If New Rochelle officials ever wondered why New Rochelle residents do not trust the real estate developers who, in exchange for grand but vague promises, are offered generous tax abatements, coddled by the New Rochelle IDA, offered public property giveaways and granted repeated MOU extensions despite a complete lack of progress on developing projects, they need to look no further than the once active apartment building at the corner of North Avenue and Anderson Street.
The building known as "5 Anderson" is a monument to the unreliability of promises from real estate developers and the gullibility of city officials when dealing with them.
In never before seen photos of the interior of 5 Anderson (after the jump), obtained exclusively by Talk of the Sound, the utter devastation of the building is clear. Every single room, in every single apartment has been gutted and otherwise left unusable. Exterior photos show the faded remains of window treatments installed under the terms of a 2010 MOU extension obtained by Cappelli Enterprises under the condition they beautify the outside of the building and address various code violations. Additional photos in the slideshows below.
On July 27, 2010 the New Rochelle Municipal Arts Commission questioned Joe Apicella of Cappelli Enterprises about window treatments required under a pending extension of the LeCount Square MOU. The meeting was chaired by Ivar Hyden who has since been elected to City Council from District 4 which includes 5 Anderson. The setting was a special meeting of the MAC called by Development Commissioner Michael Freimuth. MAC Members were under pressure from city officials to approve the Cappelli proposal so that yet another LeCount Square MOU extension would be granted.
During the meeting, as the accompanying video shows, MAC members repeatedly raised concerns about the durability of the material to be used in the window treatments, at one point requesting that the same material and method of installation used at Trump Plaza be used at 5 Anderson. Apicella repeatedly interchanges discussions about the material to be used and the method of installation, confusing the issue and getting the MAC board to say "yes" to the method of installation (interior) when they believe he is agreeing to both the material (same at Trump) when Apicella's patter is intended to confuse while avoiding, as best he can, giving a definitive answer. Looking back, it is easy to see that Cappelli had no intention of using the more expensive material in Trump and within a few months the results were obvious. Cheap material had deteriorated badly and, in some cases, fallen off the building. Despite repeated assurances, there has been no maintenance of the window treatments at all.
MAC Member: The images in the Trump Plaza building look great, they've been up for a long time…if you use the same material and the same method that's fine with us…
Apicella: I think we should be OK, I agree.
He "agrees" with what? That he will install the same quality of window treatments at 5 Anderson that were used at Trump Plaza? No. He agrees that the images at Trump Plaza looks great. He agrees that the images at Trump Plaza have been up a long time. He agrees that IF Cappelli used the same material the MAC would be fine with that. Is he agreeing to do that? No, but since the MAC member asking the question does not press Apicella for a specific, clearly articulated commitment, Apicella can now truthfully say that he never agreed to use the same quality material at 5 Anderson that was used at Trump Plaza.
A few minutes later, Apicella twists a question ("can we") to give an answer to a question ("did you") not asked.
MAC Member: "Can we stipulate they put up in the same material, same method, that we've already seen…"
Apicella: "no, we did not" and goes on to state that he will defer to his employees "good judgement" in selecting materials 'because I have confidence in Jeff [the Cappelli employee] and the material selection that's will make and that'll will stand up to scrutiny and the elements…stand the test of time.
MAC Members ignore the negative responsive, go onto express concerns about the durability of the images and the content and the need for them to be maintained as if Apicella has agreed. Apicella appears to tell the commissioners what they want to hear, they react as if he is agreeing with them but he never does and the MAC never nails down a specific agreement on the quality of the material.
The problem is not that MAC Members did not ask the right questions. The problem is that MAC Members are operating on a "good faith" basis when Apicella is not. This is a point that city officials at all levels repeatedly fail to appreciate, most especially the Mayor, the City Manager and members of City Council who blindly defend these developers. It was primarily Mayor Noam Bramson and City Manager Chuck Strome who pushed to extend the LeCount Square MOU which required gathering the Municipal Arts Commission on very short notice for a special meeting to accommodate Cappelli to get approval for a plan Cappelli had said they going to implement a year before.
