To develop an informed opinion regarding the Armory, we need to understand as much as we can about the facts as we can. I may not know all of it, but this much is true. The Armory was conveyed to the city for one dollar with the specific deed restriction or covenant, that its function would be public use. All the city had to do was maintain it. Imagine, getting a 15 million dollar piece of property for one dollar. The stipulation was so explicit that should the city fail in it’s obligation, the state has the right to take it back. The city did nothing. If you were to say there wasn’t any money to develop it, that’s fine. The building could have been mothballed or sealed to protect its interior with very little effort until a plan could be developed to serve the public. Instead, the cities various administrations have chosen to let it fall by the wayside without regard to their legal (and by many opinions) moral obligations. Then things get worse. It’s been reported the building was not just neglected, but used for fire dept. training and police training further leading to the decline of the inside. There has been vandalism reported and basically no resolve to provide any protection of this historic site. None of this allowed behavior was in the interest of the public good. In the aftermath of September 11th , this iconic building had the dust shaken off to serve as a marshalling area of supplies for the heroic efforts down at ground zero. Yes, serving silently, as always, during our moments of triumph and devastation. Finally, a glimmer of hope. Working with the Chamber of Commerce, people from the Save Our Armory committee put on a Halloween Haunted House event that went on for years. It was very successful and even though it couldn’t be considered fine arts, it was finally serving the public. Every year about 12 THOUSAND kids and families were able to experience a true Halloween event. Even a good thing can be sabotaged. Is it coincidence that as the push for Echo Bay ratcheted up, there was a sudden concern that the building wasn’t safe enough for the people to have the haunted house anymore? Probably not. So now the building was closed up again. In the aftermath of this decision, some of the one of kind murals were suddenly missing. These weren’t pictures taken off their hooks. I was told by an art expert, who has seen where they were that it would take hours of work by someone knowing how to do it to remove just one, let alone 2 or 3 of them. So now the building sits. Waiting for the city to sell it out from under us, without regard to its legal and moral obligation. People have been trying for years to promote this icon. Years before Forrest City came around. It all fell on deaf ears. So, it would seem to me that the city has knowingly chosen to renege and actively allowed to further the worsening of the building hoping…. what? Forrest City? I recently read on old interview with a Mr. Kruse from Forrest City, who said their retail guys looked at it but considered it as a “missing tooth”. If a relative was missing a tooth would you euthanize them and haul them to a landfill or would you look at the potential. Maybe he meant they won’t make enough money in the deal. The city COULD have required any developer to adapt the Armory in their request for proposal (RFP), but they didn’t. I personally asked Abe Naperstek (from Forrest City) “if the city required you to include the Armory in your plan, would Forrest City have walked away from the deal ? He said “no”
So where do we lay blame? We could spread it around some, however I would suggest moving forward, looking at the potential for this grand space. If the city’s IDA can give abatements, why can’t there be a model that would help subsidize the Armory instead of Forrest City? The last Engineering results available have shown that the building is, in fact, structurally sound. The building needs a roof, plumbing, electric and paint. How many other buildings in New Rochelle need the same? Should we tear them down? The New Rochelle Arts Collaborative has proposed a public/private plan of 13 million dollars to attract art and its ancillary commerce to the city. For less than 10 per cent of that you could have an amazing building that could do it all. For 15% it could be stellar. It doesn’t have to be taxpayer money – that’s the beauty. It does however; require the resolve of city council to allow those that would come forward to make their proposal. The Mayor is quoted as saying “All municipalities have an obligation to pursue environmental sustainability in order to reduce energy consumption and promote a higher quality of life.” I believe it is the Portland Armory Arts Center recaptures all of its rain water for reuse. The inherent large roof area calls out for solar cell technology for both electricity and heat. It’s all there right in front of us, a diamond in the rough. Couple that with a jitney to the train station and downtown and you’ll have people clamoring to have their exhibit, show, event, or function there. People would compete to have their moment in this amazing place, and people would want to come and be part of it. Isn’t that the definition of “public use”?
Let’s remember the “public space” proposed in the Echo Bay plan WILL be owned by Forrest City. It will NOT be a New Rochelle owned park. When I asked Mr. Naperstek how we would know we could always have access to this property for public space, he replied that they could use a deed restriction or covenant that would allow it to be public space. I thought later, with the deed restriction, we won’t loose this public space. Or would we? Let’s see, a deed restriction that requires a space to be used for the public good. Where have I heard that before?