New Rochelle “Rediscovering” Itself (Again)

Written By: Robert Cox

NRPL-Night.jpgTo help put the Green R Plan into context, Talk of the Sound offers these remarks from a previous report on the City of New Rochelle:

A recent census undertaken as part of a broadly based citizen-directed program to aid in long-term revitalization plans, identified more than five hundred community organizations in New Rochelle. Their scope of concerns ranges from religious, social and educational to sports, fraternal, political, neighborhood, and civic. A vast reservoir of human resources, these groups have been brought together in major conferences whose aim has been cooperative effort in the service of the city.

New Rochelle is a city that is “rediscovering” itself. A full-scale renewal program is now underway and it is operating on two levels — physical redevelopment and a revitalization of public spirit. A twenty-million-dollar downtown rebuilding project is changing the face of the central business district. Its keystone is a magnificent new public library auditorium, meeting rooms, and exhibit space. In front of the building is a plaza with a fountain, reflecting pool, and a network of pedestrian walkways that fan out through the entire downtown area. Working on a second level are a series of citizen task forces, each led by a prominent resident, devoted to developing community cooperation in a number of areas.

For those who wonder why long-time residents might be skeptical of Mayor Bramson’s rhetoric regarding the created of the Sustainability Advisory Board and the various task forces which helped drafted the Green R Plan consider that the above passage is taken from a book called New Rochelle Portrait of a City. It was written by former New Rochelle City Council member Ruth Kitchen in 1981.

Ten years later, in March 1991, The New York Times had this to say about the result of the task-forces described by Ruth Kitchen in 1981:

But the glitter of the “Queen City of the Sound,” as it was known, has faded somewhat over the years. Local merchants were unable to compete with the easy shopping in outlying malls and were further depressed to see New Rochelle companies moving to campus-like settings elsewhere.

The following year, in 1992, the New York Times wrote:

In the wake of a fire that destroyed a dozen stores and offices in the heart of the downtown business district here, detectives searched the rubble today for clues to how the fire began, and neighboring merchants wondered how many disappointments they could endure. The recession has not been kind to this once-thriving shopping district. Empty stores with “For Rent” signs in the windows are ubiquitous. Shopping malls in neighboring communities have drawn away many customers, and developers’ promises to inject new life into downtown New Rochelle have gone unfulfilled. The Christmas shopping season was, in the words of more than one local merchant, “a disaster.”

In 1998, the “rebirth of downtown New Rochelle” was proclaimed:

“The New Rochelle Center is the prime attraction of a major redevelopment success story in Downtown New Rochelle,” said New rochelle Mayor Timothy C. Idoni. “By becoming a destination for family entertainment and shopping, the Center will have a favorable impact on surrounding businesses.”

The only two businesses that have thrived around what later became known as New Roc City have been a mortuary and a pizza parlor — and no one has suggested there is a connection between the entertainment complex and the George T. Davis Funeral Home. The most recent discussions at City Council meetings regarding the “surrounding businesses” has been on how to prevent the area from becoming blighted. A walk in the area around the intersection of Anderson Street and North Avenue show more vacant retail space than before construction on New Roc City began.

The current Mayor’s track record is not much better as two stories form 2009 make clear.

Mystery Solved: Noam Bramson a Part-Time Mayor

We reported two weeks ago on how Noam Bramson was passing himself off to the public and media as a “full-time” Mayor, New Rochelle’s “Full-Time” Mayor Moonlights His Way to Six-Figure Income. A Talk of the Sound reader obtained a copy of Mayor Bramson’s Personnel Form from City Hall…[it] makes it clear that not only is the part-time status of the Mayor formally defined by law but that the legal document which makes that clear is a document prepared and signed by Bramson himself.

