A bustling crowd filled the meeting room at Peekskill’s Central Fire Station last Thursday for the second formal workshop of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI). Last fall, the City of Peekskill was awarded $10 million by New York State’s DRI program.
A call for applications and proposals vying for a portion of the grant money was put out to downtown businesses and the general community in October but concerns surfaced that small and minority-owned businesses were left out of the information loop. At Thursday’s meeting, BFJ Planning, consultants managing the initial part of the DRI program, announced the deadline to submit applications for DRI funds was extended to February 14. The original deadline was the first week in February.
Attending the workshop was 10-year Peekskill resident Sandra Bennett-Pagan, who commented, “This is a unique opportunity for Peekskill, and we want everyone to succeed. But we do want to insure inclusiveness for everybody in the process.”
Bennett-Pagan said she felt there was insufficient outreach to many business owners and shared her concern with city officials. Subsequently a special public DRI workshop was held in Spanish on January 9 at the Assumption Church in Peekskill. At that meeting, Bennett-Pagan was surprised to see only 12 people had showed up.
Also attending that January 9 meeting was Wilfredo Morel, Director of Hispanic Services at HRHCare in Peekskill. “We need to be mindful of community mapping,” said Morel at Thursday’s workshop. “There is a call for a stronger effort to include a community of color.”
According to Peekskill City Councilman Ramon Fernandez, at least 50% of Peekskill businesses are owned by minorities. “That’s a conservative estimate,” said Fernandez. “I also believe there are about 30 women business owners in Peekskill.”
The DRI website offers some information in Spanish.
Bennett-Pagan and Morel met with Peekskill City Planning Director Jean Friedman to discuss more effective ways to communicate to Peekskill business owners. (The Northern Westchester Examiner reached out to Friedman for a comment, but the call was not returned). Ultimately BFJ officially extended the deadline for proposals to February 14.
BFJ Associate Principal Simon Kates, who co-presented Thursday’s meeting, said the new extended deadline would soon be posted on the DRI website https://www.peekskilldri.com/.
Along with Kates, addressing Peekskill residents and business owners was BFJ Planning Principal Susan Favate. Favate later said BFJ was aware the initial communication wasn’t getting out to everybody after the open call for projects in October.
“We put out information to the community via social media and left hard copies of the same information at city hall,” she said, adding a direct mailing wasn’t possible because they were on a strict timeline.
BFJ Planning is a New York City based consulting firm hired by the state to head up the DRI’s Strategic Investment Plan. Of Peekskill’s $10 million state grant, $300,000 is being paid to BFJ to develop and strategize an initial plan and to hire state planners, private sector firms of architects, civil engineers, landscape designers and marketing experts, among others.
A major consideration in selecting plans for state funding is choosing plans that best favor economic growth and opportunities that would benefit businesses, the community and downtown Peekskill.
Favate’s and Kates’ Thursday presentation outlined the process and scope of the entire DRI planning phase. “The emphasis for the DRI is on capital projects like buildings and streetscapes,” said Favate. “We want to fund projects that will ensure future sources of funding.”
For the most part, the presentation was in English. A Spanish printout of the power point was available, only some of what Favate and Kates said was verbally translated into Spanish by BFJ Planner Christina Jimenez.
At the workshop people huddled around large detailed maps on tables outlining downtown Peekskill to the waterfront, the focus area of the project. Colorful sharpies and post-its were plentiful for those writing comments directly on the large pads or maps. Professionally produced placards on easels placed around the room showed building designs and structures as possible future downtown projects.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Peekskill Mayor Andre Rainey, who was checking out the visual content in the room. Rainey is on the 21-person Local Planning Committee (LPC) made up of Peekskill business owners, environmental groups, arts organizations, school and youth boards, among other community stakeholders. The LPC has met once a month since October. The agendas and presentations on the DRI website are in English.
But some Peekskill business owners who were either uninformed of the application process or unaware a planning committee was formed were troubled that committee members are allowed to submit their own proposals that could be to their benefit.
“The state vetted all the members of the committee,” Rainey said assuredly. “They also have to recuse themselves from voting on their plan to be accepted.”
BFJ’s Kates explained that planning members can’t advocate for their project, “but they can provide factual information.” Kates said at the very first October meeting with the LPC all members were required to sign a Code of Conduct form that address conflict of interest issues should they arise.
“Conflict of interest wasn’t an issue for the three former planning committee members in the past,” said Kates of the three previous DRI’s managed by BFJ for New York State.
The new deadline will allow BFJ time to review new ideas and proposals before the LPC meets on February 19. The committee is expected to meet one final time on March 18 when they will decide which projects to recommend to the state for funding. All LPC meetings are held at the Neighborhood Center, 4 Nelson Avenue in Peekskill.
To date, about 45 proposals have been submitted to the planning committee, according to Kates. Detailed descriptions of those projects and their projected costs were presented at the fourth Local Planning Committee Meeting on January 15. The information is on the DRI website: https://035ed3f3-ca36-489a-a8dd-22835e564770.filesusr.com/ugd/774911_fc37178dfb284bfea2aba1385c966647.pdf
One of the main goals for the city is to link the downtown area with the waterfront. Among the proposals is to bring high-speed broadband to Downtown Peekskill and Public Wi-Fi and Internet Service to Bohlman Towers, Barham Senior Houses and Lepore and Pugsley Parks. Another proposal is to renovate Kiley Youth Center and partner with the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester with a new, upgraded facility including full structural improvements required by state and federal regulations, cafeteria, teen center, gymnasium, computer lab, art room, and other activity spaces.
Other plans include creating a marketing and branding strategy for Downtown Peekskill, installing Solar Power Generation on North Water Street, improve several Downtown Streetscapes, expanding the GO Peekskill pilot trolley service, upgrading and renovating the exterior and interior at the Paramount Theater, renovating the former industrial building at 120 North James Street into an art center with performing arts, exhibition, and educational spaces.
Information for applicants can be found at this website: https://035ed3f3-ca36-489a-a8dd-22835e564770.filesusr.com/ugd/774911_70d49c091dde4ea8b2a75b25d158f61c.pdf.
Applicants can also contact Friedman, AICP, Director of Planning via email, email@example.com. Project submissions should be emailed to PeekskillDRI@gmail.com.
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/