Revitalizing Our Downtowns With Art

William Logan’s ARC is installed on the Peekskill waterfront (photo courtesy of Hudson Valley MOCA)

Two mid-Hudson villages are $10 million closer to rejuvenating their waterfronts and downtown areas after winning Round 5 of New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) to boost post-COVID-19 economies. A third community is implementing DRI-funded projects.

Governor Kathy Hochul assures: “We will continue to give communities across the state, like Ossining and Haverstraw, the extra boost they need to recover from the pandemic and create more viable, livable, walkable downtowns.”

Round 5 winners Haverstraw and Ossining are formulating Strategic Investment Plans to identify signature projects, which must be shovel-ready within two years — creating open spaces, adding public art and wayfinding signage, redeveloping vacant spaces, and encouraging museums to embrace their respective diverse histories. Peekskill, a Round 4 DRI winner is putting plans into place. 

ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam adds: “Over the past 10 years, these three communities have really invested time and resources in bringing the arts to their neighborhoods. Therefore, there’s a bright future for their downtowns to be teaming with creative energy.”

Not only do the arts improve quality of life and attract tourists, they create jobs and boost the economy. Westchester County generated $172.3 million in economic activity, according to a study by Americans for the Arts.

According to Ossining Mayor Rika Levin, “The Village of Ossining has an extremely talented and diverse arts community with artists of all ages. DRI funding will catalyze myriad opportunities for the arts to continue to grow and thrive. This will further establish Ossining as a destination showcase for art, history, theater and music, ideally situated on the majestic Hudson River.”

“It’s the first time two villages won DRI funding,” Ossining Village Manager Karen D’Attore says, enthusiastic that connectivity with Rockland County will benefit their downtown areas. “We are excited to explore ways to optimize waterfront activity and enhance river access with our sister village, Haverstraw.”

Haverstraw Brick Museum (photo courtesy of Haverstraw Brick Museum)

D’Attore says that projects like the Sing Sing Prison Museum and other historic preservation and revitalization initiatives that create an arts presence will transform downtowns into destinations.

Two key items on Haverstraw Mayor Michael F. Kohut’s list are adding off-peak and weekend ferry service, and developing the chair factory site.

“This [ferry] would be a game-changer for the village,” Kohut says. “It’s very important to the village, and we would like to spend money on this.” He foresees an e-bike station near the ferry pier “for people who want to come downtown and then visit West Point or Harriman [State Park].”

The nine-acre chair factory project includes relocating an original chimney from one of Haverstraw’s brick factories — a nod to its 19th-century robust spirit — in addition to extending the Henry Hudson Quadricentennial Promenade along the waterfront, public amenities, and a potential canoe/kayak launch.

“Haverstraw is ethnically and culturally diverse, and projects should benefit the entire community,” Village Planner Max Stach emphasizes. “This [chair factory] project is transformational, and we’re aiming for whatever we can do to make it successful.”

Stach agrees that cross-river connections and last-mile connections at the ferry landing for bike shares or car shares encourage visitors. “Once in Haverstraw it’s a short ride to Bear Mountain, Hi Tor and Harriman State Parks. Crossing the ferry to Ossining is then a train ride to Yankee Stadium for a baseball game.”

DRI Round 4 winner Peekskill received grants last spring for 12 projects, among them relocating the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester, implementing public Wi-Fi and low-cost internet service, as well as wayfinding signage to mark and brand its history and culture, and the reconstruction of Fleischman Pier for improvements to Charles Point Park.

“Arts are a big part of Peekskill,” City Manager Andy Stewart, PhD emphasizes. He adds that “both arts projects — renovating the Paramount Hudson Valley Theater and public art linking downtown to the riverfront — involved private, not city, applications.”

The city awaits funding contracts for most of its DRI projects with the exception of the Downtown Revitalization Fund, a grant program for business capital projects. “[We have] been working with the NYS Homes and Community Renewal, the agency to which this contract has been assigned, to develop the administrative plan for this new grant program and are searching for a consultant to manage the grant program.”

Recent support through the NYS Consolidated Funding Application complements DRI-approved funding for a new pier that would enable large boats to dock there. Pier construction will begin this year.

Strategic Investment Plans for Ossining and Haverstraw are due by summer; the state will select projects to be funded this fall.

Dancers from the Ossining-based Westchester Dance Artists (photo courtesy of Westchester Dance Artists)
Ossining musician KJ Denhert (photo credit: Kyra Kverno Photography, courtesy of the artist)












A version of this article first appeared in the February 2022 issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at​​​​