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As the busiest stop along Westchester’s portion of the New Haven line, the New Rochelle train station welcomes thousands of riders every day, serves as a vital gateway to our community, and sits at the heart of our economic development strategy. The station house itself is a charming old structure, and the garage next door helped meet growing demand for parking when it was built about a decade ago. But there’s no doubt that the experience of traveling to and from New Rochelle by rail could be improved.
With this goal in mind, the City’s Department of Development has teamed up with the Business Improvement District to design a new “Concierge Desk.” Security will be stationed at the desk to improve safety, deter mischief, and monitor persistent trouble spots like the bathrooms. Security personnel will also be trained to provide information and brochures about events, restaurants, and activities in New Rochelle, with additional information displayed electronically on adjoining screens.
(From the desk, security officials will also be able to monitor feeds from cameras throughout the garage and station.)
OK, calling it a “Concierge Desk” may be a little bit of a stretch. It’s not like you’ll be able to make theater reservations or arrange your dry cleaning through the security staff. But this will be a nice touch that makes our downtown gateway more inviting, safe, and attractive.
Construction should get underway this spring.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog posts, then you know I am pretty passionate about (a) talking up New Rochelle and (b) eating good food. So there aren’t many events that I’m more eager to promote than New Rochelle’s “Dine Downtown” Restaurant Week, starting on March 31st.
You can find all the details, as well as links to participating restaurants, on the website for the New Rochelle Business Improvement District. And there’s a handy map on this postcard.
Here are the details in a nutshell. Thirteen participating restaurants, all offering 3-course meals for $26. (I’ve been to eleven of those thirteen, and plan on hitting the other two as soon as I can.)
If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of dining in downtown New Rochelle, you’re missing a great experience, so come see – and taste – what our town offers.
Haina Just-Michael at Swirl
Swirl bills itself as a Coffee and Tea Room, and that works well as a description of the vibe — comfortable, casual, and very welcoming. “Coffee and tea,” however, doesn’t do justice to the breadth of Swirl’s menu, which also encompasses breakfast, sandwiches, desserts, and lots of other tasty treats.
Located on North Avenue in the Wykagyl area of New Rochelle, Swirl is strictly kosher, which makes it a very popular destination for the local Orthodox community, but you don’t have to be Orthodox to have a great time. I’ll vouch any day for the carmelized onion, mushroom and cheddar “egglette” that I scarfed down at a recent breakfast with my friend Haina Just-Michael.
Usually, I include a photo of my meal in these posts, but this picture of Haina captures her joyful nature so well that I couldn’t resist. Who is this happy at an early breakfast?!
With studies on transit-oriented growth and traffic patterns completed, the City is now poised to take the next step by seeking a “master” developer for multiple sites around Main Street and the New Rochelle train station.
Compared to the traditional project review and approval process, master development agreements typically encompass a wider range of locations, a greater degree of flexibility, and an enhanced public-private partnership during initial planning stages. It’s a model that’s proven successful in many places, but is new to New Rochelle.
As this week’s presentation to the City Council illustrates, there’s a lot we can put into play, with publicly-owned properties serving as the core of potentially larger redevelopment areas.
We expect to issue a Request for Qualifications for master developers by May of this year, with the aim of making a selection around the end of summer. The redevelopment process itself will, of course, take much longer, and include extensive community input, as we work to match an idealized vision with the realities of the marketplace.
The City Council is unanimous in its enthusiasm for this approach, a level of consensus we rarely experience when it comes to economic development. I am excited, too, about the possibilities. But it’s important to keep in mind that putting shovels in the ground will inevitably entail compromises and trade-offs – and that’s when the choices become more difficult.
The presentation to Council also noted options for the Echo Bay waterfront. With the prior proposal from Forest City now set aside, the Council must determine how to proceed. The big immediate questions concern the scope of properties to be included in a future development agreement and whether competition should be open to all interested parties or initially limited to developers who have already submitted proposals of one kind or another. The Council is still wrestling with these issues, but is likely to make some determinations soon.
New Rochelle had another good year on the public safety front. Crime statistics from 2013 are now fully compiled, and New Rochelle continues to enjoy the best safety record among similar-sized communities in New York and Westchester. We even stack up well against the national competition. Of the 110 cities nation-wide with populations between 75,000 and 100,000, New Rochelle’s crime rate is the 10th lowest. (Newton, MA wins top honors, in case you were wondering.) Year to year, our city’s crime rate dropped by 3% in 2013. Good work by New Rochelle’s men and women in blue, together with their community partners.
Clara Rivera, Mariano Rivera, and Noam
The former Presbyterian Church on North Avenue, just south of City Hall, is one of New Rochelle’s most prominent historic buildings, but having been abandoned for many years (and under the ownership of a City government that was hard-pressed to devote funds to maintenance), it had fallen into considerable disrepair. With structural problems constituting a safety hazard and with no practical, cost-effective public use in sight, the City reluctantly considered demolishing the building as a regrettable last resort.
Then someone had a bright idea. Why not rebuild the church . . . as a church? And so it was that in June 2011, the City entered into an agreement with the Refugio de Esperanza “Refuge of Hope” church to rehabilitate the building and use it once again as a house of worship. After three years of hard work, the church is now restored to its former luster.
Today, I had the great pleasure of joining Pastor Clara Rivera (plus her lesser-known husband, Mariano) at the ribbon-cutting and of saying a few words at the ceremony that followed.
Pastor Rivera and her church family have already made great contributions to the New Rochelle community through their involvement in charitable and not-for-profit organizations – and by rescuing a beautiful piece of our history. I wish them every success in their new home.