Building Cold Spring’s Economy

Leadership needed to champion local economic development

By Michael Turton

In 2007, as part of a survey that kicked off the creation of a new Comprehensive Plan, Cold Spring residents were asked what they like best about living in the village. The No. 1 response by far was “the small-town atmosphere.” One of the major challenges is that the small-town lifestyle so many cherish is maintained by equally small-town revenue.

Undoubtedly that’s an issue in many small communities across the country, but with fewer than 900 properties contributing to village taxes, infrastructure that even decades ago could have accurately been described as “aging” and a full plate of major capital projects pending, the bills for which will start arriving soon, finding ways to develop and improve the local economy may be even more critical in Cold Spring.

The challenge is made even greater by the fact that no single organization is charged with implementing, or at least coordinating, efforts to enhance and expand Cold Spring’s economy. And in a village of 1,900, the number of volunteers and the time they can commit is finite.

Federal assistance

Mayor Ralph Falloon met recently with staff from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s office to discuss the federal Economic Development Assistance Program and feels it could be beneficial to Cold Spring. “The grants can be large, in the millions [of dollars],” Falloon said. Potential projects could include improvements to Main Street, augmenting works currently being engineered through funding received several years ago. He also listed a new fire station as potentially eligible.

The Cold Spring Fire Company (CSFC) has proposed a $6 million building to replace the existing facility. While a new fire hall may not jump to mind as “economic development,” the Comprehensive Plan advocates keeping CSFC on Main Street as an integral part of a vibrant village core.

Cold Spring’s mayor said that funding to help outfit a new fire station is also available through two grant programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Such funding is anything but guaranteed, though, and Falloon said the process “is absolutely at Step 1.”

Data needed

Local residents have been known to rail against the increased traffic, parking and congested sidewalks that it brings, but there is no denying tourism is a major economic engine whose potential has not been fully tapped. Cold Spring resident Gretchen Dykstra recently addressed members of the Cold Spring Area Chamber of Commerce and spoke of the need to gather meaningful local data in order to build upon the existing tourist trade. Dykstra was the founding president of the Times Square Business Improvement District in New York City, a significant force in the economic and cultural renaissance that area experienced in the 1990s.

She disagrees with those who see an extensive advertising campaign as the way to increase tourism — at least at this stage. “Nobody has any information,” she told The Paper. As a starting point she advocates “intercept interviews” with visitors to the area — surveys to determine visitor demographics, how they heard about Cold Spring, how they got here, what they do while here, how much money they spend and how long they stay. “Once you have that baseline information, then you can strategize about how to attract more visitors,” including where and how to spend limited advertising dollars.

Building on existing strengths, rather than embarking upon new ventures, is also wise according to Dykstra. For example, instead of creating new special events — always a time-consuming and labor-intensive undertaking — she recommends expanding existing events that are already a success but that have room to grow, such as Halloween with its popular parade and decorated village homes.

Beyond tourism

Chamber President Alison Anthoine agrees with Dykstra but also sees another side of the coin. “I agree wholeheartedly that we should gather data … and also develop strategic partnerships with businesses that attract tourists,” she said, adding that those two initiatives are projects that “seem most within reach” for the chamber this year.

But Anthoine thinks the village needs to think beyond tourism while looking closer to home. “I think historically our members have focused on tourists as their primary audience, but tourism alone can’t sustain this community, she observed. “We have to develop overlapping ‘ecosystems’ within Philipstown and with our immediate neighbors, especially Beacon, to sustain our businesses in winter and have us be a living community rather than a collection of tourist attractions.”

The chamber president dismisses the idea that the organization is weakened by the absence of some key area businesses. She said some former members have rejoined and “several non-members have participated in initiatives such as Small Business Saturday.” Others, she said, will take part in the next First Friday event, which has expanded to support Philipstown’s Winter Carnival.

County’s role

Putnam County is a factor in Cold Spring tourism as well. The budget adopted in Carmel for 2015 includes $214,139 for the Putnam Tourism Promotion Agency. Although not part of the tourism budget, the county also contributes $7,500 annually to assist Cold Spring with garbage pickup, a need and an expense that increases as the number of visitors increases during peak seasons.

