Mount Vernon Mayor Confident City Can Attract New Investment

John Jordan | June 20, 2016

Mount Vernon Mayor, Richard Thomas

MOUNT VERNON—Mayor Richard Thomas knows the city is playing catch up with neighboring Yonkers, White Plains and New Rochelle. However, the energetic young chief executive believes that for the city to bring in significant private investment it must spend capital to improve its neglected infrastructure.

While he knows that the work to bring what he terms a “renaissance” to the city will not be accomplished overnight, he did say that a clear sign was sent to Albany in March that Mount Vernon is looking to move forward and invest in its future when voters overwhelmingly approved the Mount Vernon City School District’s $108-million bond that includes extensive school building construction and renovation work.

A rendering of The Modern affordable housing project.
A rendering of The Modern affordable housing project.

Mayor Thomas, a former City Councilman and executive director of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, in an interview with Real Estate In-Depth at Mount Vernon City Hall earlier this month, said that he is urging the City Council to approve funding for a new Comprehensive Plan entitled “MV2020” that would provide land holders and potential developers a sense of certainty as to what types of uses can be developed in different sections of the city. At present, there are a number of ongoing initiatives to rezone sections of the city, including the Mount Vernon East and Mount Vernon West corridors. The mayor told Real Estate In-Depth that the work of those committees would be incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan.

Sections of the city where permitted land uses are to be modified to promote higher/greater development potential and quality of life in the Comprehensive Plan include Downtown Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon West, Mount Vernon East Station Area, the Canal Village Industrial Area, First Street, MLK Jr. Boulevard (Third Street), and Sandford Boulevard corridors.

“MV2020 will help Mount Vernon achieve: lower taxes; a more diversified economy; home value appreciation; and, above all, a drastically improved quality of life that will see our ‘City of Hope’ return to its rightful place as the ‘City of Happy Homes,’” Mayor Thomas told the City Council.

In terms of the Sandford Boulevard corridor, the mayor has proposed spending more than $20 million to cleanup and make significant improvements to the shuttered Memorial Field.

Current View of Memorial Field
Current View of Memorial Field

Mayor Thomas also traveled to Albany on June 6th and met with state lawmakers to begin a dialogue on how the state can provide what the mayor said was long overdue assistance to Mount Vernon. The mayor pushed for state aid for its Memorial Field improvement project, as well as support for a much more ambitious funding plan geared to upgrading the city’s infrastructure.

Most of that state aid would come in the form of infrastructure and safety related programs. The mayor introduced a plan earlier this year that called for more than $615 million in aid for the City of Mount Vernon. The mayor said that the city is seeking $350 million in capital funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for bridge repairs ($110 million), station repairs ($70 million), as well as $150 million for a quality of life program that would involve covering the train tracks and a new public park—“Unity Park”— that would span from Lincoln Avenue to First Avenue, abutting First Street. Another $20 million from the MTA would create multiple footbridges to connect the Westside and Fleetwood areas of Mount Vernon to the Bronx River Park.

In his proposal, Mayor Thomas said, “Mount Vernon has waited 122 years for the MTA to realize that their bridges are not only broken, but pose serious threats to key transportation routes.” He later added, “At least 25 years worth of MTA capital planning comes up empty for Mount Vernon. Accordingly, it’s time for Albany to remind MTA officials of their obligation to replace their matchstick bridges and invest in transformation downtown revitalization projects to connect Mount Vernon.” The mayor said he is meeting with MTA officials on the city’s concerns.

A Rendering of The Pointe mixed-use development
A Rendering of The Pointe mixed-use development

The mayor’s plan also calls for the state to provide almost $96.9 million for roads, bridges and buildings; $66.6 million for sewer and water infrastructure; $32.4 million for parkland enhancement; $18.1 million for public safety; $6.7 million for planning and community development and $3.3 million for youth services programs.

While Mayor Thomas said that this year’s trip to Albany would not likely bear any fruit for Mount Vernon since the Legislature was about to close session, the trip was meant to have the city “stay on the radar and remain a priority in Albany’s eyes.” He said that this year’s efforts was to make Mount Vernon a priority for state lawmakers in 2017.

He has also proposed having Albany raise the limit on local bond ordinances to $3 million from the current $750,000 level and to allow local governments to impose a “Local Infrastructure Tax” similar to the New York State Excise Tax, at eight cents. He said that new tax would generate up to $2 million a year for the city to use on road and park improvements. Outside of that tax, Mayor Thomas said the city has earmarked $3 million in its budget for its road paving program.

The city has also filed for project funding under Gov. Cuomo’s Consolidated Funding Application program, and has entered the competition for a $10-million state Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant that will be awarded to one downtown district in the Mid-Hudson Regional Council’s territory.

The mayor said that the city is embarking on this long-term multi-faceted effort to undertake a new comprehensive plan, invest in its infrastructure and to strongly advocate for assistance in Albany and Washington, DC “so that we can play some catch-up and to be very specific with what we are seeking help with. This is part of the ‘New Mount Vernon’ and we are looking to use our voice more responsibly and more strategically.”

Mount Vernon Mayor, Richard Thomas
Mount Vernon Mayor, Richard Thomas

Investors are taking notice of Mount Vernon. The mayor said the city has a significant amount of private investment projects in its pipeline, including the nearly $32-million Modern affordable housing development under construction and the planned $100-million The Pointe mixed-use development on South Fourth Avenue.

However, for investment to really take hold in the city, adoption of a new Comprehensive Plan that would include rezoning of sections of the city is critical. The new plan will provide investors the certainty as to what commercial or residential uses can be developed on their properties, Mayor Thomas said.

 Photo Caption: Mount Vernon Mayor, Richard Thomas


John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth