Attracting private investment to our downtown is among New Rochelle’s most important challenges. In recent years, we have enjoyed considerable success, but far more must be done to strengthen our downtown economy and create a more vital assembly of commercial and residential uses. Progress does not depend upon any single project or site, but rather on a sound overall strategy, executed with the right balance of persistence and flexibility.

With this in mind, I report the news that the City has opted against extending the Memorandum of Understanding (“MoU”) for the Lecount Square project. At the time of its most recent extension, back in June of 2010, the MoU was revised to explicitly require that the developers (Cappelli Enterprises) achieve meaningful progress by the end of 2010 toward acquisition of the U.S. Post Office on the project site. This critical test was not met.

Is this good news or bad news? In my opinion, a little of both.

Lecount Square was an exciting project that held enormous promise for New Rochelle. With roughly a million square feet of mixed-use space, it would have dramatically reshaped a large downtown block and contributed significantly to the overall renewal of New Rochelle’s commercial sector. I am disappointed that an ambitious vision for this site will, at a minimum, take longer to achieve than first hoped.

However, Lecount Square was conceived at a time when the national economy and the financial position of many developers were much stronger, and it has been increasingly evident that the project was unlikely to gain traction under foreseeable circumstances. The City was right to be patient and to provide project extensions for a reasonable period, but we must also have the sense to recognize when a page ought to be turned. That time has come, and we can now look ahead to fresh possibilities.

So what happens next?

The City does not own any of the land on the Lecount block. Therefore, our role in conceiving and advancing redevelopment is less direct than at many other project sites. Nonetheless, we can work with property owners in the area to consider new options, including everything from redevelopment of specific parcels to a reshaped full-block project with different components and/or scale. It is also possible for the Lecount Square project to proceed as originally conceived, because, as a private venture, it does not strictly depend upon an MoU. Lastly, we may decide to focus our energies on other development sites, at least on a temporary basis. At a minimum, the expiration of the MoU may facilitate some improvement in the condition of existing buildings on the site, which have been essentially frozen in anticipation of imminent demolition.

We’ll need a little time and discussion to intelligently sort out the possibilities for the Lecount block. But our larger determination to improve New Rochelle’s central business district remains strong and will continue on multiple tracks. These tracks include:

  1. development of the Church-Division and Prospect lots, now under discussion with Albanese Development;
  2. improved connectivity to the train station, to be explored with a HUD planning grant;
  3. expansion of public access to the shoreline, through continuing efforts at Echo Bay and new efforts on Davids Island;
  4. a refreshed Comprehensive Plan to serve as a basis for future land use policy;
  5. introduction of large-scale retail at New Roc City, still an important but unmet goal; and
  6. a variety of private initiatives that the City can help facilitate or shape.