Western Putnam County is home to a large percentage of the county’s high-profile tourist attractions, from the Hudson River, Hudson Highlands and Fahnestock State Park to Boscobel, the Shakespeare Festival, Manitoga and Cold Spring itself. But what can only be described as a modest Putnam Tourism budget must promote attractions and events countywide, including the towns of Carmel, Kent, Patterson, Southeast, Putnam Valley and Philipstown.

A major grievance raised annually is Putnam County’s policy of not returning any of the sales tax generated in its towns directly to those communities. Putnam is one of only a half dozen counties in New York state to not share such revenue. Businesses located within zip code 10516 contribute $1.5 million in sales tax to Putnam County each year, according to Putnam County Finance Commissioner William Carlin.

While data is again lacking, it’s safe to say that a generous portion of the sales tax generated by Cold Spring’s businesses is directly attributed to tourism. There is also little doubt that having a share of those funds available for local economic development would improve Cold Spring’s economy while generating even more taxes.

EDC role?

Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra represents Philipstown and part of Putnam Valley and serves on the Economic Development Committee. The committee oversees the Putnam County Economic Development Corp. (EDC) and the Putnam County Industrial Development Agency.

While there is no potential for industrial development in Cold Spring, the work of the EDC may be more relevant. Scuccimarra said that she and EDC President Meghan Taylor met recently with representatives of the Garrison’s Landing Association to discuss funding possibilities for initiatives being considered there. Coincidentally, it was announced just Wednesday (Jan. 21) that Taylor is leaving EDC to take a position with the Empire State Development Corp.

Scuccimarra said that the application process for the next round of consolidated funding grants from New York state begins the end of May and that local municipalities and nonprofits ought to keep it in mind for potential economic development projects. Locally last year, the Fjord Trail, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and Manitoga each received consolidated funding grants.

Cold Spring Trustee Cathryn Fadde was also recently appointed to the EDC, which bills itself as a “one-stop shop for companies considering relocating or expanding in Putnam County.” She had been asked by Falloon to serve on the organization, no doubt in part to add a voice from the west end of the county. Fadde, who has only one EDC meeting under her belt, identified overnight accommodations as one area where the organization could potentially assist the village.

“We don’t want a Marriott,” she said, pointing out that the Village Code prohibits formula businesses. A “privately owned 15- to 20-room facility” would be desirable in her view, but the scarcity of suitable properties is an issue. Fadde listed the village Highway Department yard and the abandoned Impellittiere Motors garage, both on Fair Street, as well as a property for sale opposite the Depot Restaurant as possibilities.

Taking the lead

The question of who or what organization might take the reins in leading an economic development program in Cold Spring is a significant one. There have been suggestions that a Business Improvement District (BID) might be the answer, however Dykstra doubts that. BIDs are funded through an additional tax on commercial properties, an approach that local merchants would likely resist. She also points out that Cold Spring probably lacks the “critical mass” needed to make a BID sustainable simply because there are so few businesses.

One possibility she cites is the creation of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization to support local economic development. Such an entity would be eligible to receive both government and private funds to further its work.

Anthoine feels the Cold Spring Area Chamber of Commerce is “well positioned to lead a coordinated economic development effort in Philipstown” but with one significant caution, one that is common in most, if not all small communities. “We’re all volunteers, with limited time and energy, and we already have more than enough cats to herd.”

Click here for Part II


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11 thoughts on “Building Cold Spring’s Economy

  1. Many thanks to Michael Turton for another fab article about the business/economic situation in Cold Spring. Having had my shop on Main Street these past few years in addition to being a resident of the part of Put Valley that is represented by Mrs. Scuccimarra, I think I have some pretty good insights in terms of what’s going on here. In fact, I have written many, many posts in this forum on all of the topics covered here and then some.

    For starters, let’s take the idea of a BID off the table. No way can a small Village like ours support that kind of organization. I served on the BID board in Peekskill and know firsthand about getting grants, implementing them, working with a generous budget of $100,000/ year and all that it takes to keep the district running. Although I have been accused of wanting to start a BID here, nothing could be further from the truth; in fact, I have always been a strong advocate AGAINST imposing another such layer of government on the Village.

