CONNECT

Beacon Citizen Network (BCN): a place for neighbors to get the word out, be heard and stay informed in all matters concerning Beacon, NY.

SPONSORS

Photobucket

Will the TOD help or harm Main Street Beacon?

Dear Main Street business owners and all,

Please note that this message is intended to only address Main Street business issues. I understand that there are many aspects to the broader TOD and development discussion which will be addressed in other messages.

There was one business owner at the public hearing on September 8th that made a comment that deserves a follow-up. His point was that Main Street will be harmed by the TOD. Actually he said the city was selling-out Main Street. I do not know if that view is wide spread among the business community so I wish to develop the argument and explain why I believe the TOD will be a benefit to Main Street.

We are working hard to make a good zoning law that will contain non-competitive language for Main Street businesses. At this point it will limit business to water and TOD related types and limit their individual size. Agreed, if successful this will not completely remove competitive businesses but it will help to keep them to a minimum.

More importantly I believe the majority of businesses on Main Street are not just struggling now, but have been even before the economic downturn. Beacon has never had a large enough customer base for our shops to thrive. I’ve seen good business go out and know that some are holding on out of sheer hope and belief in their community. This is a challenge I take to heart. I strongly believe the development planned in Beacon including the TOD will HELP, not harm our Main Street businesses. Help will come in the form of the approximate 20% population growth this development will represent. Approximately 1,500 new units give the businesses on Main Street more than 3,000 new potential customers. That simply has to help. It was one of the reasons I supported the conclusions of the Comprehensive Plan.

But let’s just look at the TOD zone and assume that no other development will take place. That’s 600 units or 1,200 more customers for Main Street. Yes there will be a commercial and retail component but I completely reject the idea that customers who now shop/dine on Main Street will be sucked down to the TOD (forever) and stop going to their favorite places on Main. And I completely reject the notion that the TOD residents will only stay in their zone afraid to venture out. That too will not happen. I firmly believe the 1,200 new residents will browse Main Street, find their favorite shops, galleries and restaurants. They will be attracted to Main Street and adopt Beacon the way we all have. Maybe they will walk; maybe they will drive to Main Street like most of the city. Hopefully we will find a way to get a subsidized shuttle as soon as possible or perhaps there will be enough ridership for it to be privately operated.

Lastly, if the TOD is designed well it may also bring new people into Beacon to see it. It may add to our general tourism appeal. It may help to get DIA visitors out of the museum and give them incentive to walk up Main Street by starting at the TOD. It may provide the finances to make a shuttle bus feasible. It may do none of those things but the fact of the matter is that the TOD zone alone will provide Beacon’s Main Street with a potential of 1,200 more potential customers. When combined with the other developments the total of 3,000 customers is the single fact that Main Street businesses should be looking forward to taking place.

Thank you,
Steve Gold
mayor@cityofbeacon.org

Views: 168

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Steve-
Thanks for taking the time to communicate. I believe both you and the members of the city council have the best interests of Beacon at heart. But, as you know from Tuesday's meeting, I have a number of issues with the TOD as it currently stands.

My perspective is as a citizen who is interested in the past, present and future of Beacon, someone interested in city planning and transportation issues, and a successful business owner on Main Street for six years. (The seventh year, not so successful;^)

Regarding Main Street and the TOD (Transit-oriented development), emotions tend to run high. Although the various components of this plan are in the end interwoven and it's not possible to extricate one particular point, I will focus on the topic you are addressing here.

You wrote: I believe the majority of businesses on Main Street are not just struggling now, but have been even before the economic downturn. Beacon has never had a large enough customer base for our shops to thrive.

The first sentence is true. For many years, Main Streets all over the country have been trying to figure out how to survive in a landscape dominated by malls, shopping centers, and big box stores.

The second sentence is false. Beacon's population in 2000 (13,839) was almost identical to what it was in 1950 (14,000). I'll go out on a limb and say our 2009 population has likely passed the population mark set in 1950. And yet, Beacon then had more commercial square footage, with shops running all the way to the river. It had thriving businesses. It had sidewalks teeming with people.

I mention this not to say that this can happen again (it certainly won't without major changes in planning as well as citizens' choices and behaviors) but to point out that adding to the population will not impact business on Main Street in any significant way. Those 1200 new people will do essentially what the other 14,000 or so do. They will drive to the malls, the big box stores. Some will head to Main (likely driving, as the rest of us) for a pizza slice or to drop off dry cleaning (although it's possible the units will provide concierge service for the cleaning). A few will pop into a gallery now and then, or stroll Main on a Second Saturday.

