Yonkers downtown business group doing more street cleaning

A Yonkers business group has boosted its efforts to keep downtown’s streets and sidewalks cleaner.

Members of the Yonkers Downtown/Waterfront Business Improvement District celebrated their two new maintenance vehicles Tuesday at an event marking the group’s new branding and revamped website.

One of the new vehicles looks like a golf cart outfitted with a giant vacuum cleaner. It was put into service earlier this year and it turned heads.

“When we first took it out people asked what the hell is that thing,” said Jaime Martinez, the downtown BID’s executive director.

Martinez said the contraption is a Tennant all-terrain litter vacuum that cost about $17,500. The vehicle has a capacity of 100 pounds of trash and it easily fits on sidewalks and narrow alleys.

“Essentially is goes at the speed of six people,” said Martinez of the vehicle’s trash sweeping.

The other vehicle is a Polaris GEM electric car that looks like a golf cart with a rear flatbed and it will also be used for maintenance and cleaning.

The BID is a nonprofit group created in 2002 to build partnerships, encourage investment and support commercial initiatives downtown.

The group is funded through a special tax on property owners in the district.

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Downtown Yonkers: A Cleaner, Greener Place to Call Home

On a recent Friday afternoon, Nathan Hunter, dressed in a carrot costume, supervised the weekly farmers’ market on the grounds of the historical Philipse Manor Hall in downtown Yonkers.

Across Warburton Avenue, recent graduates of nearby Sarah Lawrence College gathered in a new art gallery, using computer modeling to design bike racks for the city.

And behind the bar at the Yonkers Brewing Company, Joe Minkler was preparing for the busiest night of the workweek. “I’m making sure everything is clean and organized,” he said, “so when the chaos begins, I’m ready.”

Some call it revitalization, others gentrification. But no one can deny that change is sweeping the once sleepy downtown of Yonkers, which lies directly north of the Bronx, in Westchester County, and has long been regarded as a blue-collar stepchild of New York City.

The changes started along the Hudson River a dozen years ago, with apartment buildings going up on old industrial sites.

And now another, smaller river — the Saw Mill, which meanders into the Hudson, but was paved over in the 19th century when it was fouled with industrial waste — is drawing development inland.

The river, now cleaner, is being uncovered, bit by bit, in a process called “daylighting,” and public spaces are being created around it. A parking lot across Buena Vista Avenue from the Beaux-Arts train station was peeled up; in its place is a park with cascading waters.

Developers are digging in on either side of the new Van der Donck Park, constructing high-rises and retrofitting old factories, adding residences to what was once strictly a business and government district, and banking on the greener look of downtown to lure people priced out of New York — or simply looking for a change of pace.

Brigitte Griswold, the executive director of Groundwork Hudson Valley, a Yonkers-based environmental group, moved to Yonkers with her Chihuahua in February, trading a studio in a Harlem brownstone for a studio in an apartment building on Main Street called 66 Main. She pays $1,675 a month, which is $300 less “for almost exactly the same square footage,” she said. Her building has a terrace overlooking the new park, as well as geothermal cooling and heating. Ms. Griswold, 40, likes the minimal “hustle and bustle” and enjoys being able to walk into a restaurant and know the owner, she said, citing La Bella Havana, a Cuban restaurant, as one of her favorites.

Granted, would-be residents may find downtown Yonkers lacking a few things — a good coffee shop, for one. Also, there are no health food stores or hip yoga studios — at least not yet. “Walking around,” Ms. Griswold said, “you get the sense that if it’s not here now, it will likely be here soon.”

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