New City s Revitalization Project Sees Progress, but Local Shop Owners Experience Less Business Due to Construction

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1 New City s Revitalization Project Sees Progress, but Local Shop Owners Experience Less Business Due to Construction December 13, 2012 By: Michele Thorkelsen After almost fifty years of planning, controversy, and disappointment, New City has taken it s first step in revitalization of the hamlet, in hopes to promote small business and give the town a more community feel. New City is the largest hamlet within Clarkstown, New York, and is also the town and county government seats. It is a part of the New York Metropolitan Area, providing easy access to Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester County, and New Jersey. When the Tappan Zee Bridge opened in 1955, New City quickly became one of the fastest growing suburbs of New York City, and continues to be growing today. At the 2010 census, New City had Dollars $150,000 $100,000 $50,000 Median $0 Household Income Mean Household Income Income in New York Region a population of 33,559. Clarkstown is known for having an above average income in New York. In 2011, both the median and mean household income of Clarkstown was double that of New York State, and New City is known for being one of the wealthiest hamlets within Clarkstown. But before the construction started, looking at Main Street, with its abandoned shopping centers, run down sidewalks, lack of benches and scenic areas, and bumpy roads, it would have been difficult to tell that the cost of living in New City is extremely high. The New City Revitalization Project is part of the New City Vision Plan, which was a plan presented to the hamlet in 2009, based on workshops from 2006, that was created to provide the community guidance for the future of New City. The revitalization

2 plan is solely focused on fixing up Main Street, to create a more unified look, adding safe crosswalks, additional parking, new lighting and amenities, and new plantings. Behan Planning and Design is the town s design team, responsible for the public sectors of the project. In addition to the public sectors, private revitalization projects such as the Super Stop and Shop plaza, the Castle Inn, Liberty Plaza, TD Bank, City Line Diner, The Burger Loft, along with others, have been important to the makeover of the street. The bill contract for the revitalization project was awarded at the Town Board meeting on August 4 th, 2009, and construction began that September. There are three phases of the project. Phase one, which is completed, was from Congers Road to Twin Elms Street, and it included widening the road, widening the sidewalks, adding on the street parking, and the redesign of Fireman Kevin Landau Park. Phase two, which is the current stage of the project, is from Third Street to the southern end of Main Street, with includes the same projects as phase one besides the park. Phase three is streetscape

3 reconstruction, which will be adding additional street lamps, benches, along with other amenities. John Behan, a principal with Behan Planning and Design, said that the entire project, including streetscape reconstruction, will be finished in late 2013 to early The project is costing Clarkstown $15 million, and Supervisor Alex Gromack secured several grants for the project. The town received a $2 million grant from New York state Senator Tom Morahan, $294,000 grant from United States Congresswoman Nita Lowey, $474,000 from Senator Chuck Schumer, a $751,000 grant through the Federal American Recovery Act, to use for energy efficient lighting for downtown, along with numerous smaller grants. The rest of the money will be coming from New City residents tax money, according to Ed Lettre, the public works administrator for New City. But, after spending $15 million, some are not convinced that this revitalization plan will bring New City back. In order to ensure that this planning initiative had little resistance, public workshops and smaller focus group sessions were conducted to hear the key concerns from residents and business owners. Steve Weissblatt, the owner of Original Designs on Main Street, as well as the President of the New City Chamber of Commerce, said that the chamber, Clarkstown officials, business owners, and some residents continually meet throughout the entire construction process to achieve results that will be beneficial for generations, to make sure that the results from the construction are the results that everyone was looking for. I think the committee and most of the public wanted to find agreement on a future vision that would really help make New City a place to be proud of, said Behan.

4 The revitalization project is allowing New City to revamp its look, but it is also allowing the hamlet to make some necessary changes. Behan said that the prior to construction, the sidewalks on Main Street did not meet the guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act, along with adding additional crosswalks to increase pedestrian safety. While the town hopes that the plan will help New City in the future, many shop owners are concerned because the construction has caused them less business. They would shut down part of the street in front of the shop, and people would have no idea if we were open or closed. We wouldn t get any notice that they were shutting down parts of the street so we couldn t accommodate. We were over on labor, over on food, everything like that, said a manager, who asked that her name not be used, at one of the coffee shops on Main Street, But since this part of the street is finished, we have gotten a lot more foot traffic. It s been a hassle, but it s been worth it. Most business owners are happy about the revitalization project; they agreed that the project will allow New City to have a more community feel and be both pedestrian and motorist friendly. However, many businesses have been hurt economically during the construction phase. I m sure that in the end, the benefits will far out weigh the sacrifices and inconveniences we must currently make as residents, business owners, and shoppers alike, said Weissblatt. But, after spending $15 million, some are not convinced that this revitalization plan will bring New City back. Many business owners brought up Nyack, which is another town in the county located on the water, which is known for it s small businesses, pretty landscape, and it s pedestrian friendly sidewalks, saying that New City isn t

5 Nyack. They re trying to make New City like Nyack, but we re not designed like Nyack. We re not on the water; they ll never get that idea. People are not going to use this street as a walkable street for their kids. It s too big of a main road. It s kind of a shame, said Suman Mitra, the owner of Village Music on Main Street. Former owner of STS Tires, Sal Moccio, agreed with Mitra saying that Main Street is not somewhere that is conducive for people to stroll up and down on the streets. After the construction is completed, Clarkstown is hoping for residents attitudes to change about the town. The lack of pride and general sense of disappointment that town officials heard at the workshops will hopefully be no more. The economy has been very challenging. Local support of New City businesses will continue to be important to get the results the town is hoping for. But the benefits of a revitalization effort like this are significant both in terms of helping the economic setting for existing businesses, and creating and incentivizing new investment opportunities, said Behan. Many New City residents said that they are hoping for more high-scale retail, quality food stores and cafes, and family style restaurants to be added to Main Street. Lettre said that after the reconstruction project is finished, the town is expecting an increase of foot traffic, and hoping for an increase of new small businesses coming to the community. I ve been here 37 years, I m seeing a scenery change. What s important about the project is that we re finally seeing a revival, a renovation, something that s going to be new. I think New City is the best place in life to be, said Moccio.