“I don’t know how a city can even operate without one,” Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano told the Business Journal about the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency (YIDA) during an exclusive interview reviewing 2019’s economic activity in the city.
“Developers can choose to go wherever they want. They can go to Pennsylvania. They can go to New Jersey. They can go to Connecticut. There are plenty of places for them to go and make their investments. We do everything we possibly can to provide for investment in our community,” he said.
Spano, who serves as chairman of the YIDA, reported that in 2019 it provided financial incentives to nearly a dozen projects representing a total private investment of $851 million. Among them:
• Extell Development’s Point Street Landing, a mixed-use project with 1,395 apartments and 48,280 square feet of retail space valued at $502 million.
• Rose Associates’ 57 Alexander Street, which will have 440 apartments.
• The $56.9 million Parkledge Apartments, which will have 311 units.
“The incentives are offset by additional jobs, by bringing people to live in this community who are going to pay their own taxes, make investments in the community in which they’re living, shopping and purchasing and doing all of these things,” Spano said. “With more than $3.8 billion in total development, the city is attracting investment from regional and national developers.”
NO SHORTAGE OF ACTIVITY
Projects approved, underway or recently completed in the city are bringing 9,100 new residential units and 2.3 million square feet of commercial space. They’re creating an estimated 6,800 construction jobs and expected to create about 2,800 permanent jobs. The YIDA’s sales and mortgage tax exemptions along with other incentives are credited with being responsible for 2,246 of the new residential units, 105,430 square feet of commercial space and 1,953 of the new jobs.
Spano said there’s nothing unusual about offering incentives.
“That’s America. You get an incentive to buy a car, an incentive to shop in certain places, incentives to come and work in our community and make investments,” he said. “In totality, the incentives that are being offered are outweighed by the investment in the community.”
He said the YIDA also helps the nonprofit sector and is supporting Westhab’s Dayspring development now underway in the Nodine Hill section of the city, which will create 63 affordable apartments and a new community center. New York state also gave the Yonkers IDA authority to float bonds to help finance the building of schools.
“Paying back those bonds falls back on the taxpayers of Yonkers,” Spano said. “While it is a vehicle that is helpful, and it is, it will help provide us with some of the money we need to build schools. We still have to come up with the dollars to pay back the debt.”
Spano said more than $600 million is needed to build new schools and he’ll be pushing for Albany to provide additional funding. In 2016, the city released a conceptual plan to rebuild its schools with a price tag of about $2 billion. “They figured it out for Buffalo and they’ve rebuilt every school, $2 billion, and 90% of it from New York state. They are doing that same process in Rochester and Syracuse. Now, it’s Yonkers’ turn,” he said.
Spano, a Democrat, has been serving as mayor in Yonkers since 2012. He had been elected to the New York State Assembly in 1992.
“The city is finally turning the corner,” he said. “There are deep-pocket investors that wouldn’t come here just a few years ago. Now, there are shovels in the ground, cranes in the air and they’re building in our city.”
Spano forecast that development in Yonkers will be moving inland as the waterfront area continues to be built up.
“Places like Chicken Island and some other parcels have been purchased and are being purchased for additional housing and retail,” he said.
He anticipated that the area around Getty Square will become a development focal point in the next two years or so.
“We already are doing a major landscape, streetscape, in Getty Square right now,” he said. “All new sidewalks, all new lighting and upgrades. It will look great at least by the beginning of spring and be ready for any future developer that might eye it.”
Spano noted that much of the development along the waterfront has involved vacant or underutilized land and developers weren’t moving people out and disrupting neighborhoods and lives.
“It’s not something that has been a problem up until this point, but as we go inland it’s something we have to be mindful of,” Spano said.
Spano pointed to the progress made by the city’s Municipal Housing Authority on its $300 million three-year program to renovate more than 1,700 units of public housing. As 2019 was ending, work on 1,336 of the apartments had been completed. Under the Rental Assistance Development program developed by the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, Yonkers is able to use tax credits to attract private investors in financing the renovations. The Housing Authority bills what it’s doing as “the most extensive public housing renovation in the nation using public/private financing.”
Spano predicted that next year will see the Lionsgate Movie Studio project approved and the start of its construction.
“It’s huge for Yonkers,” he said. “That’s a $100 million investment. That’s basically a stamp of approval by that industry on Yonkers and we feel that when this happens much more will come.”
He doesn’t expect major repercussions from the recent resignation of Uri Clinton as president and CEO of MGM’s Empire City Casino and Yonkers Raceway.
“They’ve made an $850 million investment in this community,” he said. “That’s not chump change so I fully expect they’ll continue their commitment. They’ve indicated to me that they would. We’re going to work with them to try to get full gaming at Yonkers and hopefully get the development that comes with that.”
Spano said a full gaming license leading to a sports betting license for Empire City could produce enormous financial benefits for the city. “New York was so shortsighted … not to allow for sports betting in Yonkers, so somebody thought that, I don’t know, they might travel upstate to do that,” he said. “They’re not. They’re jumping on a train to New Jersey. I’m hopeful that will be one of the first things that New York changes and allows for sports betting in our region.”
Spano is optimistic regarding 2020.
“There’s a lot of potential in this city,” he said. “Each and every day we’re getting more and more economic development, more and more safe and our schools are improving. No one can debate that.”