Mayor Noam Bramson and Iona President Joe Nyre at the residence hall ground-breaking.

Mayor Noam Bramson and Iona President Joe Nyre at the residence hall ground-breaking.

Last week, I attended the ground-breaking for Iona’s new student residence hall on North Avenue.  The building will also include taxable commercial space on the ground level.  You can read more about the event in this press release from the college.

This development is obviously an important step forward for Iona, but it is also positive for New Rochelle as a whole.

First, it will enhance an emerging academic district on North Avenue, improving the appearance and economic vitality of the area, while relieving growth pressure on surrounding neighborhoods.

Second, and maybe even more importantly, it reflects a new spirit of partnership between the college and community.  After all, prior dormitory proposals have been engulfed in controversy, while this plan has been broadly supported.

How did the change come about?  A few years ago, Iona President Joe Nyre and I agreed to convene a planning committee to reexamine the relationship between town and gown and to propose new zoning that could align the college’s needs with the interests and concerns of neighbors.

In the months that followed, Iona representatives, City officials, and neighborhood leaders met regularly to review options.  The discussions were wide-ranging, candid, and often difficult.  At various times, the process nearly broke-down, but, in the end, it was successful — and has proven a testament to the value of perseverance and a long-term perspective.

I am very grateful to all of the participants in that exercise — the neighborhood representatives who overcame a history of mistrust, President Nyre and his team who took a leap of faith in choosing collaboration over confrontation, and most especially, the volunteer facilitator of the planning committee, Matt Fasciano, who led the effort with patience, integrity, and diplomacy.

It’s a great accomplishment, and I was proud to be among those placing a symbolic shovel in the ground.