NEW ROCHELLE, NY — RDRXR, a joint venture between Renaissance Downtowns and RXR Realty, began its community outreach program Monday with an open meeting aimed at both introducing the public to the companies as well as garnering initial ideas for what residents would potentially like to see added to their downtown landscape. The process is required under the Master Developer Agreement the company signed with the City of New Rochelle.
Several dozen people attended the inaugural session including CBTH regulars like Peggy Godfrey, Laraine Karl, Amy Heyman and other self-described activists. Elected officials included Haina Just-Michael of the New Rochelle Public Library Board of Trustees and Council Members Barry Fertel, Jared Rice and Ivar Hyden, although only Hyden remained for the entire event. Jim Killoran of Habitat for Humanity, and Ina Aranow of the League of Women Voters also attended.
The meeting began with Brandon Palanker, Vice President of Marketing and Public Affairs at Renaissance Downtowns (the “RD” in “RDRXR”), outlining his firm’s ‘triple-bottom line’ planning approach of “economic, social, and environmentally sustainable” designs that could usher in a new era of mixed-use urban development for New Rochelle.
Renaissance Downtowns’s process is built on what they call “Crowdsourced Place Making” or CSPM. The process entails taking a development project, typically performed by a private developer or government body, and outsourcing it to a larger, dedicated community with shared values, in the form of an open, transparent series of meetings.
Palanker said CSPM seeks to capitalize on a local community’s existing assets and potential, with the intention of creating public spaces that promote people’s health and happiness. Such a setting in turn, stimulates the proliferation of business and thus the city’s tax base going forward.
“We do not want to come up with a plan, and then try to sell it to the community,” said Palanker ”We want to work with you all, with the city, we want to work with stakeholders and businesses, and co-create a plan that is part of your vision of what your community and your downtown should be, matched with the realities of the market”.
An example of place-making as repurposing both businesses and architecture to be more inviting.
As part of CSPM, the group at the kickoff meeting were invited to select a new internet domain to replace the company’s default domain (crowdsourcenr.com). Residents favored NRFuture.com. The new site was up and running the next day.
Residents are encouraged to submit ideas for potential downtown developments online at nrfuture.com where they can receive support (or not) from other New Rochelle stakeholders.
For individuals who prefer traditional methods, paper forms can be submitted by mail or in person to RDRXR’s community outreach office which is expected to open in the coming weeks. Those ideas will then be uploaded to the nrfuture.com web site.
Proposed structures with the greatest amount of support will be reviewed and tested by RDRXR for feasibility based on market conditions. Sustainable concepts will be inserted into RDRXR’s Recommended Action Plan or “RAP”, the RDRXR proposal to City Council which outlines steps the municipality needs to commit such as zoning changes in order to enable the firm to carry out the community’s vision.
Asked for three words to describe what they wanted, attendees offered terms such as ‘retail’, ‘affordable parking’, ‘open space’, ‘green space for kids’, ‘refurbished landmarks’, ‘affordable senior housing’ and ‘amphitheater’.
A tone of skepticism was present throughout the entire evening. The presentation was often interrupted by expressions of concern by New Rochelle residents wary due to past development failures and criticisms regarding the proposed process.
There was a good deal of support in the room when one resident asked whether RDRXR would commit to not making political contributions to local officials or parties. Palanker said he never been asked that question but avoided responding directly to the question.
Despite a mandatory, overall ‘net-tax positive result’ as a fundamental principle of the Master Development Agreement between RDRXR and the City, residents were quick to express concerns for anything resembling deals like Echo Bay with Forest City/Ratner or 30-year, transferrable tax abatements like past deals with Avalon Bay Communities.
With further prodding from an informed crowd, Palanker did disclose that the actual net-tax positive has not been precisely quantified. He acknowledged that the City Council has the final say as to whether or not to accept the plan, and with it the financial implications of transferring municipally owned land over to RDRXR, if the project comes to fruition.
The next public input session will be held April 14 2015 at Cross Cultural Solutions, 2 Clinton Place, New Rochelle N.Y. 10801, from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. Future details here.
The event Monday was live streamed on Periscope.tv by Talk of the Sound and archived for later viewing. For more information on this incredible new service from Twitter click here.
NRFuture.com: March 30, 2015 Meetup Recap!