Middletown wins $10 million state grant for downtown development

By Ryan Deffenbaugh

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 Middletown is $10 million richer after a visit from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo this month.

Cuomo stopped at the Paramount Theatre in the Orange County community on July 6 to announce that the city of about 28,000 residents was the winner of the new Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant for the region. The program called on cities statewide to submit applications for a $10 million state grant to help spur development and public and private investment.

Middletown’s application won for the state’s Mid-Hudson economic development region. It faced competition from other cities, towns and villages in the region, which includes Sullivan, Dutchess, Ulster, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester counties.

Cuomo said Middletown was competing with hundreds of other downtowns. A list of municipalities in the region that submitted applications could not be obtained from the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council as the Business Journal went to press.

“Cream rises to the top” in the case of Middletown, Cuomo said, announcing the city’s victory before a crowd that included Middletown Mayor Joseph DeStefano, state Sen. John J. Bonacic, Assemblywoman Aileen M. Gunther and Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus.

DeStefano told the Business Journal that recent developments within the city’s downtown made its application particularly attractive to the regional council, which reviewed all applications.

He pointed to the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine Middletown campus that opened in 2014, a planned $3 million private indoor soccer facility, the Fei Tian College of Fine Arts slated for the former Middletown Psychiatric Center and two new breweries — one recently opened and one on the way.

“We want to make our downtown — not like it was in the ’50s and ’60s, when it was a retail hub — but for commerce,” DeStefano said. “You’re going to see people here working, playing and living.”

Middletown wants to position itself as a player in regional development. DeStefano said the city has invested $16 million into its water and sewer infrastructure to prepare for development and has rezoned downtown districts for mixed uses.

There is about 500,000 square feet of developed land and a total of about 1 million square feet available for development if the former Middletown Psychiatric Center is included, DeStefano said.

“We’re in a position to change the community and the $10 million is what we needed to really make it happen,” he said.

The state grant is not earmarked for any specific purpose. Instead of weighing project proposals, the Mid-Hudson REDC considered factors such as nearby investment, the existence of developable properties in the downtown, the ability of infrastructure to support new development and the application of smart growth principles, according to literature describing the application process.

Cuomo announced the program during his State of the State address in January. A total of $100 million was split among the 10 economic development councils in the state. The governor also made stops in Geneva in Ontario County, Elmira in Chemung County, Westbury in Nassau County and Plattsburgh in Clinton County to announce winners. The other winners were not announced as of July 13.

While some of Cuomo’s economic development projects have come under criticism, including low job numbers for Start-Up NY and a critical comptroller’s audit of the Excelsior jobs program, Cuomo in Middletown touted his economic initiatives and their role in the upstate economy.

While he said the state government has long neglected upstate New York in favor of New York City, the state is now investing billions to spur economic growth there. That investment is creating jobs, he said.

“We have more private-sector jobs in this state than have ever existed in history: 7.9 million jobs,” Cuomo said. “Unemployment is down all across the state. Unemployment is down as much in upstate and the Hudson Valley as it is in New York City, which has never happened before.”

Up next for Middletown: planning. The first of the $10 million will be disbursed by Empire State Development as a $300,000 grant to hire private-sector experts to work with local planners to draft a strategic investment plan.

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About the author

Ryan Deffenbaugh covers energy, education, food and beverage and the Sound Shore for the Westchester County Business Journal. He previously worked for Westchester Magazine and The Citizen daily newspaper (Auburn, N.Y.). He started with the Westchester County Business Journal in March 2016.

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