Tuesday's City Council meeting was the stage as Forest City performed act three of its production of "The Echo Bay Chronicles". The unveiling of the most recent iteration of the once grand development project appeared to produce more questions rather than answers. In and of itself, this assembly of housing (250 -300 one bedroom mixed with 2 bedroom and studio apartments) along with 25,000 square feet of retail would fit nicely in many places. Questions raised by a noticeably more animated city council would suggest, to some, that perhaps this latest performance might not fit in this place. The scaled down version seeks to capitalize on the ability to control city-owned property only, with no conversation concerning any of the other property that would have made up the original Echo Bay development. Just as last time before council, there was no commitment to "phase 2" or "phase 3". In fact, Forest City's commitment to anything more than the city yard/armory property was noticeably absent.
The meeting began with a re-cap of Forest City's greatness followed by the often repeated reference to the company's "DNA" structure that doesn't allow them to give up or quit. (We didn't get a chance to ask, if the city prohibited any PILOT or tax abatement programs would the DNA structure keep its double helix intact?)
Moving forward, the plan calls for an array of housing and shops shaped like the letter "P" when viewed from the air. The leg of the P running from Main St towards the water parallel to the Armory driveway. Housing of 250 to 300 studio, one and two bedroom apartments would line the shape of the P with 25,000 square feet of retail along the ground floor level on Main St. An imposing, four story edifice right up on Main Street .Inside the P, would be the parking facility for the residents and some retail. Parking, this is an issue in just about every neighborhood in the city. To her credit, and thank you Ms Rackman, the question of how many spaces will there be for the residents. The single level of below street parking will accommodate approx 290 spaces, or as a rep from Forest City claimed - one space per bedroom. This area would also expect to support to some degree the retail. There will be additional parking lots more towards the water (presumably for visitors to the "open area" and retail with 105 spaces. You can see that there just isn't parking to support the project without spillover into the East End and Sutton Manor. Unless, of course you start to stack cars on top of each other.
The greatest feat of all will be the when they run a saw through the Armory. Kinda like the old magician trick of sawing through a box with a lady inside. The lady won't make it this time. To think that lopping off an integral part of the architecture is in some way a method of preserving the facility is bizarre to say the least. Their plan steals the property behind the Armory for their parking (removing any possibility of Armory parking), then they bastardize the building to "open up view corridors" and smile as they essentially tell us after we're done, you can do whatever you want with the building, use your imagination. Taking all the good and offering us the scraps. We don't want scraps. This has been a reoccurring theme with this project. We subsidize the required 8% return on their investment with tax payer money, then we assume the burden of increased services in the form of police and fire, the school system (we're on the verge of needing a new school built) sewage overcapacity and, on top of that, we have the Armory landlocked, reducing the potential for community use. Councilman Hyden asked a very revealing question(we thank you also), what would you (FC) have to do to compensate if the Armory wasn't chopped up? (for example, would they have to add an extra floor of housing or build out more ). The answer was basically nothing, we're just removing it to open up the view. Why don't we just build a moat around the Armory and fill it with piranhas? It would have the same effect. Getting to the heart of the matter, Councilman Trangucci asked the simple, but all telling question "what's the revenue benefit to the city considering the reduction of retail from 150,000 sq ft to 25,000 sq ft ?" The answer came encrypted in a way that would make Alan Greenspan proud. To paraphrase the answer, the introduction of 300 residents with income and the importance of growing the community. I would warn citizens to hang onto their wallet if Forest City or the mayor starts using the term"net benefit". IDA discussions have "just started" so hopefully we'll get a glimpse into the sweetener that's added to the deal. Councilmember Tarrantino reinforced the concern when he pointed out the decline in the percentage of retail to housing and it's effect on the economics. Councilman Rice brought up the current Annabi trial in Yonkers that hangs over Forest City ,concerned that there may be "distractions" to which Mr Naperstek replied there would be no distractions. The question might have had more context if the Karl Kruger Guilty Plea was included in the framing of the question.
All in all, the questions asked were a credit to the council on whole. The problem is, will the project be evaluated in full context of the ancillary effects. The effect of forcing the move of the DPW yard to a questionable site. 20 million dollar tax increase to wind up with a sub par facility. The impact of fulfilling the Forest City publicly stated requirement of an 8% return to their investors on whatever they do. The impact on school taxes when actual, not projected enrollment of students is considered. Albanese, Forest City, we will need another school while their tax abatements are in place. There's another 20 million. Parking impact solely compounded by the City not requiring enough space being built into the models. The death by denial of the Armory as it becomes so encroached upon, the city and its partners will effectively strangle it to death. All of New Rochelle will suffer from this bback roommanipulation.
Sometimes things just don't fit. Try as we might to want it, we sometimes just can't afford it, it's just not appropriate for the conditions or both. It's time to stop and re-evaluate the whole plan. On reflection, perhaps buying the Beechwood property was a mistake, an overpriced, insider transaction, but you're better off taking a loss on that if it means going forward with the right plan to serve the city for the next 50 years. Move the city yard to Lefevre Lane and put it under one roof. Who would want to live next to a sewer plant anyway. Make the Armory the centerpiece of Echo Bay. Build this, this one facility, and people will come and at the end of the day , they will go home. We won't have to support them through subsidy.
So, as we look back at how Echo Bay "coulda been a contenduh" and compare it to now, all washed up on the mud flats as a former shell of itself, you can't help but think "The Thrill is Gone"
(note, the links to the Echo Bay presentation , and the Council meeting were not online as of this story's writing, the city assures me they will be up shortly, if not today.)