The City Council has unanimously approved terms for a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Forest City Residential for the restoration of the Echo Bay waterfront. As reported last month, this long-awaited shoreline restoration project features about 4.5 acres of open space, continuous public access to the shoreline, approximately 250 rental apartment units, and 25,000 to 50,000 square feet of new retail space. The site is presently contaminated and inaccessible, so the positive transformation would be dramatic.
Precise financial terms cannot be settled at this stage of the process, but the MOU does establish a general formula — the developer would pay the City a fair market value for any public property as determined by an independent appraisal, with a credit for developer-financed investment in public improvements and infrastructure. The MOU also contains an important fiscal backstop: the cost of public services for the project during any tax incentive period shall not exceed the public revenues generated by the project, meaning that the development must offer a net benefit to taxpayers.
Approval of the MOU triggers an obligation on Forest City’s part to undertake a comprehensive environmental review that will explore every aspect of the project and provide residents with formal opportunities for input and comment. It is quite possible that components of the project will evolve as a consequence of this process.
The City Council also approved the key elements of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the former Naval Armory on East Main Street. The RFP, which is expected to be issued next month, invites applicants to articulate a vision for the adaptive reuse of the Armory building and to present a viable financial plan for both initial structural renovation and ongoing operations. Our goal is to encourage creative thought about how the Armory can best be activated for public benefit and integrated successfully into an overall waterfront plan.
After several years in which the weak national economy put us in a frustrating holding pattern, these are very significant steps toward realizing New Rochelle’s waterfront goals, but these are not the final steps. The Council will still need to approve the project’s environmental impact statement and adopt a land disposition agreement. The MOU is designed to provide a sensible framework for addressing unresolved questions and ensuring that complete and detailed information is available before any conclusive decisions are made.
Last week, Forest City Residential presented to the City Council revised plans for the Echo Bay waterfront. The new proposal, situated on roughly 11 acres bounded by East Main Street and Long Island Sound, envisions: parkland, housing, and shops; environmental remediation of contaminated land; and full public access to the shoreline.
This new configuration is based on a year of analysis by both the City and the developer. It reflects greater experience with the constraints and opportunities on the site, and it also accounts for significant changes in the economic climate since the project’s original conception back in 2007.
While smaller than first envisioned, the project would still have a dramatic effect on its surroundings. It would be New Rochelle’s largest new development in about 20 years and the largest new park in almost 40 years. In addition, it is laid out to permit integration into a broader redevelopment of the area and, thereby, serve as a catalyst for future waterfront improvements.
The plan anticipates the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the former Armory, and leaves judgments about the future of this structure to the City. The Council could opt to issue a request for proposals for the Armory and then embed the winning reuse model into the overall waterfront project.
The Council must now decide whether to adopt a fresh Memorandum of Understanding with Forest City Residential that reflects the content of this revised proposal. If the Council chooses to proceed, then Forest City will be responsible for an extensive (and costly) environmental review that would serve as the basis for further public discussion and comment.
You can learn much more in last week’s presentation from Forest City to the City Council.
For several years, New Rochelle has worked with developers Forest City Residential to improve the Echo Bay waterfront. The potential of our shoreline is significant — the right kind of development could enhance recreational opportunities, strengthen neighborhoods, and improve our economy. But achieving these goals means surmounting significant environmental and financial hurdles. The complexities of the site, together with the weakness of the national economy, have forced us to delay the project and to reevaluate many of its components.
The public-private agreement that describes a project’s components and defines the responsibilities of involved parties is called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). When the City Council last extended Forest City’s MOU one year ago, we simultaneously launched analyses of: (1) the public costs and benefits associated with waterfront development; (2) options for the modernization of the City’s public works yard; and (3) the adaptive re-use potential of the former Armory on East Main Street. These studies were funded by Forest City Residential, but conducted independently by the City, without any influence from the developer.
Now that these studies have been completed, the City Council, City staff, and the developers need a little time to digest the information and consider the prospects and terms for moving forward. With this in mind, the City Council voted last night to extend Forest City’s MOU by 60 days. The vote should not be seen as a judgment on the merits of the project, but rather as a brief interim step intended to ensure that decision-making is guided by a complete understanding of our choices.
When the 60-day extension expires in the late winter/early spring, we’ll have a much bigger debate about whether and how to renew our partnership with Forest City. I remain fully committed to the goal of revitalizing New Rochelle’s waterfront and will keep that objective foremost in mind as we evaluate next steps.
Plans to improve the Echo Bay waterfront are back on track.
New Rochelle’s waterfront is an exceptional asset with unrealized potential. By reclaiming abandoned and semi-industrial waterfront property for public use and enjoyment, we can strengthen our local economy, improve our environment, create new recreational opportunities, and enhance property values.
For Echo Bay, a site that is presently contaminated and inaccessible, the City envisions a vital mixed-use community with a public waterfront promenade, parkland, and reasonably-scaled housing and shops. Private development is not the goal, but rather the mechanism for subsidizing public improvements and assets.
To help achieve this vision, New Rochelle selected Forest City Residential as our preferred development partner, and then entered into a formal agreement (called a Memorandum of Understanding or “MOU”) with Forest City in 2008. Since then, the deteriorating national economy has raised questions about the viability of Forest City’s original project conception and required a fresh examination of the site’s constraints and opportunities.
Last night, a bipartisan City Council majority voted to extend the MOU with Forest City for a full year. During this period, Forest City will complete a reexamination of its plans and propose an updated vision for the shoreline. Among the specific project changes under consideration are reduced overall density, reconfiguration of parking to minimize excavation costs, and adaptive reuse of the armory building on East Main Street.
In conjunction with this extension, Forest City has agreed to provide New Rochelle with up to $100,000 that the City will use to conduct an independent examination of planning options and an analysis of public costs and benefits associated with waterfront renewal. This will help us to better assess the merit of Forest City’s revised project. Aside from the practical value of the funding, this payment also offers tangible evidence of Forest City’s commitment to the site.
If the City and the developer agree on a revised project configuration during the coming year and on a strategy for proceeding, then the next step will be the preparation of a full-scale environmental impact statement, with associated public input and hearings.
We still have a long way to go, but this extended MOU and, more importantly, the planning exercise it will facilitate are important steps forward.
Fireworks by Grucci Brothers at 9:30pm on July 4th
New Rochelle will once again host one of the best Independence Day fireworks displays on the Sound Shore. Arranged by the legendary Grucci Brothers and sponsored this year by State Senator Jeff Klein, our fireworks will light up the sky above Echo Bay, beginning at 9:30pm on July 4th.
Five Islands Park and Hudson Park are the prime viewing sites, but the fireworks will also be visible from just about any spot on the water.