Talk of the Sound has learned that Monroe College is in preliminary discussions with local veterans groups to join forces to develop a plan that would transform the 77-year old New Rochelle Naval Armory into a spectacular state-of-the-art, multi-use facility. Monroe College spokesman Rob Seitz emphasized this was a very tentative plan, one of several options under consideration and that no commitments had been made. Under consideration is the possibility of rebuilding the interior of the cavernous Armory gymnasium to as a an up-to-date sports field house that would serve as the new home for Monroe's men's basketball team. Monroe College has been looking for a new home for its team as it makes plans to jump to NCAA Division II.
The Monroe College Mustangs which currently plays in the NCAAJ are one of the most successful junior college programs in the country. The Mustangs have compiled a remarkable .710 winning percentage going back to the 1991-92 season. In 2002-03, the Mustangs turned on the nation with a high-flying fifth-place finish in the NJCAA, Division I national tournament. They won four straight Region XV championships and appeared in four straight District III finals, winning the Title in 2005-06 and again advancing to the Nationals, where they finished eighth.
Forest City/Ranter would need to agree to carve out the New Rochelle Armory building and surrounding land from the parcels assembled to create the proposed mixed-use Echo Bay Development. That deal has been stalled to a tight credit market following the 2009 financial crisis. Funding for major real estate development has all but dried up over the past year. Forest City has indicated a willingness to consider such an approach, sources say.
Monroe is said to be prepared to commit millions of dollars to restore the New Rochelle Armory if all parties involved can come to an agreement.
For years, the veterans groups, led by former Assemblyman Ronald C. Tocci, have opposed any development plans that include tearing down New Rochelle's Naval Armory. Tocci, who served as Chairman of the Assembly's Veterans Affairs Committee and later as Deputy Commissioner of the New York State Veterans Affairs, arranged the 1997 deal under which New York State deeded the property to the City of New Rochelle for $1.00 with the provision that the property would be maintained as a public recreation and municipal space. In 2008, the City agreed to a project by Forest City Residential that calls for the armory to be razed as part of its Echo Bay Development plan and replaced by a community center.
While details remain to be ironed out, the initial plan is for the veterans groups to operate the Naval Armory facility with Monroe as a tenant, utilizing the facility for hosting NCAA II home games and basketball practice.
Peter Parente, a former Marine and member of the Save Our Armory Committee says other elements in a revitalized New Rochelle Naval Armory facility might include a museum dedicated to the military history of New Rochelle, a community center for youths and senior citizens. Tocci said the The VA Hospitals have expressed interest in using the facility to provide medical services to area veterans, reducing travel time to facilities located outside of Southern Westchester.