    Which brings me to my next point: all politicians, once they get in office, seem to get the same malady known as the “it’s so easy to spend other people’s money” virus. I don’t care whether it’s DC or PV, there’s never enough money for these guys and gals, no matter how much the taxpayers cough up. One answer to all these problems faced by local government is not to keep raising more and more money, but to use what’s generated wisely and learn to live within a budget. Like maybe there’s no way the people can afford a new fire station that may or may not be necessary in the first place. Is anyone out there even considering that possibility, or are they all afraid of the political repercussions of just saying “no” once in awhile?

    Or how about the local police department? Is it really necessary to spend such a big chunk of the budget on the Village’s own PD when you have excellent coverage by the Sheriff’s Dept. and State Police that is already being paid for by the taxpayers? Imagine how much would be saved by abolishing the local department? Don’t think it’s impossible- we did it in Put Valley almost 20 years ago and it’s worked out just great.

    Another thing that can (and must) be done for little or no extra cost- repair and upgrade the street lights ASAP. I have been working to accomplish this ever since I spent my first winter on Main St. and saw firsthand how much business we lose because the Village is so damn dark. Really folks, this is a no brainer and I am baffled and disgusted at the incompetence of generations of Village politicos who have not been able to figure out how to work with Central Hudson to get the job done. I am currently on the Lighting Committee and am not thrilled with the latest delays which are supposedly caused this time by CH. We are long overdue to have some of the poles replaced and the fixtures upgraded to energy efficient LED bulbs as has been done in other CH jurisdictions. Ask any merchant how they feel about this and I’m sure you’ll get an earful. We have an election coming up and I’m issuing a challenge to the candidates: please commit to repairing our street lights as a first order of business should you get elected.

    Here’s an interesting quote from someone who does not have a Main St. biz: “Anthoine thinks the village needs to think beyond tourism while looking closer to home. “I think historically our members have focused on tourists as their primary audience, but tourism alone can’t sustain this community, she observed. “We have to develop overlapping ‘ecosystems’ within Philipstown and with our immediate neighbors, especially Beacon, to sustain our businesses in winter and have us be a living community rather than a collection of tourist attractions.” I’m not sure what she means, but I can tell you firsthand that tourists are the lifeblood of this Village and if wasn’t for them I think most of Main St. would go belly up regardless of what kind of “ecosystems” are created.

    As far as getting help from the County for promoting Tourism and economic development: it is about time that the taxpayers who are paying the freight to live in one of the most expensive places in the USA rise up and demand the services and benefits to which they’re entitled. As I have said before, I am sick and tired of having to go down on bended knee, kiss somebody’s metaphorical ring and beg for money for advertising, events, promotion, marketing, business assistance, etc. Newsflash: that is what the money is there for- US! Regardless of whether it’s income tax, property tax, sales tax, et al the money is coming from OUR pockets. When they say “the State” is going to give us grant money, who do you think “the State” is? I find it astounding that the current crop of politicians seems to be just now figuring this out. Volunteers should not have to spend their own time and money to do the work that is rightfully supposed to be done by Government.

    Finally, Ms. Dykstra “disagrees with those who see an extensive advertising campaign as the way to increase tourism.. at least at this stage. Nobody has any information,…Once you have that baseline information, then you can strategize about how to attract more visitors… including where and how to spend limited advertising dollars. Although Ms. Dykstra has tremendous experience under her belt, I respectfully disagree with her hypothesis and will say categorically that nothing is more important than getting the word out about this wonderful and extraordinary place. We are blessed with incredible geography and infrastructure plus our many unique businesses and shops that are as fine as anything in NYC. If nobody knows we’re here, what good is it?

    If the powers that be want to get the ball rolling, how about setting up an economic advisory board composed of residents and business owners who are appointed by the Board to act as a liaison with the community? I would be glad to volunteer to serve.

  2. Mike Turton’s story does a real service by clarifying the challenges and opportunities in the Village. Although we do need to know more about the people who come to our Village and support the economy, I disagree that we have no data. A good place to start is the chapter on Economic Development in the Local Waterfront Revitalization Strategy (page 39), which shows that while tourism is important, it is not the only factor in the economic health of the community. It can be found at the Village’s website.

