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