New Rochelle Loves History, after twenty years it is the same old headlines!

Written By: Bob McCaffrey

New Rochelle, after twenty years it is the same old headlines!

Déjà vu all over again,

During a conversation the other day with a friend of mine we were discussing the state of development in New Rochelle and the mayors “State of the City Speech”. It was also amusing to hear it said when the mayor was discussing The North Ave Church that was given to Mariano Rivera for a dollar that, “New Rochelle loves History”. Unfortunately it is a poor history of following the same flawed practices of the past, saying and doing things the same way.

Why do members of New Rochelle City Council and Staff continue to entertain these grandiose schemes of huge residential construction, a Transit Operations Plan, again with large scale residential development, as well as the so called “waterfront development.” Waterfront development that also pushes a huge residential commitment, this is just plain unresponsiveness to the needs of New Rochelle at this place and time. Hasn’t anyone seen the litany of for rent signs and closed businesses that await proper planning and development? All the current schemes of huge residential construction are precisely the wrong ideas at the wrong time. Here is a piece from the mayor’s 2014 speech:

Mayors State of the City 2014:
“Bramson announced that, New Rochelle will seek “master” developers for multiple sites in two clusters – one centered on the city’s transit center, the other surrounding Main Street. Master development agreements will be based on recently completed studies of transit-oriented growth and traffic circulation patterns. The City’s plans call for several million square feet of office space, roughly 2,000 new apartments, and 500,000 square feet of retail.”

I made a comparison between the new downtown project and Mayor Tim Idoni’s pet project back in the 1990’s, a United Nations Community District covering much of the central business area in New Rochelle. My friend and several others could not remember the project. I did and much of what we see today is similar to what was proposed back then, just a different spin, mayor and developers to be determined. My point is that after the project failed, we heard and saw the same story lines, just some change in detail and names. These next few paragraphs are straight from an article back in 1997. Do the sound bites sound familiar? You can read the entire thing later.

In the Region/Westchester; A Start in Enlivening New Rochelle’s Downtown
By MARY McALEER VIZARD Published: November 23, 1997

For years this city has been struggling to attract business and enliven its deteriorating downtown. Now, with the announcement that construction of a 375,000-square-foot entertainment, sports and shopping complex in the city’s center is about to begin, many here say it is poised for a long-awaited turnaround.

Now that construction of the new center (New Roc City) is about to start, Mr. Idoni added, ”my phone hasn’t stopped ringing with people now interested in investing in New Rochelle.”

The city is still trying to recover from several major disappointments over the years. In 1993 it was in the running to be the new world headquarters of UNICEF, the children’s relief agency. But the agency ultimately chose to remain in Manhattan.

As I said Déjà vu all over again!

New Rochelle roads are wasting away from neglect a lack of caring or vision and corrupt management from the past. These roads are the path to our historic sites and buildings. It has been said, “New Rochelle loves restoring prominent historic architecture”. I should say that it is the exact opposite as history has shown the fact that we as a city fail to take even the slightest preventive action to protect the many historic sites much less the roads. Look at The Armory, Ward Acres Barn and Farm House, The North Ave Church that was given to Mariano Rivera for a dollar, Wildcliffe, Several structures at Hudson Park like the band shell and so many others.

Where are our priorities?

The other day as I drove past Ward Acres, I saw the Barn from the road and it looked like a North End version of The Armory, Another example of History in New Rochelle wasting away from neglect and a lack of caring or vision. I speak of the Ward Acres Barn and Farm House. I have mentioned the Ward Acres Barn and Farm House to several council members during several one on one meetings. It has been said, “New Rochelle loves restoring prominent historic architecture”. I should say that it is the opposite as history has shown the fact that we as a city fail to take even the slightest preventive action to protect these historic sites. Groups have offered just like with The Armory to at least help to protect them from further damage by doing roof repairs and such.

The refusal to let anyone volunteer at little or no cost to help fix or repair some of these problems leads to further damage and destruction to these once prominent historic buildings. With thought, vision, ideas and faith they too could be restored to their former luster, rescuing yet another beautiful piece architecture and history in New Rochelle. In turn becoming a place where the community could gather and grow. We need to get involved in community projects like these. As they have a way of bringing a community together and forming strong bonds. A community divided cannot succeed.

