New Vision Unveiled for the Waterfront: Pratt Landing

Unveiled just last night, here’s the new vision for the New Rochelle waterfront at Echo Bay, as proposed by the City’s designated developers, Twining Properties.

Pratt Landing, viewed from Echo Bay.

Called “Pratt Landing,” the project would include a blend of retail, office, hotel, and residential space, view corridors to the water from East Main Street, a modern architectural sensibility, and a continuous public promenade and park at the shoreline.  Here’s the full power point presented by the development team.

Compared to the last proposal for the site, which was turned down by the City Council in 2013, this vision is more active, with an urban street grid intended to bring New Rochelle’s downtown to the water’s edge.  It reminds me a little of Battery Park City – but, of course, at a much lower scale.

Last month, the Council voted unanimously to relocate our Public Works Yard, which clears away the biggest obstacle to waterfront improvements.  But many steps must still be taken before this new vision can be achieved (or even approved) and lots of changes are possible as we move through the environmental review process and receive public input.  In other words, please view these images and plans as preliminary, not final.

The next decision point comes early next year, when we consider a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Twining Properties.  There’s more information about the process in this press release.

An open, vibrant, clean, active waterfront would benefit our entire city enormously, so I am very excited about the possibilities.  But even under the most ambitious timetable, infrastructure work could not commence until late 2018, with above-ground construction beginning in early 2020, so patience and careful deliberation are still required.

Council Approves City Yard Plan – Big Step Clears Way for Waterfront Improvement

Moving the City Yard will open the Echo Bay shoreline to public access and economic development.
Moving the City Yard will open the Echo Bay shoreline to public access, environmental improvements, and economic development.

Last night, after many years of intense debate, the New Rochelle City Council came together on a unanimous, bipartisan basis to approve a location and to dedicate funding for a new Public Works Operations Center (or “City Yard.”)

Through a public-private partnership, the City Yard will be situated in the ground level of a new structure at the Home Depot/Costco retail complex.  The upper levels of this same structure will be devoted to commercial uses.  A smaller portion of our public works activities will be sited remotely along Beechwood Avenue in the West End, mainly on property already owned by the City.

This is a very significant step for two reasons:

First, it is a necessary and overdue investment in critical infrastructure. 

Our existing City Yard is in deplorable condition and requires a constant stream of emergency appropriations to keep it up and running.   Think of it like a beat-up old car with 200,000 miles on the odometer – risky to drive and urgently needing replacement.  The new City Yard will enable us to deliver essential public works services efficiently and effectively for decades to come.

Second, it opens the Echo Bay waterfront for public access, environmental improvements, and economic development. 

The existing City Yard was sited on East Main Street a century ago, at a time when the shoreline was seen as an industrial access point, but no rational person would choose to put a public works facility on the waterfront today, where it completely blocks access to Long Island Sound.  The City Yard has been the principal obstacle to positive changes at Echo Bay.  Now this obstacle is being swept away, allowing us to activate the waterfront for higher and better uses.

The total price tag, a combination of debt and lease payments, comes to about $1.5 million per year.  But because development on Echo Bay and on the upper levels of the Yard structure will generate new revenue, the net cost to taxpayers will be lower – and certainly a lot lower than rebuilding the Yard where it is today.  In short, in addition to making good planning sense, this is a fiscally responsible move, too.

I congratulate and thank our professional staff and all the members of the City Council, Democrats and Republicans, for addressing this vital issue.

And I look forward to the day – now just about 18 months distant – when it will be possible to stand on US 1, look to the south, and – for the first time in our lives – see an unobstructed view of the shore.



Barnes & Noble Coming to New Rochelle!

Noble“When can we get a book store in New Rochelle?”  For twenty years, I have heard that question from countless residents, and I’ve never had a good answer . . . until now.

Barnes & Noble is coming to New Rochelle.

Their new 9,000 square foot store (complete with a Starbucks cafe) will open in New Roc City this fall.  Here’s a full press release.

Big thanks are in order for Monroe College, which has partnered with Barnes & Noble to make this happen.

Of course, no single store can transform an entire commercial area.  Achieving our vision for downtown New Rochelle will require patience, persistence, and many other investments and openings.  But this sure helps!


New Rochelle’s Finances in Good Shape

DollarsNew Rochelle’s latest independent financial audit is – without a doubt – the most upbeat we’ve received since the onset of the Great Recession.

The City’s revenues last year exceeded projections by about $3.7 million, while our expenditures came in under budget by about $3.6 million.  Together these positive variances contributed to a surging fund balance of more than $13 million – a significant financial cushion that will help stabilize our fiscal health going forward.

Here’s the full report.

Also of note is the City’s historically low debt level.  At $62.6 million, total government debt is the smallest it’s been in at least a generation and only about half of what it was just ten years ago.

These figures, combined with today’s exceptionally low interest rates, suggest that this is a particularly good time to invest in infrastructure and long-term capital assets.  The City Council is committed to this priority, and I expect that our 2017 budget will feature a new, more ambitious capital budget framework.

The usual (and important) caveats apply.  Like all cities, New Rochelle continues to face long-term fiscal pressures.  Many vital investments and services remain underfunded.  And, of course, many taxpayers are strained to the limit.  For these reasons and others, economic growth and business development remain absolutely essential priorities.

But having coming through the dark fiscal tunnel of the recession and its aftermath, it’s a big relief to emerge finally into the sunshine.