New Rochelle's City Council Flouts Armory Decision

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New Rochelle's City Council Flouts Armory Decision

March 02, 2014 - 21:56

In the February 27, 2014 issue of th Westchester Guardian

The Armory proposals are in limbo in New Rochelle. None of the recent deadlines that were given for the City Council to make decisions have been met. Ron Tocci, former New York State Assemblyman and New York State Deputy Commissioner of Veterans Affairs, said at the New Rochelle Citizens Reform Club meeting that nothing has been done about the Waterfront Design Competition for the Armory competition award. There were four finalists: Arch Techtonics, CDR Studio, Hariri and Hariri Architects, and SHOP Architects (for the Save Our Armory proposal). Dates were projected as December 10, 2013 for the top ranking teams to present to City Council; December 11, 2013 announcement made by Architects Newspaper and City of New Rochelle on the top ranking team; and December 16, 2013 - January l0, 2014, exhibit of winning competition proposal in the Waterfront Design Competition. The person chosen to lead this endeavor, William Menking of Pratt University, said now the city council wanted presentations from all four finalists. But the city council still has not heard their presentations.
The next challenge according to Tocci for residents is "not to spend $40 million to move the City Yard to Beechwood Avenue." He had personal concerns about this proposed site's adequacy including how the New Rochelle Public Work's Department of Sanitation's long distance trucks which would have to travel to the city's north end from the southern part of the city. .

He reminded the group that Shop Architects, a leading architectural firm, had shown residents how their Armory plan could be developed. Shop Architects are known for their work on the Barclays Center at Atlantic Yards for Forest City Ratner and several waterfront projects. Financing was possible. Developers interested include Jones Lang La Salle which sent a letter to the Department of Development on the Save Our Armory project and another is PIKE who also contacted the Development Department. A restaurant owner proposed a second floor restaurant of 10.000 square feet. However, nothing can happen, Tocci warned, without the needed memorandum of understanding for one year from the City Council..

These developers are interested in the general area as the initial Forest City plan. They feel nearby parcels such as the Fire Islands Park could be used for a restaurant and museum.

Tocci suggested the last election results are "beginning to pay off" and the public has been taking notice of what is happening in New Rochelle. A few "swing votes" are needed on council to move the Armory proposal forward. Citing the diverse opposition to the Echo Bay proposal, he urged everyone to stay involved, and summarized, "It makes a difference."

Looking back at the recent council history on the Armory, two proposals were originally submitted for the building: one by Good Profit and the other by the Save Our Armory Committee in collaboration with the United Veterans and other arts groups. Good Profit had proposed as a primary indoor use, vendors of locally raised and harvested food, and other space for a restaurant, displays and possibly space for the American Legion. The Save Our Armory Committee in collaboration with the United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Association and the New Rochelle Opera group had projected a theatre complex, two restaurants and a local history museum for the Armory building, veteran facilities and an educational gallery in the hall. Peter Parente, President of the United Veterans Memorial and Patriotic Association, had stated their plan was l00% compliant with the deed for this Armory. In contrast the Good Profit proposal did not meet these requirements.

The Save Our Armory group had engaged Shop Architects. They were asked by the Save Our Armory group and several neighborhood groups to show their plan to the residents at City Hall. This meeting took place the night before a City Council meeting. However, suddenly a new August 24 "deadline" for proposals was imposed by the then Development Commissioner Michael Freimuth. Subsequently City Council at their September 2013 meeting voted for the Good Profit plan.

Several months later it was learned that the Good Profit developer had failed to comply with the letter of agreement with the city. In a new search, the proposal by the veterans was again turned down by the jury for the design competition initiated by the city. Soon after, Development Commissioner Luiz Aragon said one applicant had backed out and the Save Our Armory proposal was back in the running.

The members of the New Rochelle Citizens Reform Club have had a continuous interest in saving the Armory. One question Tocci was asked about was the Armory's roof which is in desperate need of repair and the murals which Forest City Residential is now storing for the city. Tocci was concerned about the present condition of the Armory, but alluded that nothing could happen until the MOU for Forest City expires in February 2014.

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I find it very strange that the discussion item concerning the armory on the 3/11 Council meeting agenda was referred by Lou Trangucci and not Al Tarantino, whose district includes the armory.

Perhaps Councilman Tarantino should call another East End meeting so that he can get some input from concerned citizens. He won't find it necessary to invite guests this time who don't appear on the agenda.