A while back I had tried to work with Councilman Fertel to rally the Boy Scouts of the area and any child doing their Mitzvah Projects to focus their work towards Ward Acres. That got no Where as far as I know. I wish back then that I wasn’t involved in my battle with cancer because I was unable to keep up. I have not forgotten about Ward Acres, I mentioned it several time over the last few years at Citizens to be Heard when dealing with Iona College and The Armory. I camped there as a Boy Scout. I am sure many residents from New Rochelle have fond memories of some event, activity or even just a walk with nature.

Something I missed back when I was dealing with my cancer treatments was that a Master Plan was actually done in 2006. As far as I know, this only resulted in a Dog Park that cost a lot of good money (about $150,000) that could have been put towards saving the Barn and Farm House from further damage. But dogs, geese and chicken coops seemed to be a higher priority in that area than the preservation of the history and one time beauty of Ward Acres. Here is some of that old information:

Ward Acres Master Plan 2006:

Natural Resources Management Plan!msg/friendsofwardacrespark/-gLvUk-1ZQk/JLYzZ0mYwp4J

Sept. 26 2011
Sustainability Coordinator Deborah Newborn said the city is seeking someone to clear the weeds, vines and invasive plant species that have overgrown a section of the 62-acre park and establish some kind of agriculture-based business with a significant educational component.

We have so many past and present studies, committee’s, consultant’s, plans but no one with vision. We don’t follow through on many of these results, findings and suggestions. Money is spent elsewhere on some other priority or favorite project at the time. You see the promotional and campaign value is gone after the votes are cast it seems, Then it is back to the same old push for poor development ideas with new names and the whims of the developer du jour.

We don’t need to pay a Sustainability Coordinator when there are the similar if not the same resources available from the county, state and federal levels. We need a plan, like has been done before and not followed as seen with the 1996 Comprehensive Plan. We need people, Council Members and Staff with vision and independent thoughts. We need a coordinated plan that can be followed and sustained into the future that brings this city together rather than divide. Put all of these grandiose development projects on the back burner and work on the problems of the present like the downtown area and the city yard.

Use a couple of smaller projects like The Armory and Ward Acres to rally the members of the community and show that government and the people can communicate and work together for the greater good without all the political baggage. Reduce, re-use and recycle the old empty stores and building space that already exists and fill them with people with families and money to spend. How is that for sustainability?

It has been said, “New Rochelle loves restoring prominent historic architecture”. Let’s test the waters with these couple of projects because if successful the resurrection of Downtown, The Armory and Ward Acres can and will be a major building point for sustainable growth in New Rochelle. A sustainable Ward Acres with an expansion of the community gardens to include a farm to table restaurant. Give people from groups similar to what Good Profit was supposed to be, a true location to use that make more sense for a farm to table concept. Many of the people from Good Profit had connections to New Rochelle. If they were serious about helping improve the city this would be a great way to start and build support for their group and ideas.

I will close with what I said at Citizens to be Heard. A moratorium should be placed on new development, residents cannot afford the highly- abated projects. For any current projects, go back and review any and all information, insure correctness and accuracy. Ask the questions what if, how about, why and why not?

Start with a standalone project like The Armory that can be used as a catalyst for the area, a starting point for sound planning and development. Review the deed for the armory property get the county and state involved. See exactly what can be done legally with the property without legal fights and battles that waste/cost the city more time and money.

All that is required is some collective creative thought and a plan. From what we have witnessed, New Rochelle has lacked leaders and staff with creative vision, an understanding of cultural sophistication, the arts and how to bring a community together. Look at the current condition of the many historic and cultural assets of the city. You will see what I say is correct. I think we have seen a turn around with some new staff members and a change in some council members. Hopefully these changes will continue to grow and spread with in the City Staff, City Council, The Community and all of The City of New Rochelle.

Get it right the first time; protect the interests and the future of New Rochelle. Use concepts like The Armory and Ward Acres as a template for the success in The City of New Rochelle and The New Rochelle Community. That’s right, Community. A community that grows and flourishes like a beautiful historic garden!

“Common Sense for the Common Good.”