For Sleepy Hollow — A Beekman Avenue Makeover

Beekman Avenue in Sleepy Hollow is about to get a brand new look. In order to promote business, the Sleepy Hollow Downtown Revitalization Corporation, a nonprofit organization, is using grant funding totaling $481,000 to bring more business to Sleepy Hollow by ways of storefront renovation, streetscape improvements, and providing programs within the community.

"Our ultimate goal is to bring enthusiasm and excitement to the downtown area, encourage new businesses to join us, invest in the community and the Village," said Anthony Giaccio, Village Administrator.

Giaccio’s predecessor, Dwight Douglas, and Fiona Hodgson, the Interim Executive Director who is also the grant writer, started the project in 2008. The Sleepy Hollow Downtown Revitalization Program (SHDRP) was formed because of the need for a nonprofit organization to apply for grant money. They received $385,000 in grant funding from the Office of Community Renewal to support the Façade Renovation Program, and a $96,000 grant from the Department of State.

When Giaccio took over, he and Hodgson established a committee and hired two downtown coordinators, Leslie Blanco Ishoo and Jenifer Ross, both Sleepy Hollow residents.

"They were chosen because they were very talented," said Hodgson. "They’re both very invested in the downtown and in this community, and they have a lot of experience in different areas."

Blanco Ishoo, a lifelong resident, has a banking background as a mortgage loan sales manager with Bank of America. She also is bilingual and said she is the Hispanic link that was needed to make the project as successful as possible. "The banking background certainly helped, but I think the need for a Hispanic was key; also being native to the community, I know and understand it," she said.

Giaccio thought she was perfect. "Leslie speaks Spanish, she has a banking background, and she can deal with some of the business aspects of this," said Giaccio. "She knows a lot of the community; they can connect with her very well."

Ross has experience with event planning and has a background in architectural preservation. She also owned Redwing Gallery in Tarrytown from 2000-2004 and said she understands what it’s like to be a merchant. "I understand what it means to drive people to your store and how to market yourself," she said. It was during the time she owned Redwing that she created the Third Friday in Tarrytown, an event that still takes place today.

Both are working part-time on the project, as they both have full- time jobs. Their salaries, at $40 an hour, are paid for through the grants. In order to spread the money out and make it last, they cannot devote more than 10 hours a week to the project.

"They seem like the perfect team," said Giaccio. "I can’t say enough about them."

Lead-off programs for the downtown district include the Sleepy Hollow Façade Renovation Program that will target properties on Eastern Beekman Avenue between Lawrence Avenue and Cortlandt Street. It will provide matching grants up to $10,000

for façade renovation. Building owners must provide the remaining amount required and sign a maintenance agreement that the restored façade will be maintained for seven years. Mahopac Bank is also providing low interest loans to commercial businesses in the specified area to encourage the revitalization project.

One program is getting inspiration from the Third Fridays. A Second Sunday International Bazaar will begin July 12th in the Morse school playground. "It’ll hopefully feel as though you’ve entered an outdoor market of another country," said Giaccio. Each month, the Bazaar will highlight a different culture in the community, with Portugal as the kickoff.

Other events include the Triathlon on June 28th and a street fair on September 13th.

Ishoo and Ross want to make an impact quickly so people in the community can see the results. Six applicants are going to the State Historic Preservation office for reviews, and since their Kick Off event on May 17 at J.P. Doyle’s, the Village has received six more. Ishoo said that she and Ross have started a dialogue and have had informal meetings with merchants in order to get them to work more closely with each other and to address their concerns. "Right now the Façade and Second Sunday are really our focus — to get them moving, get money moving into the downtown so people can see the physical improvements," said Ishoo. "Everyone’s been hearing about it but we want to get one of the actual buildings done. It’s an underlying focus."

But this project will not be done quickly. Hodgson said she hoped there would be noticeable changes by the end of the summer season, but that it will be a gradual process. She also said that they want to keep the diversity of the business community. "We’re not replacing anybody," she said. "This is going to be a very diverse downtown, always."

The members of the SHDRP are happy with Leslie Blanco Ishoo and Jenifer Ross as Downtown Coordinators. "It’s only been a few months and I think they’ve done a lot," said Hodgson. "They’ve taken programs that were theoretical and made them practical, starting to run the programs. We think things are going pretty well."

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About the Author: Cara Zebrowski