About 20,000 square feet of retail space, new public parking to replace an aging and obsolete garage, and more than 500 high-quality apartments, containing residents with annual spending power in the tens of millions. These are the essential features of a major new mixed-use project, proposed to be sited on the Church-Division and Prospect lots, half a block south of Main Street. If fully realized, this development would have a significant positive effect on the physical fabric and economic vibrancy of our downtown, while also helping New Rochelle overcome a recession-induced lull in private commercial investment.
The developer of this project would be the Albanese Corporation, a highly respected and successful team, responsible for designing and constructing much of Battery Park City, including the Solaire and the Visionaire, two of the most admired residential “green” buildings in the nation.
The project is enormously complicated in every respect. Construction and demolition must be coordinated in a delicate dance to provide adequate parking availability at all times. Housing must be introduced on a rolling basis to ensure that supply does not outpace demand. Federal, state, and local revenue streams would impact affordability standards and rent levels. And the first phase must be capable of standing on its own, in case the full project can not be accomplished. Tax incentives would be necessary to finance the project, but taxpayers would be in the black, especially when the cost of the alternative (that is, improving parking without a development agreement) is factored into the equation. In its totality, the project illustrates the difficult trade-offs that cities like New Rochelle must consider in order to attract beneficial investment. It’s quite a juggling act, but worth it.
You can find additional details in this presentation, made to the City Council on January 10th. As you view the presentation, please keep in mind that the pictures are NOT renderings of the project; they are intended only to illustrate massing and approximate scale.
Like all major developments, the Albanese project must jump over several regulatory and approval hurdles before it can proceed. A more careful examination could result in either the developer or the City pulling back. And the Council will not make a final judgment until a full environmental review is conducted, along with public hearings.
With all those caveats, I am excited. This effort is fully consistent with the City’s strategy of attracting transit-oriented development that gives residents, shoppers and commuters more choices in their lives, while gradually strengthening our economy and tax base.
The economy during the past three years has been hostile to new development, and has slowed the revitalization of New Rochelle’s downtown. Nevertheless, I am determined to use this time to undertake the often lengthy process of planning major projects, so that once the economic climate has improved, we can move forward as soon as possible.
In this light, I am pleased to report progress on one of the City’s most interesting properties, called the Main Street Core. Covering 4.5-acres and straddling two parking sites between Church Street and Centre Avenue, this location is a stone’s throw from Main Street itself and an easy walk from the train station.
The City’s development staff recommended that Albanese Development, of Garden City, be given a 90-day period to perform a more thorough review of the site and begin its assessment of construction costs in light of the City’s overall goals of revenue generation, job creation, economic and physical enhancement of the downtown, and provision of safe and accessible public parking.
Albanese was selected from several strong applications received this spring. They are a leader in sustainable architecture, having developed the first residential towers in the country to be awarded LEED Gold and Platinum designations. Among their well-known projects is the “Solaire” at Battery Park City. Albanese is committing $150,000 of their own funds to this 90-day period of review.
I will continue to keep you updated as this and other important development projects move forward.
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.
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.