Peekskill is blooming as commercial developers find a new attitude at City Hall, backed by significant changes in zoning. Mayor Frank Catalina explains, “To entice businesses to come here, we let them know they have a friendly administration and that their plans aren’t going to languish for years in the approval process.”
One of the biggest changes to previous rules was the limited residential use in the downtown district for work/live lofts for artists, a decades-old effort to turn the tired industrial river city into a SoHo-on-the-Hudson. “The artist district works,” Catalina says, “but since 1992, we only have 72 certified artists. Two a year isn’t a great record.” Catalina was elected mayor in 2013 on a pledge to reinvigorate the city’s economy in the face of opponents who object to changing the nature of the city’s downtown area. “We have all these buildings in downtown, where there are restaurants and shops on the first floor, but the second and third floors remain vacant,” he says. If you change that law and allow more residential, he notes, “you put feet on the streets, more people in the restaurants,” and boost attendance at local cultural and entertainment destinations.
Among projects taking advantage of this change are The Lofts on Diven, a project that includes 50 subsidized artist lofts and 25 market-rate apartments, as well as retail and community space. The project, from Kearney Realty and Development Group, wouldn’t have been possible under the old restrictions.
Alma Realty, out of Long Island City, intends to build a $40 million high-rise with 150 apartments, retail, and a three-level parking garage for public use. The project is slated for two vacant blocks near the planned Central Firehouse, on Park and Brown Streets.
Just outside the downtown area on Main Street, Ginsburg Development is working on a $50 million project to convert the St. Mary’s Convent property into 178 apartments and 16 townhouses, among other things. “It’s going to be a destination, as well as a place to live,” Martin Ginsburg says of the unique concept. “We’re going to convert the convent into an extraordinary inn, and the chapel will become a club and fitness facility.”
The city’s riverfront itself is also undergoing a transformation. Diamond Properties in Mount Kisco is currently renovating a building at the Charles Point Marina site to house a restaurant, bowling alley, and other recreational facilities. Partners in the $6.5 million project include restaurateurs Louis Lanza (who is opening several other Peekskill eateries) and John Sharp, as well as Captain Lawrence Brewery founder Scott Vaccaro, who hopes to add a satellite brewery to the development.
Catalina says all this is just the beginning for Peekskill. “We have 30-plus acres on Route 9, just waiting [for development]. We’re looking for some light industrial or commercial that could generate a lot of clean jobs.”