Downtown BID Seeks Participants in Small Business Support Program

As noted previously in this space, the New Rochelle Business Improvement District, in conjunction with Monroe College and other local partners, now offers a variety of extremely useful services for owners of small businesses in downtown New Rochelle. If you are interested in taking advantage of any of these programs, download this information sheet, fill out the form, and return it to the BID.

For more information, contact Ralph DiBart at or 914-960-1460.

Monroe College Contributes to 2011 Memorial Day Parade

As you know from my prior budget posts, the City’s 2011 fiscal plan included a wide range of cost-cutting measures. One of these was the elimination of funding for various community celebrations, in the hope that private contributions could sustain these events. It’s not a new concept — the annual Thanksgiving Parade has been sponsored by John and Charles Valenti for several years — but we have extended this model now to our Memorial Day Parade and Independence Day Fireworks, thereby adding to the City’s fund-raising challenge.

Well, I am happy to report that our community partners are rising to the occasion. The first big donation came from Monroe College, which has agreed to fund the expenses associated with the 2011 Memorial Day Parade. Monroe joins several other local businesses that have already been sponsors of this great event. Veterans groups remain the chief organizers, donating extraordinary time and energy to the Parade and associated ceremonies. All have my sincere thanks for their generosity and spirit of service.

The Memorial Day Parade takes place on Monday, May 30, starting at 10:30 am at Memorial Plaza. The parade finishes at Hudson Park with a waterfront ceremony and picnic featuring the West Point concert band and a landing of a Marine Corps Osprey helicopter.

Several major local institutions and businesses have already made commitments in support of the July 4th Fireworks, and I am confident that the City will reach its fund-raising goal, but we’re not quite there yet. More on this, including a grateful reference to specific donors, in a future post.

New BID Program Aims for Small Business Assistance

Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, at both the national and local levels. Especially in this challenging environment, we all have an interest in supporting small businesses and helping them succeed. And if sensible, cost-saving measures that improve a business’ bottom line also have environmental benefits, so much the better.

With these goals in mind, the New Rochelle Business Improvement District (BID) has recently expanded its support of downtown commerce. With local partners like Monroe College, Community Capital Resources, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the BID has announced a host of new services — many free — to help small business in New Rochelle reach new customers and reduce their expenses.

Among the offerings of the BID’s New Rochelle Downtown Small Business Support Program are:

  • Free energy audits to identify equipment improvements that can lower operating costs, and incentives for making improvements from Con Edison and NYSERDA.
  • Free collection of used cooking oil from downtown restaurants by Grease Lighting, a New Rochelle company that converts waste oil into renewable fuel.
  • Access to business loans through Community Capital Resources, a not-for-profit financial institution based in Hawthorne, NY.
  • Consultation services and workshops offered through the Downtown Small Business Development and Resource Center hosted by Monroe College.

You can read more about these new programs here.

New Roc City Status Report

Three years ago, the operators of New Roc City announced that a large portion of the entertainment center would be reconfigured to accommodate two new department stores.  Like many other residents, I was excited about this prospect.  New Roc, after all, had been originally conceived as a retail facility, and New Rochelle has lacked a department store since the closure of Macy’s in the early 1990s.  The planned arrival of Target and Kohl’s would have established new anchors of downtown commerce, generated significant sales tax and otherwise strengthened the local economy.  The City’s IDA put together a package of incentives to facilitate the change-over, while Parks & Rec began a parallel initiative to set aside space at City Park for a new municipal ice rink.

Well, needless to say, there are still no department stores at New Roc.  And just this past week, Monroe College established a new basketball arena within the space previously occupied by the New Roc ice sheet.  What happened?

In a word: recession.

Bringing department stores to New Roc City would require a significant internal reconstruction of the center, with an estimated price tag exceeding $50 million.  In addition, several portions of New Roc would have to “go dark” during this construction period, temporarily reducing rental income for the owners.  That’s all well and good, provided that future income from new retail tenants is sufficient to exceed these losses.  In other words, the viability of the retail conversion is dependent upon retailers’ willingness to spend adequate amounts on space rental or purchase.  In a relatively strong economy, like that of 2007 when these plans were first conceived, that’s a pretty safe bet.  In today’s relatively weak economy, the numbers don’t add up.  And so we must wait.

Enter two other players . . .

Last year, as part of a legal settlement spanning multiple properties (most outside of New Rochelle), Cappelli Enterprises relinquished its share of ownership of New Roc City — along with day-to-day management responsibilities — to Entertainment Properties Trust (EPT), a large national concern based out of Missouri that owns millions of square feet of entertainment and retail space.  In both private conversations with City officials and public statements to the press, EPT has reaffirmed the planned transition to retail at New Roc . . . but they have also counseled patience, citing the economic calculus above.

More recently, Monroe College struck an agreement with EPT to use the space of the former ice rink for a new college basketball arena.  Monroe is a for-profit, tax-paying institution of higher learning that has assumed an increasingly important leadership role in the downtown.  (The head of Monroe’s New Rochelle campus, Marc Jerome, is also the President of the Downtown Business Improvement District.)  The terms of Monroe’s agreement with EPT and their public statements on the subject make clear that the basketball arena is viewed as a short-to-medium term use that can activate New Roc on an interim basis, until prospects for retail are brighter.

I continue to believe that retail would be the most publicly-beneficial use at New Roc City.  In the context of a five-year time horizon, I am highly optimistic about achieving this objective.  In the context of a one or two year time horizon, the odds are less promising (although retailers smaller than department stores remain a real possibility.)  In the meantime, the City will continue its aggressive planning and development efforts downtown and on the waterfront, aimed at positioning ourselves for immediate progress once national economic conditions turn brighter.