Mayor Thomas Says Mount Vernon is Working its Way Back
John Jordan | October 2016
WHITE PLAINS—In his first appearance before the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors’ Commercial Investment Division, Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas gave an ambitious, but at the same time pragmatic view of the City of Mount Vernon’s future.
The mayor spoke before a gathering of approximately 75 CID members and guests at the HGAR offices in White Plains on Oct. 27. Mayor Thomas, a native of Mount Vernon, was elected mayor in November 2015 winning in a landslide. He took office in Jan. 1, 2016 and has engaged in a host of initiatives geared at improving the city’s infrastructure, its planning process and its quality of life.
The former Mount Vernon City Councilman (2012-2015) has had his battles with the City Council, but vows to move forward to grow Mount Vernon. He touted the city’s location just 20 minutes from La Guardia Airport, New York City and Stamford, CT and its strong mass transit system with three Metro North train stations, two MTA subway stops, nine bus lines and six major highways.
Mayor Thomas, who previously served as executive director of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York AREA) organization and also held the post of Regional Director for New York Gov. David Paterson, made headlines upon taking office when he took on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over the condition of MTA bridges in Mount Vernon.
At the CID session, Mayor Thomas noted that there are 11 MTA bridges in Mount Vernon, many of which are well over 100 years old. Two of those spans have been closed for two decades that have “divided the city and paralyzed our mobility,” he said.
“After some very structured and targeted conversations, they (the MTA) have committed to replacing four of our bridges over the next four years. That’s a $40-million commitment,” Mayor Thomas said. “They have $260 million more to go, but I am pleased that they did agree to replace these bridges on an accelerated timetable.”
The City of Mount Vernon is also working with the MTA to develop parcels the MTA owns around its train stations. “Before I got into office there was about $1 billion of development in various stages in the city,” he said. “Since we’ve taken office and had discussions with different groups, including the Real Estate Board of New York, we have tallied internally, and now we are ready to share externally, an additional new $5 billion in development.”
The mayor discussed some rezoning efforts underway at the moment and his goal of adopting a new Comprehensive Plan for the city. He said that there have been inroads with the city’s Building Department and added that developers can secure expedited approvals in some cases.
He did acknowledge that the poor image of the city in terms of its crime rate, school system, infrastructure and business environment must be improved.
The mayor said that to build a better city, his administration is pushing to hire more police and fire personnel, diversify development projects responsibly, fix broken infrastructure, empower neighborhood associations, collaborate with the school district and make Mount Vernon “market ready.” He also noted that the city must add more parking and that he prefers employing robo-parking since the city does not have the available properties downtown to accommodate new parking structures.
Among other topics the mayor touched upon include an ongoing reorganization at the Mount Vernon Industrial Development Agency. Mayor Thomas hopes to institute a ground floor tax break by the spring of 2017 in sections of the city that would be given to landlords and hopefully passed onto tenants to help address the 30% commercial vacancy rate in the downtown district.
Another initiative geared at the small business sector is “Project Bee Hive” that would provide a wide array of programs and services, including: access to professional consultants, technology labs, media studios, networking space and $100,000 in cash grants and loans.
Shortly after taking office the mayor introduced a plan that called for more than $615 million in mainly infrastructure-related aid for the City of Mount Vernon. He said the city would re-introduce that plan to the State Legislature in 2017. Part of that plan included $350 million in capital funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The mayor is continuing to try to move forward on a $20-million improvement plan for Memorial Field. Some welcome news for the city and its school district came earlier this year when voters approved a $108-million bond issue geared at making improvements to the city’s schools.