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Peekskill Economist Lays Out Growth Ideas

PEEKSKILL, NY - New city economic development specialist James Slaughter laid out his views on how to attract business to the city to the Common Council Monday.Slaughter said that the increase in restaurants and nightlife and live music and cultural venues such as the Paramount Center and the art lofts made the city special, as did the opportunities for business growth due to available buildings in prime locations.Those aspects made Peekskill stand out from neighboring towns and should be selling points for the city, he said.

Slaughter said the city had several challenges, including identifying appropriate commercial and retail use for long term sustainable growth and finding developers and companies willing to expand into the city in a down economy.

Slaughter said that the city also needed to work to overcome negative perceptions about crime and living conditions that go back decades. He recommended increased outreach to local media outlets. "There are still a lot of perceptions about what happened 30 years ago that still permeate how the city is viewed," Slaughter said.

Slaughter recommended a marketing campaign that shows Peekskill as a city or art and commerce, and creating signage at key city entrances. Slaughter named several large vacant lots including 921 Main Street and the former shopping plaza at 1719 Main Street and vacant or obsolete buildings such as 108 Division Street that he hoped to develop.

He said the city should identify property owners who are willing to redevelop its properties by securing market rate financing in exchange for incentives from the city and pick key buildings for rehabilitation or adaptive use and work with a developer to remove obsolete buildings and empty lots. He gave several examples of renovated land use from places such as Annapolis, Md. that the city could use as models.

The city should also try to expand mixed use development in the downtown in order to draw more affluent residents to the city, Slaughter said. He gave an example from Seattle, Wash. of a 24-unit residential property built above a 15,000 square foot specialty food store and a second floor garage. "You need to have disposable income downtown and you also need to look at a mix of retail and residential that allows you to function at the optimal rate," Slaughter said.

The council was especially interested in how to improve Lower South Street, which has been underdeveloped for many years, without creating competition for the prospering downtown area. Slaughter said that it made sense to put larger commercial businesses in that area that would not compete with downtown businesses, such as office space for financial or insurance companies. He also said that nearby highway access would also allow two big box stores to be built there but didn't think that was the best use for the space.

Councilwoman Drew Claxton said she though the 1719 Main Street location would be ideal for a Trader Joes specialty grocery store, something residents have shown an interest in. She asked Slaughter to look into the possibility of a store in Peekskill. "There are number of people who will drive from here to Eastchester or Danbury [Conn.] to go to Trader Joes," Claxton said.

Mayor Mary Foster said that there are many senior citizens living in the downtown area who need a place to buy affordable home goods and clothing. "They walk around and shop in our downtown and they ask about stores that would service their needs," Foster said.

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