded. His active involvement in developing and promoting environmentally friendly policies began as mayor and continued throughout his time as Westchester County Legislator. His efforts consistently earned John the endorsement of the NY League of Conservation Voters. John’s most recognizable accomplishment has been his promotion and preservation of local history and historic landmarks, bringing an unprecedented focus on the region’s rich history, and its legacy of historic Victorian architecture. His roots in historical preservation stem from his experience as a Revolutionary War re-enactor and member of The Brigade of the American Revolution for 50 years. John was instrumental in securing the preservation of the Lincoln Depot, now the Lincoln Depot Museum, where he now serves as President. The museum was recognized in 2015 as one of The Best Museums in Westchester. He also secured the preservation of historic Fort Hill as parkland, a 40-acre parcel that was originally a Revolutionary War encampment site. Under his leadership, the United States Dept. of the Interior declared Peekskill a “Preserve America Community.” John was able to establish a record number of National Register designations of local structures, including the first Downtown and Neighborhood Historic Districts and supported the preservation of the historic Miller House in North White Plains. In 2017 John was named a “Champion of History” by the Lincoln Society in Peekskill. John and his wife of 37 years, Nancy, live in Peekskill and have two adult children, John, Jr. (fiancé Courtney Kelly) and Katy (husband Mike Mearon). John and Nancy recently welcomed the arrival of their first grandchild, Lacey Mae, in 2019.
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