Real Estate developers are a step above con men and a step below used car salesman in the "trust-o-meter", right next to career politicians. Apicella is just doing what real estate developers do, advancing the interests of his company. It's not his job to protect New Rochelle officials from themselves.
Not surprisingly, in August 2010, Cappelli installs window treatments that are not remotely close to the quality of the window treatments at Trump Plaza.
The slideshow below shows "before/after" photos from the Cappelli proposal presented to the Municipal Arts Commission, photos from the day the window treatments were installed by Cappelli in August 2010 and photos showing how those window treatments look today.
The window treatment panels are much smaller, the material of much lower quality and the color printing far inferior. The installation is haphazard and sloppy. Within a few months the window treatments have turned a faded yellow, those pasted onto plywood on the Anderson Street side of the building have come loose and one has come off completely (during a wind storm in February 2011). Today, the window treatments make the building look worse than having nothing there at all.
To what is likely to the surprise of many New Rochelle residents, the interior of 5 Anderson is worse than the exterior, far worse.
In exclusive photos obtained by Talk of the Sound, the full extent of the damage becomes clear. Every single apartment has been destroyed. Walls and doors have been hacked to pieces with axes or kicked in. Radiators, pipes, sinks, bathtubs and pretty much anything else of any value has been ripped out, removed or smashed. The entire plumbing system of the building has been removed The building has been thoroughly gutted.
The damage was done by a combination of illegal squatters and members of the New Rochelle Fire Department and New Rochelle Police Department who used the building as a training facility in the expectation that the building would be torn down as part of the LeCount Square project. With the LeCount Square project dead and the building still there, no one seems to know who is responsible for repairing the damage but the estimates of the cost run into the many millions of dollars.
5 Anderson Interior Photos:
Various potential tenants have looked at the building since the LeCount Square MOU expired on December 31, 2010. Among them has been Monroe College which is said to be considering the building as either a dormitory or a hotel that would be used as a training facility for students in Monroe's hospitality program. Iona College which has students living at the nearby Marriott Residence Inn is also said to have considered the building as a student dormitory. IHOP has looked at several locations in downtown New Rochelle including the retail space on the first floor of 5 Anderson as a location for a new restaurant.
Meanwhile, the area around 5 Anderson has become blighted. Merchants have been complaining now for several years that the area is neglected. Homeless people have moved into the area and have been found sleeping in the foyer at the Citibank branch across the street, in the Walkway Plaza, even upside down in garbage cans. Businesses complain that customers have been driven away from the area, frightened off by aggressive panhandlers, drunks and drug-addled vagrants roaming the area.
At this point, no one seems to know what to do about what has become arguably the biggest eyesore in New Rochelle.
The building at 5 Anderson has been the subject of a protracted legal battle between Cappelli which had an option to buy the building, and the owners with both sides claiming the other is responsible for the upkeep of the building. That dispute has reportedly been resolved. The police do not have the manpower to continuously patrol the area although they have done some "park and walks" in the area. The businesses say their appeals to city officials and the downtown Business Improvement District have fallen on deaf ears. The BID says they are doing what they can. There are First Amendment issues with panhandlers which protect their right to ask for money.
What is clear, is that trusting real estate developers is not a good idea.
The next time the IDA and City Council get a pitch from one of these developers, they would be well advised to stroll down Anderson Street and take a good long look at what trusting a real estate development really means for New Rochelle.
...Be it resolved, that the City Council of the City of New Rochelle hereby authorizes the City Manager to execute a Fourteenth Amended MOU to amend Section 2.2 of the MOU to amend Section 2.2 of the MOU to amend the Exclusivity Date through December 31, 2010, upon the following conditions.
1. By July 31, 2010, exterior improvements shall be made to 5 Anderson Street to the satisfaction of the Department of Development. If such improvements are not made by July 31, 2010, the MOU shall automatically expire...