A tiny percentage will make a commitment to shop Main Street for as many needs as they can. That percentage will be even tinier if a wholly separate commercial center (right now a proposed zoning allowance of 130,000 or so square feet) keeps them down there for conveniences--after all, when you eliminate galleries from the equation, a good majority (with notable exceptions) of the businesses left on Main Street are convenience stores, fastish foods, and personal services like hair and nail salons, and you can only have so many of those.

When Dutchess County planner John Clarke mentioned the "trickle up" effect at the meeting I almost fell off the bench. We get 65,000 potential visitors to Main from Dia annually, and a tiny percentage of those people have trickled up--it's probably better described as a barely discernible drip. We need more assurances than "Hopefully we will find a way to get a subsidized shuttle as soon as possible " or "Maybe they will walk." The linkage to Main cannot be a hopeful or a maybe or a trickle. It has to be the starting point, the raison d'etre, before we put in development on our waterfront.

Which of course brings us to the crux of the matter. You don't spell it out in your post here, but let us recall that TOD stands for TRANSPORTATION ORIENTED development. That does not simply mean "development next to a train station." We'll be talking more about this in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. But just a little food for thought: the traffic studies done so far show weekday traffic on 9D increasing by over 2000 trips per weekday. That, I'm afraid, is not what Transit-oriented development means. Some of the things it does mean include:

# Reducing sprawl and protecting existing neighborhoods

# Reducing commute times and traffic congestion

# Improving environmental quality and open space preservation

# Encouraging pedestrian activity and discouraging automobile dependency.

Reading through the current TOD zoning draft, I don't see any of this mandated. In fact, I often see the opposite.
Mr Mayor.

I have a hard time, long with many others how this plan came to be. This would most likely be damaging to Main st and to the riverfront. Build more housing??? How many houses are sitting on the market now in Beacon?
How is this good enviromental too? More cars? I agree with Mark.
Is the waterfront area being sold down river? What price is to be paid now as a quick fix and destroy the future of our beautiful city.?
What about East Main St? Should' t all the old factory buildings and such be used and aren't there plans for that, never come to be?
Oops. I got it right in the first instance in the parenthetical (transit-oriented development) but wrong when being emphatic with caps: TRANSPORTATION-ORIENTED should read TRANSIT-ORIENTED.
I think Charlene makes alot of sense here. It also really helps to have the shops be OPEN! Both consignment shops were open this past Saturday into the evening, along with the galleries, and were getting traffic. Even Moxie was having cosmopolitans and free consultations. Especially during good weather it makes sense for the shops to be open on Second Saturdays till 9. Then both gallery visitors and the regional population that commutes to work in the city during the week will have time to come and browse. Also, If the shops don't align their days off with Dia, then there are days Dia visitors come to Main Street to find nothing. The diner says they get a steady business from Dia, but they are also open every day that Dia is.
Unfortunately, I have an even more difficult time trying to figure out what "Charlene Vesuvius" is talking about. I can't make heads or tails of that first paragraph, never mind what it has to do with transit-oriented development, so I'll just comment on a few sentences I understand, and that embody the "Vesuvius" philosophy.

The problems with Main Street will not be solved, or even mildly alleviated, by building some housing for "higher income, more educated, and more sophisticated clientele than the average Beacon resident" down by the train. (Would "more sophisticated" be in the contracts or deeds?)

I'm also puzzled by the statement "Having more professionals live in TOD planned housing will only add to the right buying group as long as the right stuff is offered." I had no idea people who are professional had better taste buds or better taste than the lower income, less educated, and unsophisticated average Beacon citizen. But again, we're in "Vesuvius" territory, where everything is reduced to demographics and "the right stuff."

If I understand the "Vesuvius" plan, we throw up some housing at the train station, let the New York sophisticates with cash move in (Wall Streeters? Literary types? Ad execs? Models? Artists? Trust funders? PJLCV? [People Just Like "Charlene Vesuvius"?]), and watch them stimulate the rebirth of Main Street Beacon. Uh huh.
Well there you go then, business owners. The head of the Beacon Art Committee says the secret is to stay open the same hours as Dia, and to stay open late on Second Saturday. Surprised nobody thought of this before!

He also apparently agrees with Charlene that the answer to Beacon's retail issues is to go upscale. But the majority of businesses that rely only on high-end tourist dollars (and a couple hundred "sophisticates" sequestered down at the train) will not survive.
Ms. "Vesuvius," to give you a better understanding of what is currently on the table, it is not marketing plans. I'm sorry to report there is no targeting of demographics at the moment. It is not profiling. It is a draft of a proposed zoning change. Perhaps you will avail yourself of a copy, then jump back in the conversation.

Of course stores target people with money who want to buy something. People in Beacon have money, and often made purchases in my shop, and others. People from Brooklyn via Dia or whatever, ditto. In fact, most businesses need both kinds of customers to survive today's Main Street, the exceptions being local only concerns like hair salons and dry cleaners, or businesses that may also have other income streams from wholesale business, or rental units. Some owners may not need to make a full living from the shop.