How one city is using Obama’s stimulus

New Rochelle is the seventh largest city in New York State. Last week, city officials submitted a nearly $100 million list of proposed projects to Albany in the hopes of getting a slice of New York State’s $24 billion share of the stimulus pie. Out of the $97.8 million submitted, almost 20% of the projects are ineligible, few are actually shovel-ready and most contain highly improbably job creation estimates. The list consists primarily of long dormant or unworkable plans coupled with goodies for real estate developers, dumped into a nearly nine-figure grab bag of spending initiatives that will do little to stimulate the economy.

Talk of the Sound has already suggested a number of questions residents might want to ask by yet another urban renewal/rebirth/downtown development/smart-growth/sustainability “plan” for New Rochelle. One worth considering in the context of this article is the impact of “transit-oriented development” or a “smart growth strategy”. The Mayor claims that more building high-rise apartments near the train stration will reduce carbon emissions in New Rochelle by reducing the number of vehicles in downtown. How has that worked so far? If that really works why did the City recently vote to change the parking rules for the BID? Aren’t their more cars in downtown, not less? Anyone with common sense can see why: if a person has enough money to buy or rent an apartment in Avalon or Trump are they likely to grab a “Green R” tote bag, walk down Huguenot Street and then Palmer Avenue to get over to the Shop Rite, buy their groceries and then schlep home with bags full of cans and bottles? Is living in Westchester County without a car viable for the sorts of people Avalon and Trump are selling/renting to?

Of course, if you are looking for common sense, you not look in yet another government-sponsored “revitalization” plan for New Rochelle? The best plan? Simple, cut the sales tax in half for BID retailers and there will be a stampede of shoppers descending on New Rochelle like a plague of locusts. Right behind them will be another stampede of developers and retailers looking to cash in. Does the City government have the courage to boldly cut sale tax rates in the hop of more than doubling sales? Not likely.

2 thoughts on “New Rochelle “Rediscovering” Itself (Again)”

  1. Time to wake up
    Until the administration identifies and admits its mistakes, they will continue to repeat them as this story points out. It is high time to develop a realistic future plan as opposed to reaching for the pie-in-the-sky, windfall projects from the same old wink-wink, nod-nod, hand-shake developers. A realistic plan which has nothing to do with Green R or the Industrial Development Agency’s multi-decade tax abatements.

  2. “Revitalization”

    Interesting idea about cutting the sales tax. There has to be some point that would stimulate local businesses but also not dramatically affect the city’s coffers. Perhaps something like instituting “sales tax holidays” intermittently?

    Not all development is good. It’s tough to say with New Roc City. Did New Roc City prevent New Rochelle’s spiral into an otherwise irretrievable blight? Or in other words, has it just outlived its usefulness?

    I’m very interested in the rise and fall of New Rochelle. New Rochelle clearly had a heyday. Most of the factors present in its original success are still here. The city itself hasn’t moved. The transportation network is still very similar. The buildings are for the most part here. The question is: what is missing?

    It does seem that the task forces and the library development project could not save New Rochelle from it’s eventual decline. But as the article insightfully notes, the downtown at the time was outmoded compared to the shopping malls and suburban campus office parks that were en vogue at the time. These are no longer much of a threat. The reason: they are not sustainable. Meaning — they might have been fashionable in the short term, but over the long term they are not economically and environmentally sound, let alone fulfilling environments for human beings. So yes, past development plans might have failed — but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying — and it doesn’t mean we should ignore a plan that actually jibes with where development is headed.

    That being said, I think the articles that you pointed out are great examples why the sustainability plan, if it is adopted, should not give the city carte blanche to develop downtown at will. All development fitting under the category of “sustainable” does not mean that it is advisable. Consider the following article:

    “Sustainable” insofar as it was close to a higher density downtown near regional rail. Not necessarily a good idea. Or perhaps not a bad idea but certainly not a panacea.

    I did see an article, however, that the BID is encouraging artist lofts in certain underutilized properties. Present day. Think this is a great idea. That is the sort of slow but organic change that can have a lasting impact on a community.

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