    Also helpful, although the figures are a little out of date, is the presentation from November 2008 by the Economic Development Working Group of the Special Board – found at the Village’s website.

    We’ll do better, and do it faster, if we take the time to become acquainted with the work that has already been done.

  3. Michael Armstrong, thanks for the references, there’s a lot of valuable information. Here’s something I came across as I began scanning the reports regarding the Main Street grants:

    (6) Main Street Project: Several years ago, the Village was awarded two Federal grants, of $800,000 and $200,000, to upgrade sidewalks and storm water drainage, especially along Main Street, but including other areas of the Village as well. The Village is now in the final engineering phase of this project, with the possibility that work can begin within the next year…

    Recently the question has been asked, what happened to this money? I’ve read that a lot of it has been spend on “engineering” and I’m wondering if you can provide any insight as to why the funds weren’t used to do what obviously needs to be done, i.e. hiring contractors to fix the sidewalks, lights, wiring, etc.?

    • This is a good question, and one that should be answered in detail, if only to inform the Village on how to avoid pitfalls in future projects funded by grants. The Village Board, and Trustee Bruce Campbell in particular, has been steering this project through a lengthy approval process which seems to involve repeated re-engineering of the plan, and delays. I’m sorry to say that I know very little more about this, and can make no judgment on the use of the funds, one way or the other.

      Quarterly progress reports — infrequent enough that they are not too burdensome — might help keep the project in the public eye, and move things along.

      • Michael, this does not bode well at all for the taxpayers of Cold Spring. We’re talking about something like a million dollars, much of which is being squandered by one group of bureaucrats or another. You mean to tell me that one man, Bruce Campbell, is to blame for this fiasco? He is not the only trustee who’s been in office since the money was allocated and as far as I know, he was never the mayor. This is what I mean about the problems with local government and the politicians who run things: no reward for success, no penalty for failure.

        • I am absolutely not “blaming” Bruce Campbell or anyone else for the delays in the Main Street project. I thought I was clear that I just did not know enough about why this vital project was taking so long to say much about it.

          Let’s first get the facts. That way we can hitch our anger to something that will pull us in the right direction.

          • Michael- there was no “anger” intended towards any individual and I apologize if if what I wrote came across that way. I was merely trying to point out in my posts the general inefficiency of local government on every level including country, town and village. I have found this to be true not just in Cold Spring but up and down the line. Volunteers can only do so much — it is up to the people that are hired, elected and appointed to do the things that are necessary in a civil society such as maintaining infrastructure.

  4. I echo Mike Armstrong. “We’ll do better, and do it faster, if we take the time to become acquainted with the work that has already been done.” The village’s Comprehensive Plan is so full of vital information, gathered over many years by dedicated, competent, committed volunteers. Let’s use it.

    • Karen, I agree with you that the powers that be need to look at the information that was previously collected and to take it into consideration as we move forward. However, one of the economic development reports is already seven years old. Why haven’t some of these carefully researched assessments been implemented? I don’t understand how it has come to pass that the Village is now facing what looks like a crisis situation with regard to all the projects that are now supposed to done this year. It looks like they had plenty of notice as to what’s been going on — the reports from the working groups are very thorough.

      • The Comprehensive Plan called for an annual review of how the Village was doing in meeting the objectives of the Plan. The Village Board committed to that when adopting the Comprehensive Plan, as much as they committed to any of the other objectives. I have suggested that these annual reviews be conducted in January, before the election season started, and before budget preparation.

        That way, the elections can be informed by the Village’s concrete progress on the Comprehensive Plan (or lack there of), and by the merits of the contributions of each of the candidates toward meeting that Plan.

        • Michael, that’s an excellent idea. Hopefully we will see at least some of the candidates address the issues and recommendations that were contained in those most informative studies.

          I don’t know how many Cold Spring taxpayers read the local papers or this online forum, but I imagine it’s only a small percentage of the voters.

          With so much at stake for the Village and their way of life, I can’t believe that there aren’t more people speaking out at meetings, posting online and in letters to the editor (not just Facebook groups).