Unfortunately, there is often not enough of either local or tourist traffic to make things viable for every business out there. Empty storefronts don't help either--there is just too much square footage now that the majority of shopping for day to day stuff does not take place here, and adding another 130,000 square feet will not help matters. Another reason is that because Main was cut off from the waterfront during urban renewal, it is now more difficult to take advantage of the traffic generated by Dia.

I think there have been many interesting shops and restaurants in the years I have been here, including O2, Feel Design, The Hermitage, World's End Books, Early Everything, Marlena's Kitchen, Finders Keepers Antiques, Augie's, Tess Truehart, Objectiques, John's Fish Market, MART, Go North, the Jamaican restaurant, and Iron Fish Trading Co (my old store) to name a few. We can't all have had bad business plans. And I know several sophisticated, well-educated people who enjoyed some of these establishments, all out of business, along with many others. It is the "interesting specialty shops" that most rely on the dual income model (there is actually a third component for many main streets, and that is "drive-bys"--people on the way to somewhere else stopping in, not something Beacon is geographically very well positioned for).

Trying to change the demographics of Beacon and its surrounds is of course not only ridiculous but impossible, unnecessary and to my mind somewhat ill-considered to suggest. There are no easy answers, but the current zoning as proposed will do zero toward providing any solutions, and will in fact make matters much worse.
I think that what made sense about Charlene's comments (among other things) is that shops need to have DISTINCTIVE merchandise in order to survive, to make people travel rather than go online or big box. From what I gather Ms. V has much deeper pockets than I and the price points of any art or antiques she might purchase would be much higher than what I and my wife do. We do however shop at many of the stores and have bought smaller art pieces from a few of the galleries. I think that Dreaming in Plastic and PLAY which both opened, have a fun sensibility with an artsy edge and you don't have to be a trust fund sophisticate to afford what is there. The new Clay, Wool, and Cotton, while not officially open yet, has the kind of Etsy handmade stuff that is quite fun, and several of their artisans were just part of the Handmade Cavalcade that made their second annual appearance in Beacon behind Paper Presence. They had a crowd buying things and much of the stuff were useful items or fun and inexpensive handmade gifts. Without the gallery angle, New Hope, Pennsylvania keeps their streets hopping with shops and restaurants and antiques and funktiques and theatre and the river and a little history thrown in. It's fun to browse and a great destination for a day trip when you just want to get out of town.

As to keeping strong open hours, this has been the rant of certain Main Street merchants at BACA meetings for years. It didn't originate with me but there are still several shop owners that seem to be open only when the mood strikes them and when they don't have anything better to do. I love to support someone's Main Street business. I don't need to go out of my way to support someone's part time shop hobby.
All of these points and observations and suggestions and advise have been made and given since I started my business in March 2002 (closed April 2009.)

I haven't been in either of the new stores yet, but I will be at some point. It's great to see them going, and I hope that whole new 100-200 block lineup of Clay, Wool, and Cotton, Play, Notions and Potions, and Dream in Plastic are successful for many many years.

(For what it's worth, I think many of my former customers will tell you I offered lots of stuff with a "fun sensibility" and an "artsy edge" at reasonable prices.)

I think if you, as a sole proprietor, sat in a store in Beacon selling funtiques, inexpensive handmade gifts, or any other non-food items during Dia hours for two weeks, you would either shoot yourself or become a Zen master.

I invite you to walk down Main and ask each owner of more than a few weeks experience how much actual business they take in from 6pm to 9pm on Second Saturdays. Yes, I've heard the argument that even if it doesn't mean sales today, it's good will and advertising for the future. That's why for the last 7 years I didn't get home until after 9:30 or 10:00 on Second Saturdays. That's why for the first 3-4 years, I stayed open whenever I could, and when I couldn't it was because I worked other jobs to help make ends meet, so that I could be open for the "big" days.

Perhaps I sound a little cynical. I apologize for that, because I really am still a believer and a booster of Main Street Beacon. I suppose you can take what I say with a grain of salt. But when I hear the same old advice, year after year, often from people who have not run a small retail business anywhere, never mind in today's Beacon, and I see the reality day to day, and I speak to business owners, I do get a wee bit tired.

Art will not bring about true economic vitality on Beacon's Main Street. Crafty will not. Matching Dia hours, staying open late, devising a fool-proof business plan, working 12-hour days, none of these things will do it. The answers are more fundamental, I suspect. I hope we can work together to figure them out. I hope we have the vision and fortitude to start to implement them. I think, maybe, perhaps, the discussions about the TOD zoning might present an opportunity for a starting point. But really, I don't have any answers. As far as I can tell, I'm not alone.
Mark,
Granted, it may not solve all of the challenges of Main Street businesses but i am still surprised that any business owner wouldn't jump at the possibility of 3,000 new customers within a few miles of their Main Street. I think that Charlene and Cabot are right, but its only a guess by any of us, that the demographics of the people moving in fit into the heart of a high consumer group. By this I mean they are likely to be young, educated, employed and not in heavy debt. Mark, would you really turn that switch off if you had your hand on it? Why would you?

