Lecount Square MoU Expires

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.

Economic Development Update

Status Report on Four Key Sites

Fostering well-planned economic development has been among New Rochelle’s chief priorities. While we have enjoyed considerable success during the past decade, the sluggish national economy has impacted the pace of additional progress and requires us to be flexible in our approach to potential development sites. Following are updates on the status of four ongoing projects:

Echo Bay Waterfront

The City aims to create an exciting mixed-use shoreline with full public access to Long Island Sound, open space, and appropriately-scaled housing and shops. The site is currently occupied by a variety of industrial and municipal uses and affords no access whatsoever to the water. New Rochelle has selected Forest City Residential as Echo Bay’s master developer and has worked with Forest City to define specific project parameters. Forest City’s original conception, however, has proven difficult to execute in this economic climate. Therefore, we have asked their team to reevaluate the content and phasing of their plan. I am open-minded about changes, but I am not prepared to compromise our fundamental goals. We expect to review fresh alternatives in the early fall.

At the same time, the City is making efforts to address some of the barriers that could impede waterfront renewal. For example, the Armory property on East Main Street was transmitted to the City from the State more than a decade ago with several deed restrictions that compromise our local planning authority. To advance the principle of Home Rule, I recently asked the State Legislature to rescind these restrictions. Unfortunately, the challenges surrounding the State budget made it impossible for the Legislature to act on this request in the current session, but the subject will be revisited in the future. Home Rule with respect to the Armory would not prejudge the future use of the site or the preservation of the building on it — these decisions would be made independently and in the context of full public review. The interim goal is simply to empower the people of New Rochelle to make their own choices, without interference from unelected State administrators.

Lecount Square

Lecount Square

This proposed downtown project would include approximately one million square feet of new commercial construction, divided among retail, office, hotel and residential uses. Cappelli Enterprises, the developer, has purchased or secured options for all properties on the site, except for the United States Post Office at the corner or North Avenue and Huguenot Street. In recognition of the weak economy, the City Council has demonstrated patience by extending project deadlines. In general, I endorse this approach, but we should also critically examine all projects to ensure that they have a realistic chance of moving forward. Seeking to balance these considerations, the Council approved a six-month extension for Lecount Square in June, but added new performance benchmarks and protections. Specifically, we require by July 31st the physical rehabilitation of a corner property that has fallen into disrepair, and we require by December 31st written evidence of progress toward the sale of the Post Office. Unless both of these conditions are met, our present agreement with Cappelli Enterprises will terminate. We also included protections for the City against potential legal action. These provisions will enhance the possibility of progress on the site, while ensuring that we part on amicable terms if the project does not proceed.

New Roc City

In the context of settling a private legal dispute, Entertainment Properties Trust (EPT) has assumed full ownership and management responsibility for New Roc City. (Cappelli Enterprises had previously managed and had a minority ownership stake in the Center. Cappelli continues to own and manage the Marriott Residence Inn and the Lofts at New Roc.) EPT is a large national entity with extensive experience in both entertainment and retail. We have been assured that EPT is actively exploring retail possibilities at New Roc City, including department stores, and the City will continue to push vigorously for an expanded retail presence. I expect the Center’s future to become clearer later this year, after EPT has had an opportunity to thoroughly evaluate options.

Main Street Core

The City has received expressions of interest from several development teams for the Church-Division and Prospect lots, just south of Main Street and dubbed “Main Street Core” in our recent issuance of a Request for Qualifications. In the weeks ahead, the Council and our staff will select a partner that can best realize the positive potential of these sites.

Development Update

Progress On Lecount Square And Echo Bay

Download the “Findings Statement” for Lecount Square.

Lecount Square: The City Council has completed the lengthy environmental review for the Lecount Square project and issued a “findings statement” which authorizes the development to proceed. Lecount Square includes roughly one million square feet of office, hotel, retail, residential, and restaurant space, and is projected to generate substantial financial and job creation benefits for our community. The next procedural step is review and approval of a site plan by the Planning Board. The full text of the “findings statement” is available for download.

Echo Bay: The City and Forest City Residential, the designated developer for the Echo Bay waterfront, have reaffirmed our development partnership and confidence in the future of Echo Bay, despite the difficult economic climate. Our agreement extends for one year the window for producing a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and recommits Forest City to cover the City’s expenses through this process. At a time when many projects throughout the nation and region are being cancelled, this agreement is a positive sign for Echo Bay.