Turning Yonkers into an Opportunity Zone with Mayor Mike Spano
A lifelong Yonkers resident, husband, father of three, and former State Assembly Member, Mayor Mike Spano has dedicated his life to standing up for Yonkers families. Elected in 1992 as the youngest member of the State Assembly, he proudly represented Yonkers for two decades: fighting for students, protecting taxpayers, and supporting economic growth.
Since taking office as Yonkers’ chief executive in 2012, Mayor Spano has led the passage of four balanced, bi-partisan budgets, within the tax cap and without cuts to services, while providing historic investments to Yonkers Schools. He also launched one of the most ambitious and comprehensive energy plans of any city in the state—Yonkers Green City—saving taxpayers millions of dollars in energy costs, while protecting the environment.
With a strong focus on job creation and economic development, Mayor Spano is leading Yonkers’ revitalization with innovative new projects that are transforming the city’s growing waterfront, attracting new businesses, and creating hundreds of new jobs. Today, there is $1 billion of private investment in Yonkers, and it is the fastest-growing city in the state outside New York City. Additionally, it has recently been ranked among the safest cities in America and as a top 100 best cities in which to live.
We had the privilege of sitting down with Mayor Spano to hear his thoughts on everything from the challenges he faces as the city’s chief executive to how he’s built Yonkers into an opportunity zone for the missing middle.
Ricciardi Group: In your experience as Mayor, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced; and what are the greatest opportunities?
In development, one of the greatest challenges has been getting companies and developers to think about Yonkers. When we were first trying to sell the old City Jail, I had to track down art collector Daniel Wolfe and say, give us a second look. He initially told me he had no impression of Yonkers, good or bad; then he ended up buying the property. We needed to make an impression on people and that is how we came up with the Generation Yonkers campaign. We decided to talk about the greatest opportunities we had to offer developers—such as location, diversity of our landscape and people. Today, we can boast $3.5Billion in private investment in development and developers are now knocking on our doors.
RG: What are some of your proudest accomplishments to date?
There are so many, but here are a few that are top of mind in terms of business: Daylighting II and III of the Saw Mill River; selling Chicken Island so it could become the epicenter of downtown—with a concentration of shopping, dining and experiential retail, coupled with multifamily buildings, an office component, and a luxury hotel. We also rehabbed Boyce Thompson Center and turned it into an innovative, mixed-use space.
We’ve also focused heavily on building and rehabbing affordable housing units, and we recently passed the city’s first Affordable Housing Ordinance. Additionally, the city is heavily focused on sustainability, and we are committed to keeping our status as one of America’s safest cities of its size (record-low crime rate), which also boasts improved school scores and graduation rates.
RG: Why do you think it’s important to have housing costs align with what citizens can afford?
Yonkers has a rich history as a city built by immigrants. The range and variety of immigrants in our city create a unique and rich tapestry. There has to be good, quality housing available at all price ranges in order for the newer immigrants (who are settling in) to afford the cost of living. Additionally, affordability means that families can live, work, and play here; and seniors can age in place.
RG: What is your current strategy for attracting new businesses to Yonkers?
We are constantly working to attract new businesses to Yonkers through our Generation Yonkers marketing campaign, and also through advertising by the Yonkers Industrial Development Agency (YIDA) in trade publications like Crain’s and Real Estate Weekly. We’ve also been covered by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which adds to Yonkers’ credibility. Variety also announced the news of Lionsgate film studios coming to Yonkers. We are definitely “on the national map.”
RG: How do you disconnect, relax, recharge?
I love spending time with my family, especially with my kids and their activities like hockey games, recitals, etc. I also enjoy time away, when I can, at my house in Long Island
Want to learn more about Yonkers and its ongoing projects? Check out the city’s official website to learn more about starting a business, housing development, and future community plans under the direction of Mayor Mike Spano.