Development in Yonkers has been nothing short of booming in recent years. Projects like Lionsgate Studios, MGM/Raceway, and the continued transformation of the Hudson River waterfront to luxury residences begs the question of how this all happens, who is involved, and what the future plans may be.
The Yonkers Industrial Development Agency (YIDA) is not unique in New York. In fact, New York State defines and encourages the existence of these quasi-governmental agencies. The primary benefit is to loosen rules and provide exemption of certain taxes that can spur the development of land-use projects and bolster local economies. Effectively, a municipal government coordinates with an IDA, and that IDA engages private developers to build projects like residential housing, commercial shopping centers, etc. The relationships between these IDA’s, their local governments, and the developers can become murky and therefore produce confusion and speculation on the projects and processes. Beyond Yonkers, IDA’s state-wide have faced criticism and even criminal charges.
The Yonkers IDA has existed for decades and produced much of the change in the city. The agency puts forth guidelines and processes for transparency and compliance. The YIDA also publishes notices of public hearings to discuss its projects. Despite these practices, the YIDA, like seemingly all agencies in Yonkers, is not immune scandal. One notable event was the investigation into former mayor Nick Wasicsko of “Show me a Hero” fame. As the YIDA’s Board of Directors is led by the city’s current mayor, Wasicsko was himself under investigation for missing agency funds and this, some speculate, was a motivation for his tragic suicide in 1993.
Present day officers as listed on the YIDA’s official website include its President & CEO Jim Cavanaugh, Executive Director Jaime McGill, and CFO Siby Oommen.
Cavanaugh has a storied history in this region with a posting in Manhattan’s Battery Park City Authority as well as later serving as Deputy Mayor of Yonkers under Mayor Mike Spano just before his current appointment to the YIDA. Cavanaugh is married to the recently appointed chair of the Yonkers Zoning Board of Appeals, Wilson Kimball, who also serves double-duty as President & CEO of the Municipal Housing Authority of Yonkers.
Jaime McGill has been with the YIDA for almost a decade having no prior known real estate development experience. Her last professional association was as campaign manager for the former City Council President and now Yonkers Inspector General, Liam McLaughlin. McGill is also married to the Yonkers City Clerk, Vincent Spano.
Chief Fiscal Officer Siby Oommen appears to lack much of any public information on their credentials or work history. We are awaiting confirmation of more details and will update this piece accordingly.
Under this joint leadership of elected, appointed, and private cooperation, the YIDA employs different tactics to grow the city. “Payment in Lieu of Taxes,” or a PILOT, is a method to spur an immediate development commitment by collecting an agreed-upon lump sum instead of annual taxation during the lifetime of the project. These lump sums are always significantly lower than the projected tax burden and therefore enticing to investors. Some PILOTS have extraordinarily long terms, such as the one given for the Point and Ravine Apartments for that lasts 32 years. Additionally, the city may sell municipally-owned land to the YIDA at fair-market rates to then later be sold to investors like AMS or Ginsburg Development for vetted projects. Most recently, a lot located at 66 Pier Street (across from the Ludlow train station) is proposed for sale to the YIDA in the amount of $375,000. This lot is expected to be re-sold to the aforementioned Ginsburg Development Companies for the construction of a 36 unit apartment building.
Presently, one of the biggest projects is the Hudson Piers mixed-use project led by the Extell Development Company. This $585 million dollar investment will bring 1,400 apartments and numerous commercial spaces along the shore of the Hudson River after a six year long development. This project received a 20 year PILOT as well as a 100% abatement on taxes which is the largest residential project to-date to receive such benefits.
The rapid increase in development, particularly focused on residential buildings, have some wary of the knock-on costs. The waterfront downtown area of Yonkers is already a congested mix of cars and pedestrian traffic. Growing the population worsens this congestion as well as places additional demand on essential city services like: police, fire, waste management, etc. Some worry that the economic gains from these new projects, subsidized by low entry costs and reduced taxation, will actually worsen the city’s economic position and the residents’ quality of life.