The Putnam Examiner

Brewster Begins Talks on Revitalizing Village

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Officials and stakeholders in the Village of Brewster came together last Thursday for a discussion on how to improve the village.
Officials and stakeholders in the Village of Brewster came together last Thursday for a discussion on how to improve the village.

After a report by Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress offered a critique on the Village of Brewster’s strengths and obstacles, the village held its first task force meeting to address some of the problems and opportunities presented by the report last Thursday.

The report, issued in May, touted many of the village’s assets, including the MetroNorth Railway Station in the heart of Brewster. It also, however, said the village lacks a vitality found in similar small communities.

“The Village of Brewster, located in the northeastern corner of Putnam County, is a hidden gem with a very diverse community, it has all the ingredients and potential to become a vibrant Main Street and downtown,” the report states. However, it continues, “Our team site visits to Brewster did not expose us to a thriving Hudson Valley village, but perhaps to a more historic village––one that currently seems unable to make the necessary investments to become more than just a stop on the train for commuters utilizing its Metro North station, or a hang out for laborers either waiting or passed over for a day’s work.”

Last Thursday’s meeting was the first of the “Envision Brewster” Task Force, which consists of village and county officials, business members and residents and other stakeholders. It will meet at 10 a.m. every Thursday at the Brewster Village Hall on Main Street, as the village looks to revamp its outdated comprehensive plan.

A key decision facing the village is the future of the Garden Street School building, as the school closed its doors last June. The Pattern report said an adoptive re-use of the building, built in 1925 near the heart of downtown Brewster, could lead to economic opportunities and be a boon for the town.

“I really want everyone to understand that the Garden Street School really does represent a really big opportunity. It’s an extremely low-hanging fruit that needs to be grabbed onto,” Joe Czajka of Pattern for Progress said at Thursday’s meeting. “I think it needs to stay high on the priority list.”

Meghan Taylor of the Putnam County Economic Development committee discussed Brewster’s application to become an Opportunity Area, a designation that would open the door for the village to receive certain funding.

“I would say that the Village of Brewster is positioned very well,” Taylor said. “I’m being cautiously optimistic, but I would say that we have a very good chance.”

The report discussed the dramatic growth in the village’s Latino population, which jumped from about 32 percent of the village population in 2000 to 56 percent in 2010.

“The change in demographics is not a negative, but homeownership rates have unfortunately decreased as there has been population turnover,” it stated.

The report went on to note homeownership in Brewster, at 22.5 percent in 2010, was too low, saying a healthy community should have a rate of around 66 percent.

Another problem for the village, according to the report, is the lack of attractions in the downtown area.

“Outside of the train station and the small local diner, there is a considerable dearth of attractions such as theatres, art studios, shops and boutiques, restaurants and recreation,” it states. “In short, the primary goal for the redevelopment of Main Street should be to initiate focused development, establishing a core niche market, which will support further revitalization of the village center.”

Suggestions are offered to revitalize the village’s retail and to bring art and performance art into the community.

“More activity within this Main Street corridor, with people strolling, shopping and enjoying the sights will increase the length of visitors’ stays, allowing people a feeling of safety and enjoyment as they drive and walk through the area,” the report states. “This will ultimately increase property values and decrease vacancy rates.”

In its recommendations section, the report calls for increased community engagement, a “Brewster Arts & Community Week,” increased collaborative efforts and the hiring of a “Community Engagement Specialist.” It also says the village should look to become a destination for artists who can’t afford to live in the city.

Pattern for Progress, a non-profit, focuses on municipal planning and economic development.

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