Gabrielle Arango sees Peekskill as a city perfectly positioned to be Northern Westchester's White Plains, a city full of fine stores, market-rate housing and possibilities for prosperity. And he is betting $1 million that things will turn out this way with his purchase and restoration of the historic Kurzhals building at 900 Main Street.
Arango’s current plans are to create a quality mini mall on the first two floors of the building featuring jewelry and art works and crafts, and to preserve the historic theater space on the third floor as completely as possible.
His long-term goal is to help transform the entire downtown. "We're here to help create a new ambiance for the area," Arango said.
The owner even hopes to eventually build market-rate housing in Peekskill. With close to 90 percent of the city's housing qualifying as "affordable" under federal standards, the city urgently needs market-rate properties, he said. "Developing market-rate housing can be done. It's feasible.”
In the meantime, though, Arango and his company will focus on getting his new purchase back into shape, a project he says will take at least a year. One of the most historic buildings in a downtown, full of 19th century structures, 900 Main Street is also known as Dramatic Hall and the Kurzhalls Building. View a photo slideshow of the inside of the building .
Standing across the street from Peekskill City Hall, the building has deteriorated significantly in recent years and was considered at significant risk by both building officials and historic preservationists.
Arango is president and owner of White Plains-based Gabmar Realty Corp. He owns 38 properties and has been in the real estate business for 48 years. He was attracted to 900 Main by its location, history and what he feels is Peekskill's huge potential.
"Peekskill is such a beautiful city,” Arango said. "Look what happened in White Plains. There was complete decay down there 35 years ago."
The Main Street was likely built in 1835. In the 1870s, a theater was constructed in its third floor. For much of the 20th Century, the building housed a hardware store, but eventually it fell victim to neglect and decay.
By 2010, the building had mold, moss, a worn-out roof and broken windows, through which the elements blew, causing even more damage.
Arango owns the building at 992 Main street as well, which he restored to become an upscale French restaurant, but currently sites empty.
Like anyone working construction in the city, Arango has had to work closely with city staff and officials to make his dreams come true.
“These people are very nice,” Arango said. “The city is cooperating.”
Anthony Ruggiero, Director of Planning and Development, said that he is glad to see Arango’s working on another building.
"We're excited by it,” Ruggiero said of Arango’s latest project. “He currently owns a building in the city and he's done a real nice job on that one.”
Building inspector Victor Pizzella had a positive attitude about the project as well.
"He's familiar with our town, so he should be a good fit," says building inspector Victor Pizzella.
Pizzella also pointed out that Arango’s timing is vital.
"Another winter and another year of the roof linking--the building didn't have too many years left it could stand that," Pizzella said.
Although 900 Main once boasted dramatic tin ceilings and other 19th-century decorative elements, today it is basically an empty shell possessed of one major surviving decorative element. That element, though, is spectacular--one of the few intact 19th Century theatrical proscenium arches in America, complete with original paint.
By the time work on the building is done, the entire structure will be striking, says Gabmar Construction supervisor Anthony Frascone.
"I'm an expert restorer of historical buildings. This is going to look beautiful when it's completed," Frascone said.
The company is also using wood-framed windows as replacement, which are costly but more appropriate for historic buildings than modern materials.
Besides replacing the windows, Gabmar is in the process of repointing (i.e. repairing) the mortar in the building’s exterior bricks, installing new utilities and putting on the urgently needed new roof.
"It will be a good place to go. We'll have air conditioning, we'll have heat, we'll have comfortable places people can sit down," Arango says.
"There are a lot of things that can be done.”
Photo Gallery of the building .