And yes it would be great to change peoples buying habbits to support Main Street more, and yes it would be great if new Main Street business sold goods that appealed to people from Beacon and yes if Beacon shops stayed open later and with more reliability it would all help. I wish I knew how to make it happen.
"When combined with the other developments the total of 3,000 customers is the single fact that Main Street businesses should be looking forward to taking place."

"Granted, it may not solve all of the challenges of Main Street businesses but i am still surprised that any business owner wouldn't jump at the possibility of 3,000 new customers within a few miles of their Main Street. "



Again, this is a transit-oriented development we are discussing. It's main reason for existence is not to provide young, educated, employed and not in heavy debt customers to Main Street. (And many doubt it will--You might ask the owners of places like Hudson Beach Glass, who seemed strongly opposed to the plan at the latest meeting.) There are many equal or more important issues to discuss, starting with the one you brought up in the original post here, which has little to do with demographics of potential residents. It has to do with building what amounts to a second town center, with up to 130,000 square feet of retail, when we can't even hold a healthy occupancy rate up here. And even if we end up will 3,000 more people (half of this from the TOD) there is no reason to assume they will not follow the same pattern as the 14,000 currently in town and shop elsewhere. This does not even take into consideration the fact that, as you say, the likelihood is they will often drive to town and try to park.

If development does occur at the waterfront, I'm not opposed to some commercial space--ultimately it makes more sense than a few isolated apartment buildings. But we can't be vague about the connection to the rest of town. We can't look at 2000 extra car trips per day without figuring the social costs unrelated to some engineer's promise of traffic "mitigation" through timing the lights better. All this and more needs to be figured out much more thoroughly before anything is built. Otherwise it's highly likely that we will get all the negatives--extra service costs, high traffic volumes, vacancies, etc.--and none of the miraculous restorative powers of the 3,000 young, educated, employed nice people with no debt.

I'm not anti-development. I'm not anti-wealthy customers for Main Street. But if you think it's a matter of "turning a switch" and greenlighting the MTA's wishes without serious further examination of the real impacts this scale of a project on our waterfront will entail, I think you are making a mistake with long-term repercussions.

I only went into what ails Main Street because the conversation got steered that way. Let's please stop framing this as a simple panacea for the problems on Main, and talk about what we envision for our waterfront and how we can bring the rest of town to it and vice versa. Approached this way, I think we'll come up with a more viable plan than salivating about 3,000 demographics with no debt running around town with wads of cash.

Steve Gold said:
Mark,
Granted, it may not solve all of the challenges of Main Street businesses but i am still surprised that any business owner wouldn't jump at the possibility of 3,000 new customers within a few miles of their Main Street. I think that Charlene and Cabot are right, but its only a guess by any of us, that the demographics of the people moving in fit into the heart of a high consumer group. By this I mean they are likely to be young, educated, employed and not in heavy debt. Mark, would you really turn that switch off if you had your hand on it? Why would you? And yes it would be great to change peoples buying habbits to support Main Street more, and yes it would be great if new Main Street business sold goods that appealed to people from Beacon and yes if Beacon shops stayed open later and with more reliability it would all help. I wish I knew how to make it happen.
Yes, it's a fear. A fear of creating a separate town center, so that visitors feel no need to explore further to even find Hudson Beach Glass, so that residents who live in the buildings down there feel cut off, since no consideration has been given to easy access to the main part of town. So that residents who don't live down there feel like outsiders at their own waterfront. A fear of creating an ever-larger parking lot on the water, partially hidden or not. A fear of major traffic issues that have not been adequately dealt with as a TOD zone should.

As for better parking, one of the goals of transit-oriented development is to reduce parking.

As for more interesting shops, with the rents that will likely be charged, I think you can look for national or regional chains for the most part. Not necessarily bad, just not so interesting.

As for safer, with the current design moving thousands of square feet of parking underground, and adding more, and the city's current inability to keep a 50-foot tunnel down there free from urine, and the fact that I've not heard of any pedestrian or shopper being robbed or assaulted in my years on Main, I don't think safer is much of an issue.

Charlene Vesuvius said:
I think Hudson Beach Glass could compete quite well with any commercial ventures on the Waterfront. That's the real fear isn't it? That the waterfront will have better parking, will be safer, and more interesting shops and restaurants than Main Street.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

© 2020   Created by Kelly Kingman.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service