By John Alcott
Brewster’s massive urban renewal project is very much alive – and moving forward.
Eleven years in the making, the downtown redevelopment known as Brewster Crossing sprang from dormancy Nov. 8, when the Brewster Village Board was joined by the president of the company behind the proposal to provide a public update on its progress to about 50 residents who gathered at St. Lawrence O’Toole gymnasium on Prospect Street in the village.
If things stay on schedule, National Resources and iPark Brewster, the corporate entities behind the project, will begin “acquiring” village properties at fair-market value in March and April. Completion of the first construction phase is expected by 2027.
Joseph Cotter, president of National Resources, said iPark is on track to finalize outstanding approvals from various state and local government agencies by January.
Demolition of a 5.4-acre tract of downtown will start soon after, in the spring, with groundbreaking in 2025 for three 5- to 6-story buildings hosting 408 rental apartments, a 500-space garage, a brewery, retail and dining businesses, and 20,000 square feet of municipal office space for the village and potentially the town.
A tentative plan also calls for moving the Southeast Town Hall there if details can be worked out, according to Cotter.
Brewster Crossing would then open for business sometime in 2027.
“The development will have such a big impact; it will raise the whole area – bringing more growth,” said Cotter. “We’re fully committed to the project and have the financial wherewithal in a tough market.”
More housing is needed and people are more inclined to move to Brewster than before the pandemic, creating a hot market for new apartments, he said.
Greenwich-based National Resources owns iPark and is behind ambitious redevelopment projects in Fishkill, Tarrytown, Yonkers, Kingston and in Connecticut.
“This municipality has a lot going for it,” said Brewster Mayor James Schoenig, who has pushed for the revitalization since 2012. “I call it a diamond in the rough and it’s a shame it got to the condition it’s in… My goal is to make Brewster go from a laughingstock to a shining star in Putnam County.”
The immediate impact on Brewster, however, will be the demolition of every building between Main Street and Marvin Avenue, from – and including – local landmark Bob’s Diner, to the decaying Cameo Theater and beyond, jumping over Old Town Hall, to occupy much of the parking lot adjacent the Brewster Public Library.
The Cameo would be the first building leveled, starting in 2024, although it will take at least six months to deconstruct the circa-1928 movie house due to heavy asbestos remediation, according to Cotter.
While most of the audience at last week’s meeting appeared receptive to the overall plan, some residents raised concerns about potential traffic snarls while construction is occurring, among other issues.
Cotter noted “there will be some disruption,” but that construction will start along Marvin Avenue to avoid major traffic problems on Main Street.
Others in the audience were concerned about the displacement of downtown residents and existing businesses, which has been a long-simmering issue.
Both Cotter and Schoenig gave assurances they would do everything possible to relocate many of the residents, the majority of whom are Hispanic. Cotter said there are potential job opportunities on the construction site for village residents, as well.
Schoenig said the Brewster Central School District has been involved in talks regarding the project from the outset, and that school officials say they can handle the estimated influx of new students.
Because the bulk of the apartments are studios and small, two-bedroom apartments “not suitable for large families,” Cotter said few new students are anticipated – about 28 or so.
The Brewster Volunteer Fire Department has also been monitoring the development’s progress, said Schoenig.
The project had somewhat stalled because of inflation and the doubling of interest rates from about 4 to 8 percent in recent years, making borrowing far more expensive. Earlier estimates put the overall project cost at about $234 million, although that figure is bound to increase before construction is completed.
The estimated rent for apartments has also risen. Studio rents were initially set between $1,500 to $1,600 per month; they will now likely rent for $1,700 or $1,800, according to Cotter. A two-bedroom apartment will rent for $2,800 to $3,000 per month, he said.
The current economy has made a payment in lieu of taxes program through the county’s Industrial Development Agency much more attractive for iPark, continued Cotter, seeing as the property tax exemption would help cut costs.
If the first phase of the project is successful, several other phases could ultimately take the mixed-use development over to Route 22, near the Borden Bridge. Cotter estimated a total of about 800 apartments could be built, and said there would be further demolition of some buildings along Main Street and Marvin Avenue.
A number of historic buildings around Park Street are among those on the first-phase demolition list, including the mid-19th century farmers’ Grange, the circa 1860s Lobdell House and the Masonic Lodge from the 1870s. All were built by village founders at least 150 years ago.
Locally popular Bob’s Diner is also on the list. Bob Sprague opened the diner in 1955, but the building’s core dates to 1929. The restaurant interior retains much of its Art Deco origins from when it was the Bevan Brothers Diner.
Targeted village properties would be purchased by iPark, or acquired via eminent domain proceedings in court.
Current owner and operator of Bob’s Diner Tom Sprague attended the meeting with his attorney. Sprague sat silently through the meeting listening attentively, but without asking questions. After the meeting, he said he felt “no anger, no nothing – nothing is happening so far.”
At least one small piece of the village’s historic charm and character in the designated knock-down zone might survive: A quaint cottage at 4 Park St., built in the 1860s and once part of the Lobdell estate, which will possibly be moved.
The state’s Historic Preservation Office is “intractable” about the cottage’s preservation, said Cotter. Plans call for renovating it and maybe hauling it to a location near Railroad Avenue as part of an entrance to a public greenway – a way of greeting commuters leaving the train station, he said.
The Lobdell House itself is unsalvageable, said Natural Resource officials.
Cotter said the theater on the top floor of the Old Town Hall at 67 Main St., built in 1896, will see significant upgrading, including a connection to a neighboring new building (once the Cameo comes down) making the Victorian-era theater compliant with the American with Disabilities Act and creating a vibrant cultural center.
Another change from the earlier proposal has to do with a “floodway.”
“We had to get rid of a hiking trail along Tonetta Brook,” said Cotter. “So we’re going to work with sidewalks along Railroad Avenue to make the Diverting Reservoir trail across from the gazebo” and along the reservoir available.
Cotter also pointed to the nearby Route 22 entrance to the village as a “gateway.”
“When you come off 22, you see that walking bridge that no one uses,” he said of the steel-and-concrete Morningthorpe Avenue bridge. Cotter said iPark is seeking ideas for making the green more scenic and inviting.
After the meeting closed, a couple of residents gathered to discuss the network of huge mining tunnels that honeycomb under village streets – all that remains of a vast industrial iron mining operation in the latter 19th century.
Schoenig seemed unconcerned about suggestions that the chambers might collapse or cause problems for iPark engineers who will have to work around them or otherwise find solutions.
Town Attorney Willis Stephens, a lifelong Brewster and Southeast resident, was in the audience and said after the meeting that his family built its still-standing home in 1925 next to Garden Street School and overlooking the village.
“I would like to see the village like when I grew up here,” he lamented about the old days. But he said he knows that is unrealistic and hopes the best for Brewster’s revitalization and next chapter.