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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”