Wide ShotThe most ambitious development in New Rochelle’s history is officially ready to roll.  Last night, the City Council unanimously approved a Master Development Agreement (“MDA”) covering multiple sites throughout our downtown and transit area.  The terms of the MDA had been under negotiation since October, when the City designated RDRXR as our partner.

Now that the agreement has been finalized, we can look ahead to an action-packed 2015.  On one track, intensive public outreach will begin with the opening of an office on North Avenue and then the launching of RDRXR’s “Crowdsourced Placemaking” program, which invites community input through both in-person meetings and social media.  Stay tuned for more on that.  On a second track, RDRXR will conduct professional market analyses and lay the groundwork for a comprehensive environmental review.  These two tracks will converge later in the year with a recommended action plan and associated zoning.

The specifics of the project will be determined through this process, but the goals outlined in the full press release are already very clear:

Enhance our downtown area in a way that appeals to the entire city and that serves as a catalyst for job creation, economic growth, private investment, and higher property values.

Usher New Rochelle into the 21st century, while respecting our city’s history and soul, and celebrating and enhancing New Rochelle’s cultural and artistic vitality.

Leverage and utilize New Rochelle’s unparalleled location and transit access to provide attractive housing options for young professionals, seniors, and our workforce.

Strengthen New Rochelle’s tax base and provide a positive return to taxpayers.

Improve our environment through green, sustainable, energy-efficient design, while creating a new skyline with iconic architecture that inspires civic pride.

The MDA establishes the rights, responsibilities, and expectations of the City and the developer.  It’s a complex and nuanced document, so any summary inevitably misses a lot, but here’s my best effort lay out the essentials:

First, RDRXR will make a big investment upfront on planning, market analysis, public outreach, and environmental review.  In exchange, they will have an exclusive right to develop City-owned property in the downtown area during the term of the agreement.

Second, RDRXR will be able to purchase City-owned land, using a pre-determined formula to set a sale price, but only if they have secured construction financing and are ready to putting shovels in the ground.  In addition, RDRXR will have to preserve or replace the municipal uses, mainly parking, that are presently on those properties.

Third, the project itself will have to meet several tests: it must be consistent with the public’s vision and goals, as articulated in zoning over which the City Council has full control; it must be supportable by the market, as demonstrated by the availability of private financing; and it must provide a net positive benefit to taxpayers when all revenues and costs are fairly and comprehensively accounted for.

Finally, the zoning and environmental review adopted through this process will apply also to private properties in the downtown area, meaning that other property owners and developers will have a chance to benefit from an improving investment climate, with or without RDRXR’s direct involvement.  A rising tide will lift all boats.

There will surely be challenges and obstacles ahead.  Nothing significant comes easily, and economic development, in particular, almost always presents difficult trade-offs and compromises.

But I am encouraged by how this public-private partnership has brought together the entire City Council, acting with common purpose.  I am encouraged by a process that will give every resident and stakeholder in New Rochelle a real voice in shaping our future.  And I am encouraged by the exceptional assets of location, transit, talent, and diversity that define our city today and give us unparalleled potential to be even more tomorrow.

When it comes to downtown development, New Rochelle has come a long way . . . and still has a long way to go.  We now have an opportunity to take a giant leap forward.  It’s up to all of us to seize that opportunity.  Let’s get to work.