Main Street remade : a case study of eminent domain use in Port Chester, New York

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2013-08

Authors

Longobardi, Elinore Ann

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Abstract

In the late 1990s, looking to improve its fiscal situation, the Village of Port Chester, New York, decided to approve the redevelopment of a 27-acre site that comprised a large section of its downtown. The centerpiece of the 1999 plan was a big-box shopping center and multi-tier parking structure. To build the project, Port Chester used eminent domain to raze most of its South Main Street, along with adjacent blocks--an area already full of small shops and businesses. The village took this action in the name of “public good,” replacing the small-scale buildings and family owned businesses with big-box retail--including Costco, a Loews multiplex, DSW shoes and Bed Bath & Beyond. The village’s goal was to replace a “blighted” area (the term a vestige of legal and rhetorical constructs surrounding mid-20th century urban renewal) with a more upscale one--bringing in, as officials saw it, more tax revenue and creating jobs.

This dissertation examines the mechanics and the consequences of this kind of large-scale land clearance, especially in the context of a small suburban municipality. Far from being an anomaly, the Port Chester project is an example of an ongoing trend: the use of eminent domain in the service of economic development, which we can see as a kind of present-day urban renewal.

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