by Barrett Seaman
Planners in Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow and Irvington, along with six other Hudson River communities that surround the massive Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project, collectively owe $1.5 million worth of thanks to the environmental groups Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson for holding the New York Thruway Authority’s feet to the fire several years back, when details of the bridge rebuilding effort were finalized.
The environmentalists’ insistence on not only limiting the direct ecological impact of construction on water quality and vulnerable aquatic species, but also enhancing the attractiveness of the surrounding communities themselves led to a settlement that awarded grants ranging up to $300,000 for each of the nine municipalities. Three years later, those grants are beginning to take shape.
All nine Tappan Zee Bridge neighbors got at least a piece of the $1.5 million set aside under the terms of the construction agreement, and most have begun to put the money to work. On the west bank, Nyack is applying $195,000 to build a pedestrian bridge over the inlet that separates Memorial Park from the village marina. Piermont is spending $250,000 to bolster riverside Ferry Road against future storm damage. South Nyack won $163,200 toward tennis court renovations and a shaded playground.
On the eastern shore, all three recipient villages tied their grant requests to larger, ongoing civic improvement projects. Only one, Sleepy Hollow’s proposed Hudson Plaza, is actually adjacent to the river. Both Irvington and Tarrytown are going with projects further back from the Hudson but aimed at increasing the overall attractiveness of their respective villages—criteria recognized by the Thruway Authority.
Tarrytown won the maximum amount of $300,000 to implement a pre-existing plan to upgrade its picturesque Patriots Park on North Broadway, just south of the border with Sleepy Hollow. They will use it to replace outdated playground equipment with more age-appropriate structures. The village will also rebuild a deteriorating basketball court in the park and create a shaded seating area. Total cost: $350,000.
Irvington trustees have been plotting to improve the look and utility of the Main Street corridor under a grand plan called Streetscape. It envisions better lighting, convenient benches, consistent (and artistic) signage to guide visitors, highlighted crosswalks, curb cuts and ADA-compliant curb drops for wheelchair access. In it most ambitious form, all electrical wiring would be underground.
The $187,090 awarded by the Thruway Authority will go towards one piece of the Streetscape plan: the creation of a plaza in front of Village Hall, home of the historic Town Hall Theater, at the corner of Main Street and North Ferris Street. Rectangular bluestone blocks will distinguish the plaza from the paved sidewalks elsewhere on Main Street. “Plantings of native species will provide a park-like setting, softening the aesthetic,” the grant proposal promises. “Café tables and chess tables with chairs will draw people in to relax and meet friends. Benches will also be installed.”
Still to come, as part of the “Theater District” plan is a redesign of the theater entrance, currently just a single doorway under an incongruous green canopy just beyond the police station and village court entrances. Money for that will have to be raised privately.
Sleepy Hollow offered the most literal of the east bank waterfront proposals with its concept of a semi-circular park space right up against the river at the foot of Beekman Avenue, for which it was awarded $246,000. Paved, benched and terraced around its eastern arc, the erstwhile-named Hudson Plaza would feature arrangements of indigenous rocks and an inverted sculpture dug across it, depicting the Hudson River itself.
“It’s a place where recreation meets relaxation meets education,” said Fiona Matthew, a professional grant writer who helped both Sleepy Hollow and Irvington frame their proposals.
Cutting through the park’s midsection will be a segment of the ongoing RiverWalk that will eventually link up 14 Hudson Valley communities over more than 40 miles of shoreline. This stretch will connect Tarrytown’s Losee Park to the south with Kingsland Point Park on the north side of Sleepy Hollow. Money for that comes out of a separate grant from the state and Westchester County. All told, said Tarrytown administrator Michael Blau, RiverWalk and related shorefront stabilization projects will cost nearly $10 million.
The Thruway grants constitute but a small part of a patchwork of public and private money, some in-hand, some not, that village officials are knitting together to improve the overall vitality and modernity of the Hudson River towns. Officials realize that patience is in order. Irvington’s plans to install new lighting up and down Main Street have been temporarily shelved, for example, until more is learned about the feasibility of installing a “micro-grid” underground electricity-generating and distributing system that could bury unsightly overhead wires for a fraction of previously assumed costs, while providing power generation and independence from the Con Ed power grid in the event of outages. That prospect prompted Irvington village administrator Larry Schopfer to call Streetscape “the gift that keeps on giving.”