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Mayor Bramson Discusses New Rochelle's Downtown

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Mayor Bramson Discusses New Rochelle's Downtown

November 04, 2014 - 20:56
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In the October 30 issue of the Westchester Guardian

New Rochelle City Council on October 7 approved allowing RDRXR to be a master developer for the largest project ever for the city's downtown. The railroad station and downtown areas will be transformed. This company is being viewed as a master developer which will take a comprehensive view of downtown. RD or Renaissance Downtown, and RXR Realty.LLC are combining their services to focus on real estate investment.

The next night, October 8, at the Residence Park Neighborhood Association meeting, Mayor Noam Bramson addressed the members about this proposed RDRXR development proposal. He claimed "hard choices" were necessary to attract development. In order for the city government to make the city "better," a "controversial decision" may be necessary. He urged the group to stand up and say something supportive, so the city can get to a better place. "Tough steps" in his view were necessary.

After speaking of the better days of New Rochelle, Bramson emphasized he did not want to make the city what it was. He faulted previous city leaderships for not having a sense the city was changing. If residents want better stores the prospective owners need to feel confident they can make money. Instead of lamenting about downtown New Rochelle, Bramson wants to do something about it.

Questions by members followed. Bramson said the Main and Huguenot Street area plus especially near the train station would be involved as a nucleus. Later private property might be acquired for development. An overlay zone would help "kindle the fire" for reinvestment in private property. One member of Residence Park was particularly adamant that the agreement with this new proposal should not allow any developers to go to the Industrial Development Corporation (IDA). However, Bramson while respectful of his viewpoint, answered, "We will never have any development without tax abatements." He continued, businesses need to make money, and the city is competing with New York City, Stamford and White Plains. Tax breaks are given to companies so they will relocate here. Otherwise, Bramson said, we can "resign ourselves to a downtown that is the same as it is today."

In answer to a question by another member, Bramson said to make a better city, "controversial decisions were necessary." When asked about downtown development, Bramson reinforced he did not want to make it what it was, alluding to previous city leadership, he said they did not realize the city was changing. He then added, "If you want better stores" here, prospective owners have to feel they are in an environment "where they can make money." Another member said he had an important question: would the city insist a developer could not go to the IDA (Industrial Development Agency) to lower their taxes from tax abatements. The answer by Bramson was, "We will never have development without tax abatements." He added businesses come to make money. In closing, Bramson said New Rochelle had come a long way, but still had a long way to go.

Two councilman who attended this meeting commented briefly on this proposed downtown plan. Councilman Ivar Hyden wanted to assure a bipartisan sense for this project. Councilman Al Tarantino added that he did not want to "take control of private property." Hyden brought up the increasing amount of panhandling in downtown. Tarantino alluded to previous developments in the downtown that had brought no benefits to the city.

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There is some preliminary work that should be done; it is like preparing the ground before planting seed.

New Rochelle, we have some great new days ahead of us!

Warren is unable to post at this time but asked me to post his response to Peggy for him.

From Warren Gross November 3, 2014

Peggy Godfrey’s Report on Mayor Bramson Discusses New Rochelle’s Downtown points out long -standing flaws in Community Development in the Queen City. It perpetuates the myth that the faults we face reside other than with our current elected officials. Noam indicts past leadership as being responsible for the fading glory of our beloved City. Sad, very sad, what is not said is that Noam shares much of the burden of shouldering the responsibility. He has been a member of both the City Council and elected Mayor; although in a fashion not granted to him, by the City Charter.

He is culpable or, at least, negligent in carrying out the mandates explicit in our City Charter. He is also the leading voice, and in some cases, the only voice for management practices that lead to mistakes such as not using the prior 1996 Comprehensive Plan. This important document should have been out forward as an on-going planning document for Council control and monitoring. Properly used it would have been a baseline record and focus for on-going Strategic and Operating Plans. We are also managed largely by fee revenue; an invasive process that too often punishes commercial interests and its clients for being in business. That is an oversimplification, but a conversation with a small business owner on Huguenot, Main, or North Avenue would bear witness to this statement.

I am here not to condemn Noam but to remind him that he bears his share of responsibility for our diminished business district. So do the other Council Members who do not insist that the mandates of the City Charter are adhered to as our rule of law. Equally chilling is not recognizing that our electorate has over the past several decades, voted against a referendum to change our Charter from its current “weak” or Ceremonial mayor over to a “strong” mayor system.

Noam must accept that the fault is not in Caesar or in the Stars. It rests with him, his party leaders, and with the rest of the sitting Council. I have supported Bramson for years. He is a brilliant young man, but his tendency is to blame others. The economy was a favorite target and now this preposterous claim indicting other administrations. This young man has been in significant leadership positions for over twenty years.

I would have no problem supporting him as a strong mayor, but he must be more honest in assigning responsibility. He might be less sophistic in his language. The late and revered Ruby Dee is not, as he indicated, and I paraphrase, larger than New Rochelle. What then of Rockwell, Remington, Gehrig? What does he mean by people standing up and saying something “supportive”?

Let me try. You will have the support of all citizens who love this community if you commit to transparency, involvement, and honesty. Your “master development” and team that you have pronounced having a nonpareil national reputation (again I paraphrase), should be adept enough to be able to separate form from substance, understand and apply state of the art techniques in Assessment and Strategic Planning and I hope that is their intent and not simply presenting a solution in search of a real problem. There is so much preliminary work that should be done; it is like preparing the ground before planting seed. These include basic enablers such as looking at what really induces commercial and yes, residential interests, to invest in our City. It begins with overhauling our Charter and Codes. We need to have non-political conversations on reassessment and not look at Certiorari in the ways that we do. Do we really understand what public and private investors look for when assessing our community? That means a formal arrangement with the School District, moving some services downtown, much more even if it is not “pretty” such as an off Main municipal vertical garage to support commercial growth or expansion.

Yes, we need to provide inducements for investors; abatements likely are needed, but their terms and oversight require strong legal support. If RDRXR cannot provide this, then we need a different team. Al Tarantino is wrong when he denies the need for taking over some private property. It may be inevitable. Ivar Hyden is correct, absolutely correct in asking for bipartisanship. Any sniff of special interests or parochial interests must be eradicated.

Noam speaks as one voice that embraces the Council. That gets you one vote, my vote. We have a nucleus of a fine Council and any primary challenge will be, itself, noted and interpreted for what it is. Just leave well enough alone, make the basic enabling changes, and there is your positive message.

Warren Gross, citizen

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